Posted on Feb 24, 2019, 5 p.m.
Most people think about hanging up exercise gear in their 50s never mind the 60s, but in the modern day the numbers of older health conscious people make this a different story altogether. Modern day sixtysomethings are aware that age is not a deterrent to some of the most challenging athletic goals, and a new tribe of hard body sexagenarians is emerging.
Members of the superfit 60+ers put in longer hours at the gyms than any other age group, and average 8+ visits to the gym each month, and it’s not just gentle classes such as yoga drawing them in, it’s high intensity workouts and tough training regimens, according to Nuffield Health.
The biggest rise in sports participation in recent years in among older populations, with running and cycling having massive growth, according to Sport England. Over the past 12 months England Athletics has had a 12% increase in members aged 60+ joining running clubs; and British Cycling reports over 74% of those aged 60+ saying cycling is not just to enjoy the scenery but also to seriously improve fitness.
Trainer Matt Roberts says his older clients are more demanding and expect as much from their bodies as 30-40 year olds; concern over high impact exercise as being unhealthy for joints is being challenged, with some scientists arguing that exercise may be protective.
Brigham University has found running to help protect joints and keep them working smoothly. John Brewer of St. Mary’s University says research shows running doesn’t hurt the knees if you build up and are consistent with it, rather than moving straight to long distance running.
It’s not just famous A-lister celebrities being role models in the area; take Chris Zaremba, 62, a London trainer and fitness model, told he was dangerously obese at 50, who turned his life around. Others such as Yazemeenah Rossi, 63, grandmother and model, who fronts for the fitness brand Sweaty Betty, and spends 30 minutes to an hour every day to yoga and exercise.
The high priestess of Pilates, Lynne Robinson, says that her generation is the first to have graduated from adulthood exposed to a burgeoning fitness industry; being in their 20s when gym chains were beginning to expand and running/personal trainers became popular norm, making the generation more informed about health than previous generations.
Studies have shown evidence of a never say die and gung ho attitude that is changing the face of fitness as people age that is very positive and infectious, says Dr. Peter Herbert of the Centre for Health and Ageing. Herbert, 75, is one if the oldest people set on completing an Ironman triathlon in Wales, and to compete in velodrome cycling, trying to win a medal at the World Age Group Championships this year.
Supreme fitness is being seen to offset the slide in self esteem that can occur during the 60s that makes them feel good as well as look good, that they just don’t want to give up, in numbers not seen before in previous generations.
Fast twitch fibres in muscles that produce speed can deteriorate before slow twitch fibres depended upon by marathon runners do, meaning long distance runners are not as prone to the effects of ageing provided they train intelligently, according to John Brewer, professor of applied sport science.
Those 60+ lose muscle mass naturally, making time for short conditioning workouts or bodyweight/kettlebell exercise 2-3 times a week is important to help offset muscle wastage, maintain good running form, and general muscle tone which help to deter injury says Wendy Smith-Sly, silver metal runner in 3000m at 1864 Olympics, who is celebrating her 60th this year by running in the London Marathon with a 60 year old friend.
Cycling is experiencing a boom among those 60+ partially because it is more gentler on joints, those participating are not looking to compete rather out of desire to remain mentally and physically healthy. These bike workouts need to be carefully planned if wanting to improve as there is need for more recovery leaving less time to fit in training sessions which could mean less progress if not planned smart. One of Herbert’s studies published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society had 20 athletes cut regular cycling from a minimum of 3 hard weekly sessions to 1 every 5 days involving 30 second sprints on indoor bikes, and limited activity in between to steady cycling for 30 minutes a day maximum; results showed significant increases in VO2 max, reduced fat, improved muscle strength, and significant increases in leg power.
Weight/resistance training has been proved to be an effective way to offset some of the effects of natural muscle loss that occurs with age (sarcopenia). Currently in the USA there is a huge upswing in trends of those 60+ weight training in which progression is important. Beginner 60+ training should shoot for 2-3 times a week at a challenging yet manageable levels that allows for 10-12 repetitions, then gradually work up, there’s no shortage of trainers to help design a programme best suited to the individual’s specific needs.
Yoga has a healthy portion of those 60+ in the tribe, many of which dominate classes being just as if not more strong, flexible, and mobile as those half their age. Yoga responds best to consistency and does not really have any limits, rather gets better the more you do. In yoga age is not a barrier, it promotes flexibility, balance, strength, coordination, concentration, and endurance. Hot Yoga is another option that offers infrared heat shown to soothe tired muscles.
Swimming is another form of exercise that can be done at any age, and is gentler on the joints. Swimming has been shown to help improve heart health, improve cardiovascular health and endurance, lower blood pressure, improve circulation, increase flexibility, improve muscle tone and strength, boost mental health, and helps to reduce risks of osteoporosis, heart and lung disease. Thanks to indoor pools this fun and engaging activity can be done all year long alone or in a variety of classes ranging from aerobics to weight/resistance training.
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