Aging pretty much stinks. Sure, there are ways to do it gracefully, but these days, older folks don’t even seem to get respect for their greater wisdom. But you are wiser now, and mature enough to stop giving a crap about meaningless stuff. You know that your body’s fitness needs are changing, too. In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing. Read on for nine grueling exercises you no longer have to, or even should, do to yourself.
1. Intense or chronic cardio
Yes, cardiovascular exercise is and always will be a crucial part of any fitness plan. However, too much or too intense cardio actually has a negative effect on a body over age 40. If you overtax yourself, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol, which increases that pesky belly fat and your rate of aging. Not what you want from your fitness routine!
Instead: Try to get in about 150 minutes of moderate cardio each week. That breaks down to just over 20 minutes per day. Keeping your heart rate between 108 and 153 beats per minute helps to maximize the health benefits.
2. Standing toe touch
This stretching exercise is meant to stretch your back and legs, but it may put too much pressure on the lower back for people over 40. In middle age, the joint that connects your lower back and hips begins to weaken, so straining it is not advisable. Bending over so deeply can also injure the neck and mess with your blood pressure.
Instead: Try yoga. There are numerous poses that gently stretch the back without causing damage, including child’s pose, sphinx pose, and cat/cow. If you must do a standing toe touch, be sure to bend your knees slightly, and have something to grab onto if you feel dizzy upon standing.
3. Hovering leg lift
Another move that puts undue stress on the lower back is a hovering leg lift. This is when you lie flat on your back and hold your straightened legs out at an angle. It is meant to build strength in the midsection, but unless you already have that strength, what ends up happening is major lower back strain.
Instead: Do the bent knee hollow hold. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Then slowly tuck your stomach and push it down toward the floor, bringing your head and shoulders slightly up off the floor. Raise your arms out straight about hip height, then slowly lower back to a prone position.
4. Behind the neck press
This exercise ought to be avoided after the age of 40 because it puts you in an unnatural position that compresses an important neck artery. The compression of this artery can cause dizziness, headache, and fainting; in extreme cases it can even result in a neck fracture! Plus, it is a move designed to bulk up shoulder muscles, not necessarily critical for anyone beyond body builders.
Instead: Focus more on flexibility with shoulder rolls, rotating outstretched arms, and pressing each arm across your body toward the opposite shoulder.
5. Leg extension
Typically done on a machine, this exercise involves lifting a weight with your legs. But when you fully extend your knees to bear a weight, it puts a lot of stress on those joints. Knee strain causes a lot of pain and can discourage you from keeping up with any kind of fitness routine.
Instead: Do chair squats. Start from a seated position on the edge of a chair. Raise your arms out straight in front of you. Stand up, pushing your arms to the back as you do. Then bring your arms back to the front as you sit down again, coming back up as soon as you lightly touch the chair.
6. Sit-ups and crunches
Stubborn belly fat plagues many of us, and after age 40, it becomes even harder to keep off. And while sit-ups and crunches can strengthen the muscles underneath that fat, they don’t do much to burn it off. To slim down your waist, focus instead on reducing the amount of trans fat and sugar in your diet and making sure you get enough cardio. Sit-ups aren’t fun and they can strain your neck and back.
Instead: Do planks. Start down on your hands and knees, then lower your forearms to the floor, with your elbows under your shoulders and hands about shoulder-width apart. Step your feet back and put your toes on the ground. The goal is to support the weight of your body with your abs for as long as you can; when your abs fatigue and you start lose your form, go back to starting position and rest for a moment before going again.
If you have been a body builder for years, there’s no reason to necessarily stop doing deadlifts as soon as you turn 40. But it’s not the kind of thing that is wise for anyone to do out of the gate. Folks in middle age will find that their bodies are just not as able to bear the kind of strain that yanking up an enormous amount of weight puts on muscles, bones, and joints.
Instead: Keep toned using lighter hand or ankle weights. Do as many reps as you are comfortable with, but when you start to feel that you need to force your muscles to bear the weight, stop.
8. Trunk twist
The trunk twist is when you lie on your back with knees bent, then drop your knees to the floor while turning your head the opposite direction. It is a deceptively simple move, but it actually puts a lot of strain on the lower back and neck.
Instead: Trunk twists can be done safely with a proper warm-up, as long as you don’t force your knees any further down than they comfortably go. You can also rotate your trunk in a standing trunk rotation, by holding a small ball in both hands in front of you with elbow out, then gently turning your upper half from side to side.
9. Staying up late
Yes, sleep is not technically an exercise, but it is absolutely crucial to your fitness routine. Sleep is when the body recovers from the stress of the day, including exercise. If you don’t get enough slumber, your cortisol levels will rise and you’ll start packing on belly fat. Your body also works during sleep to rebuild and strengthen muscles taxed during a workout.
Instead: Different people need different amounts of sleep in order to be fully rested. It’s best to let your body decide when it’s time by powering off electronic devices after dinner and winding down with a book, puzzle, or peaceful music. If you head to bed with a screen, the flashing lights are likely to keep your brain wired when it really needs to be chilling out.
This is good news, right? You can remain fit and strong your whole life, but don’t have to push so hard at the gym. Warding off middle aged weight gain is more a matter of proper diet and sleep habits than how much you sweat. Of course, cardio, flexibility, and strength training remain important, but too much will achieve the opposite of what you want by raising your cortisol levels through the roof. Now is the time to have fun with fitness, and when you’re tired, stop.