At age 40, the surgeon general’s office suggests that women’s bone density is “in jeopardy.” Research also suggests that, as they age, men’s testosterone levels drop more out of declining health, rather than merely increased age.
As we approach and stumble over the big 4-0, a lot of things change. For many that theme is decline. Both men and women can suffer from sarcopenia, or a loss in muscle mass. It is also being shown that suffering from risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol in your 40’s significantly impacts your chance of heart attack in your 70’s and 80’s.
And that’s not all — Back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, decline in movement, and joint damage from years of overuse and compromised body positioning seem to go hand in hand with this venture into the next season of your life.
But does it have to be this way? Not necessarily. Research suggests that the healthier and more mobile we keep ourselves, the less we perceive our joints to hurt and the more independent we stay. Dare I say that we can even IMPROVE our health as we age. Yes — I dare say it!
While it alone will not completely cure the symptoms that come with middle age, there is something that will help: Exercise. There are six key exercises that almost every healthy adult over 40 should be doing. Adopt a 40-is-the-new-30 mindset and add them to your routine.
Decrease Back Pain
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain in their lifetimes and the main reason? Because they are getting older and there is more wear and tear on the body. What is happening in the body as you get older is a big determiner of how you back will be able to hold up over the years.
The more you sit, the more deconditioned your back becomes. And it only gets worse if you don’t stretch or exercise to keep it loose and strong. When you’re seated and leaning forward—to eat or use a computer or work on a crossword or take in a particularly good show on tv—your back rounds into a “C” shape. In this position, the low back muscles are turned on, while the muscles of your “posterior chain”, this includes your glutes and hamstrings, are turned off. Overtime, this becomes habit and the body starts to find it harder to get the posterior chain working properly.
Not only can this prevent you from keeping a nice, perky backside as you age, but it can also increase your risk of pain. What is one super effective exercise to get the posterior chain firing on all cylinders again?
Glute Bridge with Band
Wrap a loop exercise band around your legs just above the knees. Lie face up on a mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your arms at your sides, palms up. Keeping your feet flat on the floor, squeeze your glutes to raise your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. As you lift, the band above your knees will try to pull your knees together; fight to keep them apart so that your thighs stay parallel. This will engage your hip musculature. Pause for a second at the top of the exercise before slowly returning to the start position. Note: As you’re raising up, don’t let your heels come off the floor!
Repeat for three sets of five to eight reps.
Increase Reaction And Fast-Twitch Muscle
Muscle mass can decrease as much as one percent per year after age 40. Much of that muscle loss is from your fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the fibers that are used in moments of fast or heavy energy exertion like sprinting or heavy lifting. Maybe you don’t see yourself as a sprinter as you get older, but you still are going to need to react and move quickly. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are in charge of that too. If you are falling, you will need to react quickly to catch yourself.
The key to building these muscle fibers is to have a purpose in mind — toss, slam and pass medicine balls for each repetition with force to develop power.
Medicine Ball Chest Pass and Medicine Ball Slam
For the chest press, stand about five feet from a wall with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and knees slightly bent. Hold the ball in front of your chest with both hands. Press both arms forward as forcefully as you can without falling over to pass the ball so it hits the wall. Retrieve the ball, reset and forcefully press it again. Perform three to four sets of 10 reps, resting 45 seconds between sets.
For the slam, stand in the same position, holding the ball in front of your chest. Raise your arms up over your head, and then forcefully slam the ball down in front of your feet. Retrieve the ball, reset and slam it again.
Perform three to four sets of eight to 15 reps, resting 45 seconds between sets.
Reduce Stress on Rolled Shoulders
We sit much more than our ancestors. Over time, the body starts to take on that curved shape—permanently. We literally start to lean forward into a flexed position the more that we train our body to do so through our accommodating lifestyles. As we round forward, our muscles become very short in the front of the body, and become long in the back side.
What does this look like? Your body becomes stronger in a position where your chest is caved, your shoulders are rolled forward and your neck is extended. As a result, the back of your body becomes weaker, and can’t pull your shoulders back, expand your chest or keep your head in the correct position. Your body becomes kyphotic and this is seen very often in older women.
Rolled shoulders are bad not only because your posture is “ugly,” but because the excessive rolling can put a lot of pressure on the shoulder joint and cause pain, even rotator cuff tears. What is one simple exercise you can do every day to keep your posture tall (by strengthening your back muscles) and your rotator cuff muscles strong?
Supine Rotation of the Arms
Lie face up on the ground with your feet flat and knees bent. Your arms should be spread up and to the sides at a 45-degree angle so that your torso forms a “Y” shape, with your palms facing up. In this position, twist your hands so that your thumbs are on the floor, and your pinkies point towards the ceiling.
Hold this position for 30 seconds. Repeat one more time.
Loosen Up Your Hips And Thoracic Spine
Another consequence of our continual seated posture is that our thoracic spine (mid-back) and our hips tighten up and “turns off,” while our lower back “turns on” from being in a rounded position in our chair. You get locked up! The joints that are to be stiff and strong, like the low back, get loose and the other muscles that should be loose get tight.
Your lower and upper back end up doing more work because the mid of your back is tight. You have to move somewhere, right? With the constant tugging and pulling on your low back and shoulders/neck, you are more likely to get an imbalance. And more likely to have more pain.
One way to solve this problem is to combine a few moves in one so that you are optimizing your hip mobility and your mid back flexibility and strength. You get an extra bonus with this move — While it trains stability on one side of the body, it’s training mobility on the other—which is how a healthy body is supposed to work.
The Move: Half-Kneel Hip Flexor Stretch With Trunk Rotation/Reach
Get in the top of a traditional pushup position, with your hands directly below your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to heels. From this position, drop your left knee to the ground and bring your right foot up close to your shoulder so that your foot is flat on the ground. Keep your left hand planted firmly on the ground. Lift your right hand off the ground and twist your torso so that your right hand goes towards the ceiling and your torso and arms form a capital “T” shape. Hold this for a few seconds, then twist back down. Return to the pushup position and do the stretch on the other side.
Do the stretch on each side three times.
Fight Forward Head Posture
Sitting for long periods or having a desk job makes you more prone to developing a forward head posture. Your spine gets rounded and your lower traps and rhomboids turn off, creating less strength and decreased mobility.
As we’ve seen, the thoracic spine starts to get tight as we age, and the low back gets loose—the opposite of how each should work. Rows are a fantastic way to retrain those muscles to work properly.
Rowing is a relatively simple move and when you focus specifically on scapular retraction, you target the specific muscles to improve the integrity of these muscles.
Squeeze those shoulder blades — At the top of the row, finish with your shoulder blades back and hands around chest level, not at your armpits. The key is to make sure that the shoulder joint doesn’t move forward but stays back in the row.
The Move: Inverted Row
Set the bar of a smith machine or a power rack at hip height and lie beneath the bar. Reach your arms up and grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s slightly beyond shoulder width. Create a straight body line from head to heels, with your heels resting on the floor and your torso suspended in the air. Keeping this rigid body line, pull your chest to the bar by squeezing your shoulder blades together and then bending your elbows. Try to pull your chest towards the bar, rather than bringing your fists to your armpits. Control your body as you lower back to the start position.
Start with three reps, and work up to sets of eight.
Starting to get more flexibility is simple by doing just a few moves to create that space. Being consistent and knowing the moves to do will get you results that can create less pain and tightness. Start with these 5!
Did you know that starting out your morning with “me time” helps to decrease stress and food cravings throughout the rest of your day? Here is my morning routine to help get you started. Click the link below!
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