It’s a satisfying feeling to be part of a team that has such a positive impact on people’s lives. I graduated from Health and Sports Science in 2004 as an Exercise Physiologist. It’s my job at Ignite to do whatever I can to ensure our clients are using Ignite and getting the great results that everyone wants.
The idea of becoming old, frail and losing independence is a scary thought, but it is a reality for many people in the modern, western world, where living a physical life is now a choice not a necessity.
This post is about the long game, it’s not about what to do to look good at the beach this summer but rather what kind of life your body will enable you to live one decade from now, two decades from now, three, four or even five decades from now!
How does your current exercise routine set you up for a lifetime of good, pain free movement, vitality and physicality until the day you eventually drop off the perch?
What are the most important aspects of your routine that set you up for a lifetime of physical activity?
1) Maintain Flexibility, Mobility and Posture.
In the modern world, our muscles and joints get tighter as the grains of sand pass through the hourglass. What starts as tight muscles and poor posture, eventually, as years turn to decades, changes the shape of our vertebrae and bones, making today’s lazy posture tomorrow’s permanent mobility deficit.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way.
The more we move and use our body through it’s full ranges of motion, i.e, in a well balanced strength and flexibility program, the more of our mobility we maintain. On the other side of the coin, the more sedentary we become and the less movement we incorporate into our lives the tighter we get.
Whilst it is possible to improve lost mobility with a lot of consistent effort, in most cases the best solution is to work on never losing it in the first place.
This can be achieved with regular participation in a well structured strength and conditioning routine, such as those put together at Ignite, that includes appropriate mobility and movement preparation exercises at the start of the workout, compound strength movements performed through their full range of motion, and targeted flexibility work to improve your tightest areas.
2) Keep your Muscles and Bones strong.
Strength and muscle mass also decline with age.
Irrespective of age, everyone has something to gain out of regular strength training.
For young people the stronger you become when you’re young, the higher your peak (see graph), and the better off you are in the long term.
The older you are the more you stand to benefit from strength training 2-3 times per week. This will enable you to slow down or even reverse the natural decline of your strength and muscle mass and truly enable you to maintain a robust physicality that will enable you to live life to it’s fullest for the rest of your life.
The older you are, the more you stand to benefit from regular strength training.
Another reason this is true is the effect of strength training on the health of our bones. The ‘good’ compressive forces that pass through our bodies when performing closed chain strength movements (think squats and push ups) sends a powerful signal to the body to preserve bone mineral density. The appropriate dose of plyometric activities that involve varying degrees of impact such as skipping, jumping and sports such as tennis does wonders for bone mineral density also.
3) Stay agile, balanced and ‘connected’ with your body and with movement.
This one is the peak of the pyramid as it’s very difficult to maintain a good level of agility, balance, co-ordination, fluency and grace with your movement without a good level of both flexibility and strength.
These less measurable attributes become increasingly important the older we get.
It’s also a more difficult point to explain as it extends far beyond the idea of ‘maintaining good balance to prevent falls’ which is what initially springs to mind when we discuss balance in this context.
I’m referring to how well our strength and flexibility transfers to the way we use our body in every day life, for instance when negotiating stairs, lifting and carry things, stepping over or under obstacles, getting in and out of a car or bed, tying our shoes, drying ourselves, swimming, hiking, playing a new sport or game, or exploring the rocks at the end of the beach on holidays.
This can be honed by continually learning new exercises inside and outside of the gym, striving to perform all movements with optimal form and efficiency (Check out Darren’s article on the concept of virtuosity here), actually thinking about how you’re moving and performing movements to strengthen your mind / body connections. It can also be developed by exposing your body to a range of different physical pursuits throughout your life on top of your strength work, i.e. playing a sport, learning a martial art, exploring different types of dance, practicing yoga or even learning to surf or swim for the first time.
There you have it, the 3 most important aspects of your exercise approach for a long, active life: Flexibility, Strength and Balance / Movement.
You may have noted a few exceptions the most obvious being cardiovascular fitness:
Whilst cardiovascular fitness remains important as we get older our ability to maintain a good level of cardiovascular fitness is very much dependent on maintaining mobility, strength and balance to keep on moving and to enabling ‘cardio’ to occur at all.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re already regularly working on the above. Give yourself a pat on the back. Congratulations and keep it up! It’s going to even more important for you tomorrow than it is today!
If you’re not working on the above, what are you waiting for? It’s never too late!