Does Age Really Matter?

Each decade we get older, we must change how we exercise to combat the effects of aging.


By Ramona Fortanbary


Age is not just a number when it comes to exercise. In fact, we must change how we exercise each decade to meet our bodies’ changing composition of muscle, fat and bone. Exercise has to be consistent to protect our bodies against the natural effects of aging. If there is such a thing as a fountain of youth, exercise seems to be just that.

The baby boomers created the concept of the freestanding gym. It is this generation that first began to understand as a group that exercise can, and does, impact the aging process in a positive way. Research bears out that even just walking can help keep weight off of the body as age encroaches. Literally thousands of studies on the subject demonstrate that regular exercise is extremely beneficial for both health and weight. The message here is clear: exercise is not a choice if we want to age well.

A 20-year-old can push it when it comes to physical fitness, while the elderly become more fragile as they age. At 50, form and strength training become more important to maintaining good bones and health. To highlight how age plays a role in the loss of muscle mass, research shows the elderly lose as much as 40 percent of their muscle and a 30 percent decrease in strength by age 70.” The lower body is more likely to be affected by this muscle loss. To stop this inevitable sagging of our muscles, we must focus more on our lower body when exercising as we age.

So the big question for researchers and those who exercise: does this loss of muscle and strength come from simple aging or is it attributable to lack of use of muscles and joints on a regular basis?

It seems to be the latter. With regular strength and cardio training, many health problems related to aging can be mitigated. Research shows that the body continues to gain strength into the third decade of life. In the fourth decade of life, muscles begin to lose mass and weight begins to increase without the benefit of regular exercise.

And the earlier a fitness regimen is adopted, the less noticeable aging becomes.

Kate Jagoe Ritchie, 31, a Virginia resident and case manager for an at-risk youth treatment facility, said she exercises for many reasons. In an interview on Aug. 6, she discussed her familial health risks and the reasons she exercises regularly. 

“My family is genetically screwed,” she said. “So when I started on the path toward diabetes/hypothyroidism, it sort of woke me up. I was eating my stress instead of taking control of my life and all of the stressors in it. It took me nearly four years of work, and lots of weight bouncing for my body to find a healthier ‘norm’ (70-100 pounds) lighter. Some stressors I can’t control, but an unhealthy lifestyle, I can. Exercise is the singular factor that has immediate effects on my confidence, general sense of well-being and ambition to be healthier.” 

Experts recommend some form of physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day six days a week to maintain weight, reduce loss of bone and maintain muscle strength as we age. To maintain a healthy, strong body as we age the following exercise recommendations are made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity:

20s: Strength and Cardio, three times a week, 45 to 60 minutes. Additional strength training: 30 minutes, three days per week.

30s: Do circuit training for one hour four days a week including both resistance and cardio training and at least one day of intense cardio for 45 minutes to one hour.

40s: Weight training, one hour three days a week and cardio training for at least 45 minutes for five days a week. Note, this age is where you will begin to see the need for increased training as metabolism slows and strength begins to ebb naturally.

50s: 5 hours or 300 minutes of significant aerobic or strengthening exercises. Cardio is particularly important and must be increased as we age into our 60s and 70s.

If one has led a fairly sedentary lifestyle or has developed health problems, including weight gain or even obesity, a professional such as your doctor, a certified personal trainer or physical therapist should be consulted prior to beginning a workout program. For older adults, it is important to learn proper form, balance and technique to prevent exercise-related injuries.

April C. Monroe, a certified personal trainer based in Charleston, S.C., said in a written statement that that she always performs a fitness test on prospective clients. “When taking on new clients I always consider the following components to be super important:”

  1. Create a baseline with subjective and objective information for each client.
  2. Before prescribing the workout regimen, have clients perform particular movements and or exercises to measure the client’s overall flexibility and muscle activation.
  3. Always test balance and core strength.
  4. Test upper and lower body strength.
  5. Start out slowly.

“I always tell clients to crawl before walking. Taking on things too quickly can compromise attainable goals.” I explain to my clients that for overall success to occur you must stay focused and have a consistent approach. Achievement is not gained overnight instead it is cultivated.”

On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle will lead to a “ predisposition to disability, early death and a depreciated quality of life.”

Today, many people are also turning to workout and fitness apps like Argus by Azumio to guide their workout programs, monitor their heart rate and evaluate quality of sleep. These tools can help you become stronger, leaner, more flexible and happier in your day-to-day life.

Research on age-related fitness is clear. “Awareness must be directed to the fact that chronological age does not really represent quality of health. The persistent scientific association of exercise to improved health is no coincidence (Kravitz, 1996).

There is a vast amount of research on the benefits of exercise throughout the life span. Exercise research is conclusive. Exercise makes you healthier and stronger, builds your bones and prevents age-related weight gain, Exercise is even tied to preventing age-related disease. So tie on your running shoes, jump on your bike, grab your yoga gear, and go!

Ramona Fortanbary is a Northern Virginia-based freelance writer and editor. Ramona has served as a writer in many industries. She has been a newspaper editor, corporate communications manager and public affairs specialist and senior writer-editor for the U.S. government. Ramona has studied at Chapman and Harvard universities. Her interests include fitness, reading, traveling and volunteer work. Ramona currently serves on the board of Heart Marks Art Therapy, a 501(c)(3) organization offering free art therapy sessions to at risk segments of our society.

Main Photo Credit: GaudiLab/; Second Photo Credit: Maridav/; Third Photo Credit: Jacob Lund/