Dara Torres said she was much more aware of what her body could do as she returned to swimming as an older athlete. It empowered her as long as she listened. She didn’t work any less hard. She just needed more recovery. Diana Nyad, coincidentally, also a swimmer, didn’t dwell on the fact that she was 64 swimming 110 miles from Havana to Key West. It was a feat for any age swimmer.
Never underestimate the power of the human spirit is Nyad’s message for us. Has your spirit grown or shrunk with age? When people ask you about your height you say, “I used to be ____.” Your spirit on the other hand has the ability to expand.
You may certainly have aches, pains, and prior or existing injuries. You may have a condition you have to workaround. By age 50 many adults have at least one or two conditions. Some of them can be improved or reversed. Over 80 diseases can be prevented or treated with exercise. While you do have to work around pains and choose your exercise type more carefully, you will feel better when you move. You are not as fragile as you might think.
Aside from joints and muscles that have a few more years of experience, there are other things that can change the way you feel and age. Mitochondria are the “powerhouses of energy.” If you get out of breath running upstairs or through the airport, you can blame it on your mitochondria. At least you could have until now.
Not long ago a natural decline of mitochondrial function was accepted as a part of aging. In the last five to ten years researchers have found otherwise. Both resistance training and endurance exercise help turn the mitochondrial function back 40 or more years within six months of training.
What does that mean to you? It means more energy, so movement and activity are fun rather than a chore. It means less unexplained breathlessness going upstairs. It also spares the effects of muscle loss caused by inactivity that increases fat. This one will really make you want to bond with your mitochondria: it is your fat-burning furnace. You can increase it with exercise. Motivated yet?
“If a condition or joint pain restricts you, choose pain-free exercise and safety first. Then focus on proper technique and instruction. Invest in a trainer. Use a video camera on your phone if you need to and record entire training sessions. Your investment in both the session and in the small inconvenience of creating a video will help you avoid setbacks, mistakes or injury.”
Putting firm muscle in the starring role and moving soft cellulite to the wings (not bat wings) requires both heavy breathing and pushing some weights around. Cardiovascular exercise alone won’t do it. A study comparing runners who only ran with those that strength-trained proves you can’t outrun muscle loss. That means you also can’t out-Zumba or out-elliptical muscle loss.
Once you embrace weight training as a new best friend, you have to identify the type of strength you need. Refer to the strength section for specifics on resistance exercise. You can combine your cardio and your resistance exercise to reduce the time and frequency of exercise. First, define your goals and needs.
If you want weight loss and bone density you need to pull yourself off that cardio equipment and pump some heavier iron even though your old habits may tell you otherwise. Exchanging even 10 minutes of cardio activity for concentrated strength training can improve body composition and Bone Mineral Density (BMD) most optimally.
Short bouts of high-intensity exercise and longer easy exercise for recovery will be your hormone healing pals. That’s the focus of this section.
The signs on the equipment that tell you that a low heart rate is the fat-burning zone are right. You’re burning a high percentage of fat for fuel per minute. The problem is that your rate of overall calories being burned is so low that a high percentage of a low burn is not much.
The other misconception with those heart rate charts is they’ll give you a range based on your age that is simply not a fit for most people. None of us fit that “average.” If you work at a rate that is less than you need, you will get fewer results than you want.
When you exercise at higher intensities you burn a lower percentage of body fat for fuel. (The more fit you are the more you’re able to burn fat at a higher intensity.) Even so, because you’re burning calories faster a low percentage of fat ends up being more fat.
Dr. Len Kravitz, a University of New Mexico researcher, tested a subject working at two different intensities. One represented the so-called fat-burning zone and one a high-intensity interval equivalent. The resulting total calories, and the number of fat calories used, reveal the truth about fat burning.
Do you want to burn more fat per minute or more fat total so it leaves your thighs alone? Treat that as a rhetorical question. The real excitement comes – hold onto your love handles – when you compare the amount of fat burned after different exercises of different intensities.
Scientifically, it’s called excess post oxygen consumption, or EPOC. Affectionately, you can call it passive fat loss. This “afterburn” is really what matters when you’re looking at the value of exercise for weight and energy management.
If you’re thinking right now that intervals need to be your daily exercise, stop. On the other hand, if you just tuned out because you’re an exercise-hater, I’ve got you covered too. Both doing intervals every day and never doing intervals will hurt your after 50 fat loss fight.
There is a sweet spot for the right amount of exercise for you. Less than or beyond that, more good doesn’t happen, and more hormone imbalance can.
For now, know that too much exercise is just stress on your body. Stress causes cortisol. Cortisol sabotages you with more cravings and less sleep. Too little sleep results in too little growth hormone which you need to keep your sexy and curve-defining muscles.
This article is an excerpt from You Still Got It, Girl! The After 50 Fitness Formula For Women. Whether you’re diving into your New Year exercise plan or you’re having a reluctant start and want the nuts and bolts of fat burning after 50 you’ll find it in this book.