In your 20s
Your power move: The burpee
You are in the best physical condition you’re ever likely to be in. If you’re out of shape in your 20s, you’ll have a harder time getting in shape later. Scary thought for some of you, huh? You bet. So use your 20s to lay the groundwork and start cultivating healthy habits now. It’s far easier to stay fit than to get fit, particularly as you get older.
The temptation is to get in shape for aesthetic reasons only. But don’t just do it for the skinny jeans, do it for Future You. Getting fit now will set you up for a lifetime of health, helping you ward off age-related conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes and more.
Take advantage of the fact that your muscle mass, bone density and cardio capacity are at their highest levels by trying out every fitness regime and fad out there. You can handle it all!
• Cardio: 4 times a week
Run, cycle, swim, row, skip, dance… Keep the weight off and your heart healthy by putting it to work for up to an hour 4 times a week. For extra motivation, commit to an event such as a half marathon or triathlon. This will help you stay on track with regular training.
• Strength/weight training: 3 times a week
Take a CrossFit, HIIT or boxing class to get your strength and cardio in together. Strength training, whether with body weight or on the barbell, will help you tone up and burn more fat.
In your 30s
Your power move: The deadlift
You start to see the decline in muscle mass and increase in body weight after the big 3-0. Guess what? That’s generally because it coincides with a drop in activity. You’re most likely getting married, starting a family, taking on more responsibility at work… Who has time to work out? Well, make time! Because no matter what you’ve been told, you’re not over the hill. Your body is still in great shape to either maintain your fitness or start getting fit, to help stall or even reverse the effects of ageing.
It’s time to get organised: Schedule exercise into your day as you would other important appointments. You don’t need long workouts to see results – intensity is key. And do a mix of workouts to keep your body from getting too used to one routine.
• Strength/resistance training: 4 times a week
Make friends with weights or use resistance bands and your own body weight to get strong and lean. Strength-training boosts your metabolism, preserves and builds muscle mass, and keeps your bones healthy and strong as you age.
• Cardio: 2 times a week
If you’re a runner, stick to what you know and love, but add in a few sprint intervals (running at full effort for 100 m, jogging at a light to moderate pace for 1 minute) to give your body and heart a kick in the pants.
Stretch after working out or take a yoga/Pilates class to lengthen those muscles and keep you limber and flexible. This will help you avoid injury and keep your joints healthy.
In your 40s
Your power move: The dumb-bell fly
Forty is the new thirty, right? Right! So put down the fat pants and get to work! Your aerobic capacity and endurance are at an optimal level, allowing you to give the young guns a run for their money. But spending long hours at the office and most likely dealing with teenagers or young adults at home, you find your energy levels dipping significantly. Exercising will give you the boost you need – and if you involve the whole family, you can get in some much-needed quality time together. Use your fitness by going for hikes, swim in the ocean, cycle around your neighbourhood… Every little bit adds up.
Up your cardio, but bring the intensity down a notch. This is easier on the joints. Continue to add strength training into your routine to stay as strong as possible, but focus on form to prevent injuries.
• Cardio: 3 times a week
Get your heart rate up for 45 minutes to an hour most days of the week for heart-health and weight-loss benefits. Join a group class like spinning or HIIT, which will give you strength training too.
• Yoga: 2 times a week
Add yoga to get a dose of stress relief, boost energy and mood levels, and keep your posture and balance tip-top.
In your 50s+
Your power move: The squat
Over 50 is when you may start to feel not so invincible. Your knees are creaking, your back is aching, you just don’t seem to be able to move as freely as before. When did this happen? Don’t fret: Daily exercise is the perfect antidote to those little aches and pains. Bonus? It’ll relieve stress, boost your mood and give you the best quality of life possible as you approach your golden years.
Working out in your 50s and beyond is more about preventative medicine for a longer life than it is about vanity. Exercise has been proven to drastically slow mental decline as you age and ward off chronic disease. So think cardio for heart health, weight-training to preserve bone density and muscle mass, and general activity to keep your brain sharp.
• Functional training: 4 times a week
The smartest thing you can do now is focus on functional movements, including any and all variations of squatting, lunging, pulling, pushing and stepping. These movements involve the whole body and strengthen the muscle groups you use in everyday situations, making basic tasks far easier (don’t take for granted how easy it is now to stand up from the toilet!).
• Non-weight-bearing exercise: Once a week
Cycling or swimming will help you get your cardio in without placing stress on your joints. Join group classes to motivate you to keep at it – working out is always more fun with friends.
Fit at 80
Age is no excuse. These women prove you’re never too old to get in shape.
Joburg’s Dierdre Larkin is 86 and started distance running at the age of 78 after being diagnosed with osteoporosis. Refusing to let her body deteriorate, she now runs every day and holds the half-marathon world-record time for her age at just over 2 hours.
Known as the Fittest Grandma in the World, American Ernestine Shepherd is 82 and started gymming at 56 after what she describes as a disastrous bathing-suit shopping trip. She is now a model, personal trainer and competitive bodybuilder with two titles under her belt.