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How to Add Meaning to Your Longevity Exercise Routine

Article
June 5, 2022
By
Jiří Kaloč

Showing clients how their exercise routines today can impact the desirable outcomes in older age can be a powerful tool for promoting longevity.

Highlights:

  • Loss of strength and stability in older age is a common cause of injury and loss of independence
  • Regular physical activity helps to slow down the decline of physical ability
  • Showing clients how their exercise routines today can impact the desirable outcomes in older age can be a powerful tool for promoting longevity

Introduction

One of the most common issues in aging is the loss of stability and strength and, therefore, the ability to accomplish everyday physical tasks. This is a major threat to individual independence in older age and longevity perspectives overall. Developing habits and routines early in life that build physical readiness is a crucial preventative measure. The tricky part is understanding what to focus on and how to help clients stay motivated over the long term. Adding a sense of purpose and meaning to exercise can be an effective way.

What do you want to be able to do at 100 years old?

The first step in approaching longevity exercise is thinking about the older version of your client. Most people are probably not worried about their ability to run a marathon or bench-press impressive weights at 100 years old. Commonly, people are concerned about their ability to confidently walk up and down a flight of stairs, carry groceries, walk the dog, or play with grandkids. Yet, most training is aimed at the former rather than the latter examples.

We all have a different vision of what our life should look like when we get old. Try asking your clients which physical movements they would want to retain. You can start by giving a few popular examples and continue from there.

  • Carry groceries up the stairs
  • Get up off the floor with their own strength
  • Pick up a child
  • Do longer walks on uneven terrain
  • Put a carry on in the overhead compartment on a plane

Having a list like this can help your clients see the value of implementing the right exercise routine. It can highlight how important consistent exercise is and that their current routine might not be addressing some aspects of fitness.

Four pillars of longevity exercise

Almost all of the physical tasks that older people struggle with require a certain level of competency in four core aspects of fitness – stability, strength, aerobic fitness, and anaerobic capacity. These can be considered pillars of physical fitness that best translate to longevity. It helps to understand how they connect to those everyday tasks and how to improve them effectively.

Stability

Falls and injuries are among the most impactful geriatric health issues because of the complications that often result from them. The rate of falls and severity of the associated complications increase dramatically with age. The two most important intrinsic predictors for a fall accident are taking medications and having a poor balance (1). Training stability and balance is, unfortunately, by far the most overlooked pillar of physical training. This is because the balance required to accomplish everyday tasks feels minimal for most young and middle-aged people.

Stability is the foundation for all other pillars of physical fitness. Establishing a habit of training it when younger can go a long way towards maintaining physical function into later years (2). Those that do yoga, Tai Chi, or pilates already have balance work built into their routine. Other clients should be encouraged to develop a short routine to do three or more days per week. The focus should be on unilateral exercises where a single arm or a single leg is used (3). Beginners can start with activities such as balancing on one leg with eyes closed and then progressing to single leg deadlift, single-arm press, and other advanced movements.

Strength

On average, people reach their maximal strength capacity between their twenties and thirties. By the fifth decade of life, strength starts to decline, decreasing sharply after the age of 65. It is typically attributed to diminishing levels of activity. Data suggest that muscle strength is essential for maintaining mobility and movement efficiency. For these reasons, it is a perfect predictor of decline in physical ability during aging (4). Many people assume that training strength is only for bodybuilders, professional athletes, or gym enthusiasts. The opposite is true; grip strength (5), as well as whole leg extension strength (6), are the best injury prevention, especially in the elderly.

Proper form is crucial for strength training. Repeating exercises with added weight in poor condition could lead to injury. Clients who do not have experience working with weights should be encouraged to learn under the supervision of an experienced coach. Good exercises to master are basic whole-body compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and various presses. Bodyweight exercises performed slowly are also helpful for clients who do not regularly have access to weights. Strength should be trained in at least two short sessions per week.

Aerobic fitness

Aerobic capacity is an aspect of fitness that people tend to train most often. Research shows that aerobic exercise shows benefits for cardiovascular health as well as brain health of older adults (7). Various activities can develop it, including walking, running, cycling, rowing, and swimming. The problem lies on either side of aerobic intensity. People who do not exercise do not increase their heart rate sufficiently and get no aerobic benefit. People who train too hard and too often get some benefits, but at a much higher cost in terms of muscle damage and recovery requirements.

A good rule of thumb for training aerobic capacity is to exercise at a level of exertion when it is still possible to maintain a conversation or breathe through the nose. This helps to keep intensity in the aerobic stage. These sessions can last between 30 and 60 minutes. You can recommend starting with 2 hours of this type of training per week and gradually increasing to 3-4 hours for a beginner.

Anaerobic capacity

Stability, strength, and good aerobic capacity will prepare your clients for almost all everyday tasks. But think of a scenario when you are late for a flight and have to do a short dash with your luggage. Sometimes, the situations require going over the aerobic threshold and using anaerobic power. This is why it is worth considering adding the fourth pillar, anaerobic training, as the cherry on top. Training this pillar depends on the individual situation of your client. It should be recommended only to those with a good foundation in the first three pillars.

Training anaerobic fitness requires your clients to make short-duration, high-intensity efforts. Beginners should be advised to do these on a stationary bike where proper technique is easy to maintain. For example, they could start with 3 minutes in a light effort followed by 1 minute at the highest effort they can sustain for that time. This should be repeated for 20-30 minutes. It is enough to do 1-2 anaerobic training sessions per week. They can be added towards the end of aerobic training sessions.

Creating a sense of purpose

It is important, to be honest with your clients about how much time and effort it takes to properly cover all four pillars of longevity. The data speaks clearly to the importance of various modes of exercise. But many of your clients would instead do their favorite sport and something else after. They have to be willing to sacrifice today to avoid suffering in the future. The best way to do that is to understand the true reason why they are doing it. This connects to the set of movements your clients defined for themselves at the beginning of this article. Have your clients write down the most important ones to have them visible in their exercise space as a reminder of the purpose. The next step is working on habit building so that an exercise routine becomes a part of their lifestyle.

Setting milestones is another tool that helps maintain a sense of purpose and meaning. You can help your clients set annual goals for each of the four pillars. Watching how they improve over the years is going to keep them motivated. This is where those seemingly superficial goals of running a marathon, lifting a specific amount of weight, or mastering an advanced yoga pose can play their part.

Conclusion

Maintaining stability, strength, and aerobic capacity can prevent devastating injuries and give older people the ability to keep their independence. Properly addressing all pillars of longevity exercise takes a notable amount of time and effort. This is why making the connection between the exercise and its impact on everyday tasks in the future is essential. Clients that can attach meaning and a sense of purpose to their exercise routine have a much higher chance of sticking with it over the long term.

References

  1. Anna Hafström, MD, PhD, Eva-Maj Malmström, PhD, Josefine Terdèn, MD, Per-Anders Fransson, PhD, and Måns Magnusson. Improved Balance Confidence and Stability for Elderly After 6 Weeks of a Multimodal Self-Administered Balance-Enhancing Exercise Program. Gerontol Geriatr Med. 2016 Jan-Dec; 2: 2333721416644149. doi: 10.1177/2333721416644149
  2. Ayelet Dunsky. The Effect of Balance and Coordination Exercises on Quality of Life in Older Adults: A Mini-Review. Front Aging Neurosci. 2019 Nov 15;11:318. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2019.00318. eCollection 2019.
  3. Jaffar Rasoola, KeithGeorge. The impact of single-leg dynamic balance training on dynamic stability. Physical Therapy in Sport. Volume 8, Issue 4, November 2007, Pages 177-184. doi.org/10.1016/j.ptsp.2007.06.001
  4. Mark D. Peterson, PhD, Matthew R. Rhea, PhD, Ananda Sen, PhD, and Paul M. Gordon. Resistance Exercise for Muscular Strength in Older Adults: A Meta-Analysis. Ageing Res Rev. 2010 Jul; 9(3): 226–237. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2010.03.004
  5. Nan-Ping Yang et al. Relationship between muscle strength and fall episodes among the elderly: the Yilan study, Taiwan. BMC Geriatr. 2018; 18: 90. doi: 10.1186/s12877-018-0779-2
  6. Mirjam Pijnappels, Petra J C E van der Burg, Neil D Reeves, Jaap H van Dieën. Identification of elderly fallers by muscle strength measures. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2008 Mar;102(5):585-92. doi: 10.1007/s00421-007-0613-6. Epub 2007 Dec 11.
  7. Stanley J Colcombe et al. Aerobic fitness reduces brain tissue loss in aging humans. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003 Feb;58(2):176-80. doi: 10.1093/gerona/58.2.m176.

Highlights:

  • Loss of strength and stability in older age is a common cause of injury and loss of independence
  • Regular physical activity helps to slow down the decline of physical ability
  • Showing clients how their exercise routines today can impact the desirable outcomes in older age can be a powerful tool for promoting longevity

Introduction

One of the most common issues in aging is the loss of stability and strength and, therefore, the ability to accomplish everyday physical tasks. This is a major threat to individual independence in older age and longevity perspectives overall. Developing habits and routines early in life that build physical readiness is a crucial preventative measure. The tricky part is understanding what to focus on and how to help clients stay motivated over the long term. Adding a sense of purpose and meaning to exercise can be an effective way.

What do you want to be able to do at 100 years old?

The first step in approaching longevity exercise is thinking about the older version of your client. Most people are probably not worried about their ability to run a marathon or bench-press impressive weights at 100 years old. Commonly, people are concerned about their ability to confidently walk up and down a flight of stairs, carry groceries, walk the dog, or play with grandkids. Yet, most training is aimed at the former rather than the latter examples.

We all have a different vision of what our life should look like when we get old. Try asking your clients which physical movements they would want to retain. You can start by giving a few popular examples and continue from there.

  • Carry groceries up the stairs
  • Get up off the floor with their own strength
  • Pick up a child
  • Do longer walks on uneven terrain
  • Put a carry on in the overhead compartment on a plane

Having a list like this can help your clients see the value of implementing the right exercise routine. It can highlight how important consistent exercise is and that their current routine might not be addressing some aspects of fitness.

Four pillars of longevity exercise

Almost all of the physical tasks that older people struggle with require a certain level of competency in four core aspects of fitness – stability, strength, aerobic fitness, and anaerobic capacity. These can be considered pillars of physical fitness that best translate to longevity. It helps to understand how they connect to those everyday tasks and how to improve them effectively.

Stability

Falls and injuries are among the most impactful geriatric health issues because of the complications that often result from them. The rate of falls and severity of the associated complications increase dramatically with age. The two most important intrinsic predictors for a fall accident are taking medications and having a poor balance (1). Training stability and balance is, unfortunately, by far the most overlooked pillar of physical training. This is because the balance required to accomplish everyday tasks feels minimal for most young and middle-aged people.

Stability is the foundation for all other pillars of physical fitness. Establishing a habit of training it when younger can go a long way towards maintaining physical function into later years (2). Those that do yoga, Tai Chi, or pilates already have balance work built into their routine. Other clients should be encouraged to develop a short routine to do three or more days per week. The focus should be on unilateral exercises where a single arm or a single leg is used (3). Beginners can start with activities such as balancing on one leg with eyes closed and then progressing to single leg deadlift, single-arm press, and other advanced movements.

Strength

On average, people reach their maximal strength capacity between their twenties and thirties. By the fifth decade of life, strength starts to decline, decreasing sharply after the age of 65. It is typically attributed to diminishing levels of activity. Data suggest that muscle strength is essential for maintaining mobility and movement efficiency. For these reasons, it is a perfect predictor of decline in physical ability during aging (4). Many people assume that training strength is only for bodybuilders, professional athletes, or gym enthusiasts. The opposite is true; grip strength (5), as well as whole leg extension strength (6), are the best injury prevention, especially in the elderly.

Proper form is crucial for strength training. Repeating exercises with added weight in poor condition could lead to injury. Clients who do not have experience working with weights should be encouraged to learn under the supervision of an experienced coach. Good exercises to master are basic whole-body compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and various presses. Bodyweight exercises performed slowly are also helpful for clients who do not regularly have access to weights. Strength should be trained in at least two short sessions per week.

Aerobic fitness

Aerobic capacity is an aspect of fitness that people tend to train most often. Research shows that aerobic exercise shows benefits for cardiovascular health as well as brain health of older adults (7). Various activities can develop it, including walking, running, cycling, rowing, and swimming. The problem lies on either side of aerobic intensity. People who do not exercise do not increase their heart rate sufficiently and get no aerobic benefit. People who train too hard and too often get some benefits, but at a much higher cost in terms of muscle damage and recovery requirements.

A good rule of thumb for training aerobic capacity is to exercise at a level of exertion when it is still possible to maintain a conversation or breathe through the nose. This helps to keep intensity in the aerobic stage. These sessions can last between 30 and 60 minutes. You can recommend starting with 2 hours of this type of training per week and gradually increasing to 3-4 hours for a beginner.

Anaerobic capacity

Stability, strength, and good aerobic capacity will prepare your clients for almost all everyday tasks. But think of a scenario when you are late for a flight and have to do a short dash with your luggage. Sometimes, the situations require going over the aerobic threshold and using anaerobic power. This is why it is worth considering adding the fourth pillar, anaerobic training, as the cherry on top. Training this pillar depends on the individual situation of your client. It should be recommended only to those with a good foundation in the first three pillars.

Training anaerobic fitness requires your clients to make short-duration, high-intensity efforts. Beginners should be advised to do these on a stationary bike where proper technique is easy to maintain. For example, they could start with 3 minutes in a light effort followed by 1 minute at the highest effort they can sustain for that time. This should be repeated for 20-30 minutes. It is enough to do 1-2 anaerobic training sessions per week. They can be added towards the end of aerobic training sessions.

Creating a sense of purpose

It is important, to be honest with your clients about how much time and effort it takes to properly cover all four pillars of longevity. The data speaks clearly to the importance of various modes of exercise. But many of your clients would instead do their favorite sport and something else after. They have to be willing to sacrifice today to avoid suffering in the future. The best way to do that is to understand the true reason why they are doing it. This connects to the set of movements your clients defined for themselves at the beginning of this article. Have your clients write down the most important ones to have them visible in their exercise space as a reminder of the purpose. The next step is working on habit building so that an exercise routine becomes a part of their lifestyle.

Setting milestones is another tool that helps maintain a sense of purpose and meaning. You can help your clients set annual goals for each of the four pillars. Watching how they improve over the years is going to keep them motivated. This is where those seemingly superficial goals of running a marathon, lifting a specific amount of weight, or mastering an advanced yoga pose can play their part.

Conclusion

Maintaining stability, strength, and aerobic capacity can prevent devastating injuries and give older people the ability to keep their independence. Properly addressing all pillars of longevity exercise takes a notable amount of time and effort. This is why making the connection between the exercise and its impact on everyday tasks in the future is essential. Clients that can attach meaning and a sense of purpose to their exercise routine have a much higher chance of sticking with it over the long term.

References

  1. Anna Hafström, MD, PhD, Eva-Maj Malmström, PhD, Josefine Terdèn, MD, Per-Anders Fransson, PhD, and Måns Magnusson. Improved Balance Confidence and Stability for Elderly After 6 Weeks of a Multimodal Self-Administered Balance-Enhancing Exercise Program. Gerontol Geriatr Med. 2016 Jan-Dec; 2: 2333721416644149. doi: 10.1177/2333721416644149
  2. Ayelet Dunsky. The Effect of Balance and Coordination Exercises on Quality of Life in Older Adults: A Mini-Review. Front Aging Neurosci. 2019 Nov 15;11:318. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2019.00318. eCollection 2019.
  3. Jaffar Rasoola, KeithGeorge. The impact of single-leg dynamic balance training on dynamic stability. Physical Therapy in Sport. Volume 8, Issue 4, November 2007, Pages 177-184. doi.org/10.1016/j.ptsp.2007.06.001
  4. Mark D. Peterson, PhD, Matthew R. Rhea, PhD, Ananda Sen, PhD, and Paul M. Gordon. Resistance Exercise for Muscular Strength in Older Adults: A Meta-Analysis. Ageing Res Rev. 2010 Jul; 9(3): 226–237. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2010.03.004
  5. Nan-Ping Yang et al. Relationship between muscle strength and fall episodes among the elderly: the Yilan study, Taiwan. BMC Geriatr. 2018; 18: 90. doi: 10.1186/s12877-018-0779-2
  6. Mirjam Pijnappels, Petra J C E van der Burg, Neil D Reeves, Jaap H van Dieën. Identification of elderly fallers by muscle strength measures. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2008 Mar;102(5):585-92. doi: 10.1007/s00421-007-0613-6. Epub 2007 Dec 11.
  7. Stanley J Colcombe et al. Aerobic fitness reduces brain tissue loss in aging humans. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003 Feb;58(2):176-80. doi: 10.1093/gerona/58.2.m176.

Article reviewed by
Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.
SCIENTIFIC & MEDICAL ADVISOR
Quality Garant
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Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.

Scientific & Medical Advisor
Quality Garant

Ana has over 20 years of consultancy experience in longevity, regenerative and precision medicine. She has a multifaceted understanding of genomics, molecular biology, clinical biochemistry, nutrition, aging markers, hormones and physical training. This background allows her to bridge the gap between longevity basic sciences and evidence-based real interventions, putting them into the clinic, to enhance the healthy aging of people. She is co-founder of Origen.life, and Longevityzone. Board member at Breath of Health, BioOx and American Board of Clinical Nutrition. She is Director of International Medical Education of the American College of Integrative Medicine, Professor in IL3 Master of Longevity at Barcelona University and Professor of Nutrigenomics in Nutrition Grade in UNIR University.

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