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Midlife Fitness: Boosting Longevity, Healthspan, and Vitality

Midlife woman with gray hair in black wetsuit smiling standing with bright yellow surfboard

Have you ever heard someone say, "I feel old"? Or maybe you’ve uttered these words yourself? I said it recently while trying to figure out how to work the Apple TV remote and catching my kids giving me an amused side-eye (yup, I have become that cliché). What I was really feeling was confused, frustrated and a touch comical because I just wanted to relax and passively receive some entertainment for-the-love-of-all-things-holy!

When it comes to midlife fitness challenges, saying "I feel old" can often be a way of expressing feeling stiff, tired and/or weak.

Before I say more about this, I want to be crystal clear on something: aging is a privilege. We get to age. So when someone selling an "anti-aging" product touts its efficacy, they are either lying or promoting something that will kill us (death is 100% guaranteed to prevent aging). And the promise of “turning back the clock” is equally ridiculous. In truth, most of us don't yearn for our youth–I believe most of us are seeking to feel strong, supple and spry. And, thank goodness, aging does not have to be a barrier to this goal.

Undoubtedly, as we age, natural changes in our bodies will lead to decreases in muscle mass, bone density, strength, and power. Some might start noticing these declines as early as their mid-30s. And for those who experience menopause, this midlife transition will intensify and accelerate these changes.

However, the good news is that engaging in regular fitness training in midlife can not only slow down these age-related declines but it can also improve many of these physical attributes. [watch my YouTube video on Building Muscle Over 50]

Beyond the physical benefits, consistent exercise has also been shown to boost cognitive function and brain health--this is great news for those of us over 50.

In essence, while pursuing fitness is not a panacea, it can help protect us from several significant age-related challenges.

I used to call exercise the "fountain of youth", but now–older and wiser(!)–I think it’s far more accurate to call it the "fountain of longevity, healthspan and vitality."

Whether you’re 20, 40, or 80, your age doesn’t dictate your zest for life. Your passions, connected relationships and experiences do. And, so, you get to define what fitness means for you based on the activities you truly care about.

If you like to travel, then you may want the ability to place a 30lb suitcase into an airplane's overhead bin.

If you anticipate grandchildren in your future, then you may want to comfortably get to and from the floor to play with them.

If you enjoy hiking, then you may want to maintain your strength and stamina to trek your favorite trails.

Whatever makes you feel alive and energized is your clue what to train for.

So, if you find yourself about to say, "I feel old," pause and dig deeper. What's beneath that statement? Are you really:

  • Feeling tired? Prioritize restful sleep and getting enough nutrition throughout the day, then consider gradually introducing aerobic activities like walking, swimming, dancing or cycling. To start, choose an intensity level that lets you chat comfortably as you exercise.

  • Feeling stiff? For those with hypermobility, focusing on body awareness and stability will be helpful. For others, joint mobility exercises may be needed. And likely most will need some combination of both.

  • Feeling unsteady or weak? Integrating balance and strength exercises can bolster both your physical competence and confidence.

Aging is inevitable, but "feeling old" doesn’t have to be. As your body, life stage and priorities evolve, I encourage you to reassess and update your fitness routine accordingly. This way, you can continue doing what you love now and for many years to come.

I'm Emiko Jaffe, Certified Personal Trainer. If you found this article helpful, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter to receive midlife fitness insights, tips, encouragement and offers straight to your inbox.

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