You may have already heard about how exercise can benefit various aspects of your health as you age, such as brain function, mental well-being, sexual health, and overall physical health. However, it’s crucial to note that as you get older, your body’s needs will also change. Hence, it’s important to customize your exercise routines accordingly. From weight change to organ function, the choices we make regarding exercise – matter. In this message, we explain why it’s essential to change your workouts after turning 30 and provide some tips to stay fit that you can start implementing right away.
Caring for your muscles and joints is more important than ever before.
As you reach your 30s, your body begins to experience a decline in bone density and muscle mass. This can cause discomfort and soreness in your joints, as well as tightness in your tendons and ligaments. Additionally, decreased muscle strength can cause greater stress on your joints. Over time, the cartilage within your joints can also degenerate, increasing the likelihood of joint problems between the ages of 30 and 40. For most of us, the longevity of well-functioning joints may be maintained by altering exercises based on the intensity and volume of regular high impact and alternating them accordingly.
TIP #1 Maintain or improve your range of motion for strength and stability. For instance, instead of limiting yourself to the age-old dictation of a 90-degree angle when doing weighted lunges – instead, reduce the weight and work on getting stronger at a deeper angle. However, if you are injured, it’s crucial to consult with a physiotherapist who has assessed your condition. When engaging in resistance and strength training, consider using techniques like time under tension. Keep in mind that unless you’re participating in weightlifting competitions, there’s no need to push yourself to PR every lift. In non-gym lingo, there’s no need for you to always strive to lift heavier weights to stay fit for your entire life.
TIP #2 Engaging in different types of physical activities can help improve the health of your muscles and joints by promoting a wider range of movement. For example, you could try a combination of racquet sports (for lateral movement), hiking (to experience different inclines and declines), swimming (which is low-impact on your joints but provides a great cardio workout), and dance (which involves movements that engage your brain and are less predictable). It’s also a good idea to change up your warm-up routine and focus on preparing your body for the specific movements you’ll be doing.
Hormonal changes affect your workout and recovery.
After turning 30, both men and women start producing fewer hormones, including estrogen which regulates women’s monthly cycle. This decrease accelerates at 35. Your hormones and metabolism are intertwined and affect calorie burn and muscle building. This hormonal shift can cause changes such as difficulty with some activities and certain foods not sitting well with you anymore. Humans have identified more than 50 hormones. Among these, cortisol, thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin play a key role. If there is a decrease or increase in the levels of these hormones, it can throw off the balance of your workout, weight and energy management. While men and women experience hormonal changes differently as we age, the combination of high-frequency, high-intensity exercise with a lack of adequate recovery and caloric intake can often contribute to the chronic elevation of the stress hormone cortisol for both sexes. For a deeper dive into how workouts should change for women after turning 30, talk to our Women’s Health specialists.
TIP: Look for signs where your current exercise regime is no longer working for your body and health. These signs may vary amongst individuals but the most obvious ones would involve sharp and acute pain (not the right kind of burn), fatigue, and if your immune system is shot. Invest in a Personal Trainer who has experience with clients of all ages and has the right knowledge for your unique case. You can also work with a coach with combined credentials and experience in strength training, nutrition and Functional Medicine.
Metabolism changes can affect your workout routine, weight gain and libido.
A hormone that helps to regulate metabolism and body weight is one form of estrogen called estradiol, which decreases at menopause. The decrease in estrogen levels during menopause leads to an increase in visceral fat, which can increase the risk of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease (1). Hormonal changes can affect libido. Studies have shown that testosterone levels decrease with age in both men and women, which can lead to a decline in sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction (2). In this research, they found that older adults who maintain an active lifestyle and avoid gaining excess fat are largely spared from the typical metabolic syndrome/insulin resistance features that have been attributed to aging (3)
TIP: Work at different levels of difficulty and effort during your workouts to push your body. This could look like a session being broken down into two to three parts with varied intensity. However, it’s important to avoid overdoing it to the point of exhaustion. When fatigue hits, that can have an effect on libido and overall life satisfaction. Keep your medium to high-intensity blocks between 30-45 minutes. This variety will also help you challenge different parts of your body. Have a full hour allocated at the gym? That is a perfect opportunity to work on other departments in fitness, like mobility and breath work.
Connection between bone mineral density and muscular strength
As we age after turning 30 years old, bone loss can increase and weaken bones, increasing the risk of fractures. While bone loss is a natural part of aging for both men and women, women are at a higher risk. If you experience bone loss, you may be more prone to injuries and repetitive strain injuries. Research shows a strong connection between bone mineral density and muscular strength, particularly among elite athletes. As a result, athletes who have this understanding guided by their coaches, aim for both optimal bone density and muscle development. “The reason 30 is an important decade is because that’s the first decade in which we’re no longer increasing in bone production. So if we don’t increase muscle-mass production, overall metabolism goes down.” said Dr. Holly Lofton (Director of Medical Weight Management Program at NYU School of Medicine).
TIP: Incorporate a recovery program and pay attention to when being competitive does more harm than good in your training environment. Instead, focus on your own needs and tailor your program accordingly. Do you have a good mix of endurance training, coordination and balance exercises, and strength training in your exercise routine? If you’re curious about the status of your bone health, there are now assessment tools fully accessible to the public. One of our preferred bone mineral density tests is the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, commonly known as a DEXA scan. (This test can also measure your body composition, such as body fat and muscle mass.)
Local tip: DEXA scan in Hong Kong (not an ad)
As we get older, our minds also age.
But by modifying our exercise routines, we can stay fit by activating various areas of the brain and preserving its health. This can also contribute to the formation of new brain cells. If you think of your brain as a muscle, the more you exercise it, the more it will strengthen and grow. Studies have shown that regular exercise can enlarge the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in humans, which are parts of the brain that can be harmed by conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s (4). There is growing evidence that exercise can prevent neurodegeneration, including Alzheimer’s disease, and also help with memory and learning. With such dependency on exercise, it is crucial to maintain mobility function to continue brain health. There wouldn’t be much physical activity one can do if mindless smash-and-bash workouts were contributing to regular injuries.
TIP: Vary your movements and explore activities you can enjoy. You don’t need to excel in everything you do to stay fit, so adopt a beginner’s mindset when trying new things to keep your brain stimulated. If you get bored easily, consider joining a group or community-based activity, such as a beach clean-up, to boost your mood and meet like-minded people who enjoy physical activity.
For more topics like this, check out this episode “Should You Change Your Workout After 30” on our podcast. Hosted by Tricia Yap, Functional Medicine Health Coach (FMHC) and Hong Kong’s wellness expert, and Emily Tan, FMHC-in-training and Sexuality Consultant in-training.
- Lovejoy, J.C. (2009). The menopause and obesity. The Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 11(6), 303–308.
- Snyder, P.J., et al. (2016). Effects of testosterone treatment in older men. The New England Journal of Medicine, 374(7), 611–624
2011. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory