“You live on barbed wire and bug juice until you’re 28, and there’s no price to pay. After a certain point, you pay for everything.” Jack Nicholson said that when he was 28, and while he probably suffered a lot more wear-and-tear than the rest of us do in our twenties, he’s fundamentally right. About a decade or so into adulthood, a perfect storm starts brewing inside all of us. It’s age. Hormones change. Muscle mass, bone density and flexibility decreases. Metabolism slows. The cumulative effects of past injuries build, along with stress. Put simply, at a certain point and for a variety of reasons, we don’t bounce back like we used to. The good news is that by changing up how you’ve stayed in shape — or haven’t — in the past, you don’t have to go to seed. Here are five tips for the best ways to work out after 30.
“As we hit 30, our bodies change, and it’s important to prepare for that change,” says holistic health coach Seth Santoro. Santoro, founder of The Life Chef, recommends yoga as a hedge against the aging process. Yoga’s benefits have been well documented: It increases flexibility, strengthens core muscles, reduces stress, improves circulation (which also has potential sexual benefits) and can improve quality of sleep. “Most people have sedentary jobs and have tightness throughout their bodies, including hamstrings, hips, lower back — and even chest and neck from sitting at desks most of the day,” he says. “People in this 30-45 age range are often in career mode and are usually starting families, getting married, raising kids and trying to buy a home.”
Santoro notes that stress can add to this muscle tightness and and can interrupt healthy sleep, increase cortisol and drop testosterone in men. He sees yoga as a great supplement to weightlifting, because flexibility increases power strength and even muscle definition. “I suggest a minimum of two days a week for men and women, depending on fitness goals,” he says. Rather than taking the place of time in the gym, Santoro recommends that you can take yoga classes on your rest or recovery day.
Kids. Career goals. Financial and familial responsibilities. If you’re over 30, it’s likely that you don’t have the time or inclination to spend more time in the gym. Here’s the thing about that: 30 is around the age that our metabolisms start to slow down. Unless we keep our fat-burning machinery — muscle — stimulated, that is. “High Intensity Strength Training (HIST) is ideal for anyone who has limited time and wants to stay lean and strong,” says Alvin Rodriguez, HIST expert and personal trainer for Living Proof Nutrition Strength Pilates.
HIST workouts, Rodriguez explains, are short in duration (30 minutes), with eight to ten resistance exercises performed slowly (each rep lasts 8 to 15 seconds) until proper form can no longer be maintained. Rodriguez advises that you begin with the larger muscles of the lower body, glutes, hips and thighs, followed by upper body, lats, chest, shoulders and arms. Finish with core movements, abs, obliques and lower back. He says to move from one exercise to the next with little to no rest, then allow 48 to 72 hours of rest, recovery and growth. Remember: Growing muscles are a bulwark against a slowing metabolism. “You’ll find this type of workout super-challenging but effective and time efficient,” he says.
Many people become more sedentary in their 30s because the effects of injuries and impact have made working out a painful prospect. That’s why swimming is a great workout for people who are starting to feel the indignities of no longer being in their 20s. The fact that it’s low impact is just one reason why swimming is so great: It also builds endurance. One study of men and women who engaged in swim training for 12 weeks showed that their maximum oxygen consumption improved by 10 percent, and stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped with each heartbeat, which indicates the organ’s strength) improved as much as 18 percent. Moving more oxygenated blood to muscles will allow them to work more, work harder and grow. In another study, men who completed an eight-week swimming program, had an average 23.8 percent increase in their triceps muscles!
Pull-ups require a lot of control, and they’re highly effective for building muscle and strength in the upper body — something that diminishes as we age. Pull-ups simultaneously engage the back, shoulders and arms, and by building those three large muscle areas, you’ll help keep your metabolism stoked for years to come. “Another great thing about pull-ups is that they can be done in many different variations, which work different muscles,” says Jim White, a registered dietitian and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. He notes that wide-grip pull-ups emphasize the latissimus dorsi and rotator cuffs, close-grip pull-ups work your lower lats, and an underhand grip builds biceps. A bonus to this workout: A few sets of each type can be done quickly.
After starting pilates exercises, many people report improvements in flexibility, circulation, posture and core strength, as well as less back, neck and joint pain. Pilates, explains Santoro, has similar benefits to yoga, though the exercises are faster-paced and have a greater resistance component, which is great for toning those metabolism-raising muscles. “You’re moving through and pulling your own body weight on the Pilates reformer machines,” he says, adding that you’ll burn more calories than in a regular yoga session.