***This is an awesome guest post from trainer and coach Joe Brigley. Joe is the owner of The Salubrity – a fitness company dedicated to bringing top-quality fitness information to those who need it. More on Joe at the end of the article.***
The world as we know it is changing.
Technology and social media are growing rapidly.
Millennials would rather work in Silicon Valley than Wall Street.
Hoverboards are a thing.
These changes are a result of the generations that came before us.
While most of us are spinning our wheels in the Rat Race, we dream of our Golden Years. We want to reach retirement age in good health and spirits, free from the diseases of Western civilization.
By building positive habits now, we can ensure a high quality of life as we ride into the sunset.
I See A Change
Like everyone before us, we observe, reflect, and either emulate or adapt. This generation of seniors – The Baby Boomers – is unlike any before.
The importance of exercise, nutrition, cognition, and social activity has never been more necessary.
However, those items alone are not enough.
No Baby Boomers want to have aches and pains as they age. We all want to stay mentally sharp and independent.
But these are just baseline benefits.
Regardless of age – we want to look better.
Just like the rest of us, that comes in the form of losing some fat.
Perhaps it means a complete recomposition of the body by building muscle and specifically losing fat.
Is this possible? And if it is, are there different guidelines to follow or should they just “IIFYM” and count their macros?
The Limitations Of Senior Fitness
The truth needs to be told: Some will have larger obstacles in achieving their goals than others.
This is never more true than in senior fitness. You mix every iota of information you have learned, combine the best of principles, and try to accelerate your progress.
Today, however, we are talking about the moderately active Baby Boomer – who not only wants to feel great, but look great as well.
We are assuming we are talking about injury-free and (relatively) healthy individuals.
As with any recomposition program, the “big rocks” remain the same; all things begin and end with consistent exercise and nutrition.
Specifically, the demographic this article is written for has the following characteristics.
- Somewhere in the ballpark of 15-30 extra pounds they would like to have eliminated.
- Williness (and ability) to strength train regularly, 3-4 times per week.
- Moderate (not obsessive) current fitness level, and wishing to improve their rate of progress.
- Barbell lifting is a bonus, but not necessarily a requirement.
All things considering, this, in my experience, is the new age senior. Someone who is only biologically different than their younger counterparts.
Unfortunately, those biological changes can some physiological effects:
- Sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue)
- Osteoporosis (weakening of bone density)
- Visceral fat (fat stored within the abdominal cavity)
- Decreased maximal heart rate
Fortunately, these ailments can be attenuated and (some) eliminated through proper, consistent exercise programming.
Each issue mentioned is a side effect of inactivity, aging, or both.
While it’s not possible to completely reverse these issues, the next best thing we can do is reduce their effects so their impact is minimal.
Adults who begin an exercise program and consistently (there’s that word again) adhere to it see changes in strength, muscle tone, bone density, improved cardiac function and fat loss.
It’s their maximal capabilities that diminish as a result of inactivity or non-maximal training. While a Baby Boomer can’t be expected to deadlift 400 pounds or squat heavy on a regular basis, strength gain relative to body weight can be accomplished at any age.
Your baseline stats can certainly improve, no matter how many birthdays you have had.
Those improvements will show up in the mirror…………. giving you access to the “fountain of youth” – exercise and nutrition.
The biggest issue is not in the trainee’s level of strength or capacity to handle low-intensity cardiovascular activities.
The issue lies in their ability to handle continuous moderate – high-intensity routines.
More specifically, their ability to tolerate programs like circuit training (the kind away from machines) is the biggest limiting factor.
Certain exercises that are easier for younger generations are more taxing for the Baby Boomer, and their recovery between exercises (and sets) becomes increasingly necessary.
Plyometric and dynamic mobility drills that we take for granted (think: burpees, jumping jacks, and striders) can and should be utilized for the same benefits that we would use but they seemingly require more energy to perform and longer time to recover.
In instances like this, repetitions should be adjusted accordingly. Think lower numbers of sets and reps. Aim for 8 reps, max, for most aerobic activities and circuits.
In instances like this, specialized intensity techniques can be of great use.
Incorporate techniques like reverse pyramid training (where you perform the most difficult task first instead of last) and ladders to accomplish the most when you are most fresh and capable.
The “ladder” set up is ideal for clients in this demographic.
Performing the difficult moves first makes more sense than using “straight sets” such as “3 x 10” or “5 x 12”.
Here’s a few example exercises you can incorporate into your routines today:
– Striders: while this is your mobility component, leaving this rep range constant throughout the routine makes it more aerobic in nature.
– DB Sumo Squat – Press: You can cue them to sit better while incorporating some abductor strengthening and shoulder stability work.
– Stability Ball Plank: Odds are their stomachs need some activation to go along with their strengthening. The SB forces them to get a feel for their abdominal muscles and helps target their spinal erectors.
Slower Metabolism and Metamucil?
As far as nutrition goes, metabolism does not slow down drastically with aging.
This statement is often brought on by one previously mentioned issue, inactivity.
The illusion that your metabolism slows down as you age is brought on by losing muscle mass (sarcopenia) and gaining fat (either subcutaneous underneath your abdominal skin or behind the abdominal wall – viscerally – which is more dangerous).
What this does is create an environment for muscle loss and lowers your Basal Metabolic Rate, which is your body’s ability to use calories for energy at rest.
With less muscle mass and potentially more fat mass – and equal caloric intakes – the environment is ripe for fat gain.
This has nothing to do with aging, but is more a reflection of your current lifestyle.
What should you do? Get active and change your diet.
Easily the biggest obstacle is in changing your habits. In my experience, the older an individual, the more engrained the habit, the more difficult change becomes. I’m not saying it’s impossible it just becomes more challenging.
An old dog CAN learn new tricks, if the “old dog” is willing.
The best thing to do is manage your expectations from the start. Understand where you are and where you want to go and make incremental “wins” along the way.
Regardless of age, small consistent “wins” make big changes along the way.
While your actual calorie needs can vary greatly based on your current lifestyle, the macronutrient composition of your diet should be consistent.
Start at 35% Protein, 25% Carbohydrates, and 40% Fat and adjust your calories bi-weekly accordingly. If you aren’t losing as quickly as you would like, reduce your overall calories.
Furthermore, the importance of specific nutrients becomes more critical in the success of their goals and health.
Seniors will need more vitamin D and calcium rich foods, fiber, potassium, and healthy fats to ensure good cognitive function, stronger bones, and improvements in their waistlines.
Perhaps nothing about this seems shocking. In a way, that’s great news.
It means the advice heeded from previous generations is becoming outdated (I’m looking at you, Jane Fonda!), and today’s seniors’ are doing better than ever before.
We’re moving away from a mindset that doomed us with frailty and disease preventing medications to better bodies and socialites.
And while science continues to evolve and people continue to change, one thing remains constant: if you don’t use it, you will lose it.
Yours in dominating your “Golden Years”,
About The Author
Joseph Brigley is the owner and operator of The Salubrity.
He balances his days finessing exercise plans and his nights earning a Masters’ degree.
When everyone wants to “have it all”, he creates that rhythm for the overachievers in life underachieving in health and exercise and gets the mirror to smile with self – satisfaction.