How To Get Fit And Healthy In Your 40s, 50s, 60s And Beyond!

How To Get Fit And Healthy In Your 40s, 50s, 60s And Beyond!

You are never too old to start your transformation journey! Read these tips to get into the shape of your life, even if you’re in your 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond!

31 Jan 2022

Mindset Intermediate
12 Mins

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My favourite article to come out of 2021, aptly named “Daily energy expenditure through the human life course” is hands down, the most comprehensive paper on energy expenditure ranging from babies aged 8 days old to adults reaching 95. Over 50 research scientists contributed to the research and one of the most shocking discoveries was just how stable metabolism remains between the ages of 20-60 years old.

“Total expenditure increased with fat-free mass in a power-law manner, with four distinct life stages. Fat-free mass-adjusted expenditure accelerates rapidly in neonates to ~50% above adult values at ~1 year; declines slowly to adult levels by ~20 years; remains stable in adulthood (20 to 60 years), even during pregnancy; then declines in older adults.”

That’s right, your metabolism can stay humming for much longer than what was once believed. Even before this paper came out, we witnessed this with our own clients who were getting into incredible shape despite their age.  For example, we have over 40 transformations that can be seen here and here who fall between the ages of 40 and 60 years old with Akash’s parents starting their own bracket above 60!

Why Do So Many Struggle As They Age?

Just because our metabolisms remain steady for a long period of time this doesn’t mean that there are no differences between a 20 year old and a 50 or 60 year old. As we age, many other factors that are outside of your physical body change drastically that can have a huge influence on your overall physique.

More responsibilities through having children, building a career, spending time with family, mowing lawns, doing more chores, etc means less time and resources allocated to your health and fitness. You move less, you eat more, you get less sleep, your joints hurt and your priorities change. Also, as we get older our belief systems tend to solidify making us less open to new experiences, further creating a larger barrier to change. Anyone who has tried to help their parents with anything can attest to this!

All of these factors have nothing to do with your metabolism and everything to do with your behaviour and lifestyle. In saying that, there are aspects that older individuals do need to pay attention to if they want to stay strong for many years beyond 60.

Resistance Training

Preservation of lean body mass is one of the strongest predictors of longevity and quality of life over the lifespan. It is well established that excess fat is detrimental to health whereas sufficient skeletal muscle tissue has been shown to be protective of sarcopenia (muscle wasting) insulin resistance, diabetes, bone degradation and subsequently, a decreased risk of falling and fractures.

Another often overlooked component of having more muscle tissue is the ability to heal from serious illnesses. It’s not something many people think about but if you find yourself bedridden for months, your body has the ability to tap into your muscle stores to help with your recovery. The more muscle you have, the faster you can recover and get back to your normal life.

As much as we are all about participating in exercise that you enjoy, we highly recommend that virtually everyone should be including some resistance training at the very least. This doesn’t need to be lifting heavy weights 5 times a week and destroying yourself as the benefits mentioned above can be gained from as little as 2-3 full body sessions per week by applying the following principles:
  • Performing 8-12 sets per week per muscle group.
  • Staying within 10-20 repetitions for the majority of the time.
  • Using compound exercises over isolation exercises.
  • Using a combination of free weights and machines.
  • Sticking with 1-3 sets per exercise.
  • Getting 1-3 reps shy of failure with each set.
  • Selecting pain free exercises.
  • Can be progressed.
Very little needs to change from a principles standpoint as we age but we do need to be more selective with exercises while also opting for higher repetitions + low/moderate loads vs lower reps + heavy loads.

Granted, you’re not going to be building staggering amounts of muscle but out of any activity that you could be doing to enhance the quality of your overall life, you would be hard pressed to find anything that benefits you more than resistance training. 

For those who are really looking to maximise their progress, there does appear to be a strong correlation between higher volumes and muscle growth/retention in older populations due to what is known as “anabolic resistance”. Simply, your body is no longer as responsive to a given stimulus as it used to be, meaning you would need to do more to get the same effect. 

Protein Intake

In healthy muscle tissue, the consumption of protein stimulates a very predictable muscle protein synthesis (MPS) response that follows a dose-response pattern. Over the course of the day, the most recent research is showing an intake of 1.6g/Kg/BW spaced across 3-5 meals to be more than sufficient. Going higher may have other benefits related to satiety or preference but muscle building capacity is virtually capped out at the figure mentioned above.

Unfortunately, there does appear to be a blunted MPS response to protein as we age that can be explained by several mechanisms.
  • The overall digestion of protein has been shown to be reduced by ~10%.
  • Poorer blood flow results in amino acids being delivered to skeletal muscle at a slower rate.
  • The overall “machinery” in the cells just isn’t as efficient at converting the amino acids into muscle.
All of these factors combined result in potentially needing more protein in each meal along with a longer break between meals. Practically, this would mean not going any higher than 3-4 meals per day while making sure you’re getting at least 0.6g/Kg/BW of protein in each meal vs the typically accepted 0.4g/Kg/BW per meal.

There doesn’t appear to be a need for a higher total daily intake as most research done on individuals who resistance train do not need to exceed 1.6g/Kg/BW to maximise their muscle building efforts. There will always be individual variation though, especially when dieting when protein requirements may increase to 1.8-2.2g/Kg/BW which is why we will always recommend 1.8g/Kg/BW as a minimum for the majority of clients.

If you’re 70kg and aiming to get to 130g of protein per day (70 x 1.8), this would mean consuming at least 40g of protein at each meal to maximise the “anabolic response” from that meal. Over three meals, this could look something like this:

8:00am- Meal 1- 40g 
1:00pm- Meal 2- 40g
6:00pm- Meal 3- 50g

Digestive Health

As easy as the above may sound, there is a very underappreciated phenomena that arises as we age. Our digestive system has been shown to slow down due to mechanical factors such as a reduction in muscle architecture and efficiency as well as biochemical changes that impact hunger and satiety signalling.
Also, our sense of smell and taste plays a large role in our desire to eat. This starts to deteriorate past the age of 65 in many individuals leading to less overall caloric consumption and malnutrition . The taste for salt takes the biggest hit which can lead to many older individuals using excessive amounts which can lead to other health complications too.

To combat the above, strategies to keep appetite sufficient is absolutely essential. Luckily, if you have always been active throughout your life and you’re continuing to do so in your later years then your appetite signalling pathways will continue to stay relatively stable. There is a very robust connection between physical activity and appetite to keep you at a healthy weight.

Other useful recommendations include the following:
  • Eat at regular meal times.
  • Space your meals out evenly across the day.
  • Practice good meal hygiene.
  • Avoid intermittent fasting.
  • Make your meals more nutrient rich.
  • Prioritise high quality protein.
  • Rely more on healthy fats as they are easier to consume without the bulk from starches.
  • Try going for a 10 minute walk after or before each main meal.
  • Stay hydrated.
Practically, the above recommendations do not alter much in comparison to younger individuals. You just feel the impacts of poor food choices much more as you age which is why moving more towards a 95/5 ratio of “whole foods” to “refined, junk foods” would be ideal compared to the 80/20 ratio most would do fine on. 

Flexibility

While there is no question that overall joint mobility and flexibility decline as we age due to various factors such as a decline in activity, connective tissue degradation and “inflammaging”, a lot of these effects can actually be minimised substantially by staying active throughout the lifespan. 

Surely this means we need to do more stretching as we age, right? Well, not necessarily.

Interestingly, high levels of flexibility doesn’t seem to contribute to longevity and quality of life as much as strength. This may sound counterintuitive but if your lifestyle doesn’t require you to do the splits each day, the amount of flexibility you need to function isn’t anything groundbreaking.

In fact, as long as you do not suffer from any orthopedic condition that is causing you chronic pain, there just isn’t a strong correlation to getting more flexible and quality of life. 

Does this mean we shouldn’t stretch at all?

Of course not. Stretching feels great and when done correctly at a level that you can tolerate, allows the body to relax which in turn, allows the mind to relax. This is where the benefits of stretching really shine and why yoga classes always make people feel incredible when they leave. 

If you absolutely hate stretching though, you can still get very far from utilising a solid resistance training program that takes your joints through various ranges of motion. Strength training also improves flexibility!

Wrapping Up

Despite what many people think, age seriously is just a number. As discussed, your metabolism is virtually the same from age 20-60 (whether or not you get pregnant too) meaning your ability to lose body fat isn’t determined by physiology as it is by lifestyle and behaviour.

Continuing to weight train for as long as you can will not only improve the quality of your life, but will also improve other physical markers such as flexibility while giving you a much better chance of survival if you ever were put in an unfortunate situation regarding your health.

Yes, you may need to modify your meal timings to some degree and understand that your digestive system needs a little more support but we think that is a pretty small price to pay for being the weird, jacked old person that everyone is inspired by at the gym!

Still not convinced? Check out some of the transformations below.

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