By Narina Exelby; photograph by Munetaka Tokuyama
Your decade-by-decade guide to peak physical fitness…
Exercise in your 30s
The big three-oh, it turns out, is no big deal — not in the way you imagine when you’re 21. In fact, life’s pretty damn good. You’re more confident and your career is going from strength to strength.
As for that bikini, know this: after 35, your oestrogen levels will decrease while your testosterone levels increase, meaning your body is primed for putting on lean muscle mass — cue: toned limbs. Plus, more muscle means a higher metabolism — awesome! — so get weight training to burn more fat, says Jane Kilian, a Durban-based trainer at GI Jane Personal Training.
It’s never too late to start. “In your thirties, you’re focused, career-driven and motivated — this drive can translate into your fitness goals being met,” she says. And those post-preggy stretch marks… Wear them with pride! You carried a human being around for nine months, after all. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
Fact: A study published in January 2015 in Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society found that women who had their last child after the age of 33 doubled their chances of living to 95, compared with women whose last child was born before they turned 30.
Exercise in your 40s
During your forties, your metabolism slows down — but that doesn’t have to be a problem. “Compensate with a simple energy equation: what goes in needs to be a lot less than energy expended,” says Dr Claudine Lee, a KZN-based GP with a special interest in diabetes, holistic health and women’s health. “That means smaller portions and loads of exercise.”
“One of the biggest contributors to weight gain in your forties is lack of physical exercise — your slowing metabolism isn’t entirely to blame,” agrees dietician Danielle Beaumont. Never been the sporty type? No problem! “The benefits of exercise can be reaped regardless of the age you start,” says Dr Paola Wood, senior lecturer at the Department of Biokinetics, Sport and Leisure Sciences at the University of Pretoria.
As for where to start, ever considered entering a race? By your forties, life experience has toughened you up and you’ll probably be far better at long-distance events than when you were younger.
“In this decade, you’ll have more endurance and you’ll be stronger mentally,” says Kilian. And, if you’re prone to stress, yoga can help — plus it’ll increase strength and flexibility at the same time, she says.
Tip: Eat your kilojoules; don’t drink them. “It makes it so much easier to maintain your weight when you’re not consuming a large portion of your daily energy requirements through fizzy drinks, flavoured water, lattes, hot chocolate, fruit juice or alcohol,” says Beaumont.
Exercise in your 50s
Now that the kids are out the house, it’s time to put the focus back on you. “Your fifties are a time to find your passions and rediscover old pastimes that you may not have had time for in your forties,” says Lee. Prioritise doing things that give you a sense of fulfilment and bring you joy. Find aerobic exercises that are fun and sociable, like dancing, walking or jogging with friends and work up to 20 minutes a session, three or four days a week, suggests Wood. “Exercise at a pace that lets you carry on a conversation,” she adds. “Do some strength training too, and progress from one set of eight repetitions to three sets of 12 reps.”
Tip: If you ever wanted a reason to visit Greece, here it is: following a Mediterranean diet will be really good for you during your fifties, says Beaumont, as it’s rich in fibre, antioxidants and good fats.
Exercise after 60
If you thought turning 60 meant slowing down, think again because your sixties (and beyond) are when you reap the benefits of taking good care of yourself in previous decades. “This can be the best time of your life,” says Lee. “If you’ve retired and your time is your own, it can be a most fulfilling, rich period. Just remember that maintaining body and mind activity is critical to this period being the best act in the play of life.”
When it comes to exercise, it’s essential to effectively manage osteoporosis, which, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, will affect one-tenth of women over 60, one-fifth over 70, two-fifths over 80 and two-thirds over 90. Exercise will also improve your balance (key for longevity). Incorporate resistance training to reduce muscle loss, Wood suggests, as well as flexibility and balance exercises. Aerobic exercise is important to keep your heart healthy.
Post-60 workout: “Exercise during your sixties is all about health benefits,” says Kilian. “You can still do what you did in your forties, but your recovery period will be longer.” She suggests 30 minutes of lightweight training three days a week and cardio three times a week.