Getting older doesn’t mean you have to slow down. Follow these tips to stay super-fit in 10, 20 years — and beyond. (Photo: Alamy/Tony Tallec)
It seems there’s no shortage of headlines lately of people achieving astonishing feats as they near triple-digit ages. Just look at 92-year-old Harriette Thompson, for instance — the oldest woman to ever complete a marathon.
A movement toward lifelong health, athleticism, and well-being is a big trend not only nationally, but worldwide, says fitness and industry expert Doris Thews, who has 30 years of experience as a fitness instructor and educator. “Today, we’re seeing folks in [their] 50s and 60s who are butt-kickers,” Thews tells Yahoo Health. “I look back to when I was in my 20s, and people in their 50s and 60s were not moving like they’re moving today. And the longevity of our lives is expanding by making great choices.”
But if you want to age well — living better, not just longer — it’s important to start ASAP. “Aging is a matter of the accumulated damage we do daily,” says Bo Babenko, a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) specializing in sports and orthopedics, who is also the head of training and operations for CrossFit Gold Box in Dubai. “We let this pile up and compensate for long periods of time until we break down. I believe that if we can identify the things that damage us every day and start to minimize and even reverse them, we can not only add years to our lives, but add a lot of life to our years.”
Here are five tricks from leaders in the fitness-longevity space that you can start now to stay fit down the line.
Related: 17 Easy Ways to Live Longer
1. Sleep more — or, at least, sleep better.
Sleep is one of the first things we tend to sacrifice in order to fit in other priorities, like work or kids. The power of a good night’s sleep is often underestimated, Thews says. “I know it’s challenging as we age with hormones to sleep sometimes, but a good night’s sleep is almost as important as getting in a great workout,” she stresses. Sleep promotes healing and recovery from workouts, she explains, so that you can hit the gym refreshed the next day.
Sleep quality matters, too, Babenko adds. He recommends blackout curtains, a cool bedroom (between 68 and 72 degrees), and a calming pre-bedtime routine to help you snooze soundly.
2. Stop beating yourself up.
Our bodies are like a fraying rope, explains Mike Boyle, CSCS, owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in Woburn, Massachusetts, who has three decades of experience coaching collegiate and professional athletes. “If you rub a rope over a rock and watch fibers fray and fray, one day you’ll look at it and realize you’re almost out of rope,” Boyle tells Yahoo Health. “That’s the process that’s going on in your body.” Doing anything to the extreme is going to accelerate that process, he adds.
That’s not to say you should never do intense exercise. Just be smart about it, and avoid regularly doing activities that place wear and tear on your joints. A good rule of thumb: “When you’re doing things right, your muscles are sore and your joints aren’t,” Boyle says. “When you’re doing things wrong, both are sore.”
3. Move every day.
When researchers study the Blue Zones (areas in the world with the longest life expectancy), one common thread is that people who live there move consistently. “Moving through full ranges of motion every day is a fantastic way to ensure your body will not shrivel up into the hunched-over mass we want to avoid looking like down the line,” Babenko says.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do a workout every day, either, Thews explains. Head out for a walk, go shopping, or do some yard work. “Move it or lose it, because the second you stop moving, you really start to stiffen up, you start becoming sedentary, and then you have issues moving forward,” she says.
4. Invest in your health.
Boyle once had a client tell him, “You’re going to spend money on your body. It could be a massage or a nice casket. You get to decide.” The idea is to shift your mindset, Boyle says, and consider health-related purchases as necessities — not indulgences.
Research supports the idea that proactive health measures pay off over the long run. In the U.S., overweight costs $266 per person, per year, according to an analysis of four high-quality research studies published in Obesity Reviews. Obesity costs nearly $1,800 per person yearly, according to the same review. And another review of 17 studies published last year concluded that “obesity absorbs a huge amount of health-care resources.”
Of course, you’ll need to work within your means. Maybe you can’t afford a gym membership, for example, but you could probably find room in your budget for a pair of running shoes. Or, if you can’t afford a personal trainer, Boyle suggests looking into small-group personal training as a less costly alternative.
5. Make small, progressive diet changes.
The longer you live with bad nutrition habits, the harder it is to change them, Boyle says. So start with small steps, and don’t get caught up in perfectionism. “I always think shakes and bars are better than bagels and donuts,” he says. “It’s the art of effective compromise.” Boyle himself, for example, has a protein shake for breakfast every day: “It would be great to get up and make an omelet with diced broccoli, potatoes, and mushrooms, but I don’t know how realistic that is for the average working stiff.”
If you don’t know where to start, try eating more fruits and vegetables. In government surveys, only about 33 percent of the population eats two or more servings of vegetables daily. “A lot of people think backward,” Thews explains. “They think about what their protein or main course will be, and the fruits and vegetables are an addition. But your fruits and veggies should be your main focus.” She recommends freezing veggies like spinach, kale, and broccoli in small bags and adding them to smoothies. That way, she says, “You just get in one smoothie that has your five fruits and vegetables and you’re covered.”
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