By Julie Deardorff, Tribune Newspapers
7:45 PM EDT, April 3, 2013
In her 20s, Lori Popkewitz Alper loved the intense cardio workouts at her Boston gym. But, as her life and her body changed, so did her fitness repertoire.
During pregnancy, Alper found yoga. Soon she was pushing a jog stroller or hauling children in a double-wide bike trailer. Now 47, Alper has returned to some of the high-impact routines of her youth, but her approach has matured.
"I'm more aware of my body's needs, and I try not to be too hard on it," said Alper, who regularly incorporates strength training for bone health and yoga for her sanity. "(Exercise) is such an important piece of my existence — I hope it always will be."
Age changes things
Workout programs are like 401(k)s — they need to be re-balanced over the decades, said fitness expert Tom Holland. "As we age, we need to gradually take out the risk and put in more 'blue chip' elements," he said.
These four basic-yet-effective exercises — a squat, pushup, bicep curl and abdominal crunch — should remain in your program as long as you can perform them correctly, Holland said.
"When you're young, blue chips are often perceived as being too easy, yet they are the key to creating and maintaining a strong foundation," he said. "You may have to modify them slightly as you age — not going down as far on a squat, for example — but you keep them in as long as possible."
As the body ages, it naturally begins to fall apart, with some functions breaking down faster than others. After age 20, the maximal amount of oxygen your body can use — also known as VO2 max — decreases by 1 percent a year in healthy men and women.
By the time you've hit 30, muscular strength begins to head south. But the majority of the decrease occurs after age 50, when it falls at the rate of 15 percent per decade. Bone mineral density also decreases with age; in women the rate accelerates after menopause.
What to do …
Experts say the ideal combination of exercise for healthy aging should include a combination of aerobic, strengthening and flexibility exercises.
Balance exercises are also vital in helping prevent falls, which can lead to fractures. And though higher-intensity training programs are effective, less rigorous works can be just as effective, as long as they are done consistently.
Kim Evans, 56, a fitness professional in Grand Haven, Mich., stresses functional fitness and de-emphasizes cardio as her clients age. "Older folks still need to get up and down off of the floor, to be able to chase after grandkids and play a round of golf or tennis without having to recover for several days," she said.
"Aging is not for sissies. You need to face it head on," Evans said. "Pay attention to your limitations, keep up your strength, keep trying new things and have a good attitude."
Tweaking your workout can keep you active well into your golden years. Here's how to reduce the risk in your exercise portfolio. Click here for the photo gallery.
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