Cardio, strength and flexibility training should be staples of your exercise regime, whatever your age. Beyond that, of course, the specifics of your workouts will depend on your goals, what you enjoy, and how fighting fit you are. But as your body and lifestyle change as you age, here are a couple of key things to be especially mindful of in each decade.
In Your 20s…
What: Get Strong
Why: “Muscle mass and bone density peak in your 20s. So now really is the time to form a habit of doing regular strength training, as this can improve both,” says personal trainer and founder of Tate Wellness Si Tate, “Think of it like savings in a bank. The more you put in the pot now, the better your starting position when these begin to naturally decline as you age.”
How: Tate recommends two weights sessions a week. Aim for around 10-15 reps per exercise to build muscle without bulk.
What: Bank Your Flexibility
Why: Most women in their 20s are naturally flexible so they don’t focus on it. However, it’s something that’s difficult to get back once lost, so start working on maintaining it now.
How: Aim for a couple of sessions a week of flexibility work. Tate advises focusing on the major joints, including your back, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.
In Your 30s…
What: Get Baby-ready
Why: If you’re planning on starting a family around this time, think about doing exercises that strengthen your core, which will help to ease pregnancy back pain, and your pelvic floor muscles, which are put under a lot of strain during pregnancy and birth. Keeping these muscles strong now, will help your body recover afterwards too.
How: Pilates is good for strengthening both your core and pelvic floor muscles. Vaara's own 15 minute mat-based daily workout will help you start targeting those areas.
What: Up Your ‘Incidental’ Exercise
Why: Your 30s can be really hectic, with work and possibly a family of your own. “This is where incidental exercise – i.e. the exercise you get just going about your daily life – becomes important, as it’s a way to get some cardio exercise and burn calories when you can’t make it to the gym,” notes Tate.
How: Walk instead of drive, take the stairs instead of the lift. And try this: make it a rule that whenever you’re talking on your phone, you have to pace.
In Your 40s…
What: Clock Your Calories
Why: “You may start to notice the impact of a slower metabolism in this decade. Due to hormonal changes now, women tend to store fat around their stomachs,” notes personal trainer from Hall Training Systems, Pete Burke, “However, there’s very little evidence to suggest you can ‘spot reduce’ – i.e. do exercises that burn fat off your belly specifically. Instead, it really comes down to calories in being less than calories out to reduce body fat generally.”
How: Consider giving high intensity interval training (HIIT) a whirl. It’s been shown to increase the number of calories you burn <after> your workout has finished. Check out FitnessBlender on YouTube for a number of free HIIT workout videos to get you started.
What: Build Your Upper Body
Why: “The arms tend to be one area women neglect when they do strength training. As your muscle mass will naturally decline as you age, it’s really important to focus on upper body as part of your strength training routine if you haven't before,” suggests Tate. A weak upper body in older age will make basic things like pushing yourself out of a chair difficult.
How: Tate’s challenge: twice a week, try to do as many press-ups as you can.
In Your 50s+…
What: Perfect Your Posture
Why: “When people hit their 50s, you often see a drop in their posture – their shoulders roll forward and their back arches,” notes Burke, “This can contribute to aches and pains.”
How: Strengthening your core can improve posture. Hold a plank for as long as you can while feeling it in your core. When you start to feel it in your lower back, stop, as this suggests you’ve lost form. Repeat two to three times a day.
What: Find Your Inner Yogi
Why: “Strength training is still key, especially to head off osteoporosis, which women can be particularly at risk of after the menopause,” notes Tate. The drop in oestrogen levels at this time causes a decline in bone density – which can fall by 20% in the five to seven years after the menopause, according to NHS Choices. Weight bearing and resistance exercises are especially key for keeping bones strong.
How: Yoga is a smart option to add to your fitness repertoire now, if you haven't tried it before, as it helps to build strength, while being gentle on your joints. It can also improve balance, which will help you avoid falls as you age. Mats at the ready.