As the years creep by we all come to realise that our body is changing. Getting out of a comfortable chair takes that little bit longer; our joints creek slightly louder the day after heavy exercise.
It's only natural – and those niggling aches and pains that sneak into your life certainly aren't an insurmountable barrier to achieving great things in fitness. All it means is that training efforts need to be adapted and certain potential problems accounted for.
Many of those niggles are quite easy to iron out. Below are five exercises or forms of training that can be incorporated into your health and fitness efforts to help you stay fully functional throughout middle age.
The plank is a wonderful exercise for maintaining a strong core, which in turn makes just about every functional movement you’ll need in life more fluid and easy. Strong abdominals help to bring your spine into alignment and take the strain off those often knotted back and neck muscles. Better posture should follow.
In exercise terms, the great thing about the plank is that it's so easy to do – you don't need special equipment or extra space. The not so great thing is that it can get a bit...boring. Staying still is never the most fun way to exercise, so try to vary things by working on plank progressions like planking on a Swiss ball or trying the "plank with skier hops".
Ideally, you want to try planking once a day and work up to an immaculate, three-minute plank.
2. Kettlebell Complex
Resistance training is very important for maintaining your strength and muscle mass; it's very often overlooked, especially as we grow older and the idea of lifting weights seems more onerous.
The truth is that in your 40s and 50s, muscle building exercises do take more of a toll on your body – though that doesn't mean you have an excuse to avoid them completely. Instead, they should be periodised – even completing one kettle bell complex a week will help to keep your muscles strong, offering your skeleton proper support. Resistance training is also great for burning through body fat in a short space of time.
For those unfamiliar, a complex refers to a sequence of exercises performed without rest, typically using the same piece of equipment. So, we're looking at:
1.Single arm swing
2. Single arm clean
3. Single arm snatch
5. Single arm push press
Perform 6 reps of each exercise. Complete all exercises on one side then switch. Do this three times over.
3. Bag Work
Here's a middle-aged niggle that's probably universal: stress.
Stress registers in every day of our lives, indicated by a spike in our levels of cortisone and, often, a raised heartbeat. Low-level stress is natural, but anything more can reduce our overall healthiness and cause physical pains, like headaches and sore muscles (have you ever caught yourself clenching your jaw or jiggling your leg through stress? You're not alone).
A good way to attack stress is by punching a bag. Obvious, right? This gives you a short, intense workout that taps into your primal urges to release tension. Boxing moves are also great for practicing rotational movement, which is often neglected in other forms of exercise. These will help build your core strength (see point 1) and improve your balance.
There is of course some impact associated with striking a heavy bag so don’t overdo it. Those with wrist or elbow issues should look into liquid filled bags that will have a lot more give to them than leather.
Probably the ideal total body cardio workout for the middle aged man or woman. The benefits of swimming are numerous: it improves your co-ordination, enhances your cardio system, aids fat loss, and gives you a top-to-toe stretch while you're at it. There's also the all-important low-to-no impact element: because you're not pounding into the floor, your muscles and joints will thank you the next morning.
This makes swimming a great choice when you feel as if you should be active but have some niggling injuries or feel a little too fatigued to do a demanding workout. Swimming is also very versatile: you can coast and float for length upon length, keeping your heart rate in the fat burning zone (raised but not pumping through your chest), or perform some sprint crawls and really go through the gears with very little risk of injury when compared to other forms of high intensity training.
5. Sun Salutations
By now, we all know that yoga is good for us. What many don't realise is that it can be really quick, too.
You don't need to stretch and meditate for 30 minutes to reap the benefits. Integrating just 5-10 minutes into your morning routine can have a profound impact on your overall health.
The best entry point – and really, you never need to progress beyond it if you don't want to – is the sun salutation, a series of movements that stretches out your back, resets your posture ready for the day, enhances your flexibility and helps settle a racing mind.