To begin with, you DO need a well-balanced mix of fitness activities.
I don’t care if you can run far and fast, bike up steep hills, or lift impressive amounts. If any of those things is all you do, brother, you won’t have the best blend of endurance, strength, flexibility and balance to stay physically vital for your hopefully-many decades to come.
Past 40, God-given levels of these physical traits do start to erode. It’s only by our conscious and continuous effort, via a good fitness mix, that we maintain them. This foundational OlderBeast article talks more about this need to seek more diverse fitness.
OK, so what’s the best mix – what activities, how often? There’s no single “right” answer for everyone. Even your own personal mix will vary over the seasons and the years.
But there are clear signs you’ll see if your current mix isn’t working. Here are six I recognize. Any apply to you? If so, it might be time to mix things up more.
1. YOU ALREADY KNOW YOU NEED TO MIX IT UP – BUT ARE NOT CHANGING ANYTHING
We’ll get to subtler signs in a minute, but as Sherlock Holmes says, let’s not overlook the obvious. Many guys I talk to already know they need to change their mix. Just by looking in the mirror, or based on how they feel.
This is the runner or cyclist (often a really good one) who knows he needs to focus more on upper-body strength and flexibility. Or the gym rat with impressive muscle development (I wouldn’t want to fight him) who can’t or desperately doesn’t want to do more than 10-15 minutes of moderate cardio.
Guys like this are obviously motivated to stay fit. But there are two related and self-reinforcing reasons they struggle with being well-rounded.
- They really like and are “good” at their favorite exercise activity. With time always scarce, they don’t want to give up that swim, or that lifting session, etc., to do something they like less.
- They find other activities uncomfortable or worry they’re not “good enough” at them. One example of this, among many: avoiding yoga because you’re not flexible. Swimming gets shunned this way, too.
Dude, I understand wanting to concentrate on what you like and feel motivated by. I’ve historically over-focused on cardio, especially running, for this very reason.
But as we age, this is a sub-optimal indulgence. If you’re motivated enough to work out in the first place, use some of that motivation to diversify those workouts. There are lots of options to choose from.
2. YOU FEEL PHYSICALLY SLUGGISH OR LOW-ENERGY
This has various possible causes, including sub-optimal nutrition, poor sleep habits and stress. But what if you have reasonable stability in your eating and sleeping habits, and no major new stress creators, and then start to feel less “up for” workouts?
This is your body telling you to change your routine, man.
It could be the need for more rest/recovery, but often it’s driven by too much repetitiveness in your workouts. And by the way, one great benefit of variety is that it helps you recover on a recently-taxed physical dimension while you get some other fitness-enhancing activity.
Another sign of this same need for variety and/or rest: disappointing workouts. At our age, we can’t expect to routinely be faster or stronger than our prior workout. But if you’re substantially short of normal performance in a routine workout more than every once-in-a-while, this is a prompt to vary things more.
3. YOU FEEL BORED OR UNMOTIVATED
Motivation is often a challenge related to fitness (here are ideas for creating it). But if you’re normally decently-motivated and then you start to have a recurring lazy or “not feeling it today” sensation creep in…that’s a signal you may need more variety.
In the second half of our lives, the mental aspect of fitness is incredibly important. Mental strength is one area we can improve with age. But on the flip side of that, boredom and apathy – and a habit of not doing new things much anymore – is a constant risk.
Here are weapons against this stealthy enemy:
- Try new activities where you’re a “beginner” again, and get the stimulation and rewards of learning. Not to mention the awesome positive feedback you get from improving at something rapidly (which you don’t get anymore in your “same old” activities).
- Link fitness to an event or activity that feels like an adventure
- Get into a new environment with your workouts — outside if you’re normally an inside guy, group fitness if you’re a solo guy (or vice-versa — see #6)
4. YOU STRUGGLE WITH ACCELERATED ACHES/PAINS AND INJURY
This might also seem “obvious.” But too often, the reaction to aches/pains or recurring injury is a resigned “I’m getting old” and a reduction in working out. As opposed to introducing more variety or even completely cutting over to new activities for a while. (And researching and diligently pursuing remedies to your problem—see this on overcoming setbacks.)
Lower-body issue making cycling or running hard? Get in the pool, man. Tweaked your shoulder? Don’t let that stop you from getting cardio, core, and leg strength work (and maybe even chest or back exercises if they don’t bother your shoulder).
In a recent article on aging’s impact on performance (one with good news in it), I shared research findings that periods of “de-training” impact us 40+ guys more than our younger selves. And that’s one of the big drivers of aging-related performance decline…that we let ourselves get de-trained instead of finding ways around the setbacks.
So if you’re piling up the nagging ailments or getting injured, don’t drastically reduce or quit, but change your mix!
5. YOU’RE GAINING OR LOSING WEIGHT
I’m talking about unexpected / unexplained weight change. If you expect to be holding steady weight-wise based on your diet and your activity level, and the number on the scale starts changing, this could be a cry for workout diversification.
That unexplained weight loss? If you overemphasize protracted cardio sessions, that could be muscle reduction (especially to large muscles of your quads, butt, chest and back).
That gain? Yeah, it could be a nutrition issue. But if your nutrition habits are stable and you see weight going up, it could mean you need to burn a few more calories with your fitness. Bring some high-intensity strength work, or endurance training, in your mix.
Yes, our metabolic rate declines as we age, so this is another explanation for weight gain. But this is what it is, man, and your best counter to this fact-of-life is making the fitness and/or nutrition changes you need to, to deal with it. Changing your fitness mix is often part of the answer.
6. YOU DON’T FEEL EXERCISE’S MENTAL RESET & REFRESH EFFECTS
I’ve talked about this (maybe blathered on and on) in other articles, including this one on solitude. If your workouts aren’t a source of noticeable mental benefits, you probably need some new workouts in your mix.
What kind of mental benefits? A general feeling of being refreshed and de-stressed, for sure. Often, new ideas that come to you unbidden. And solutions to challenges and issues you’re facing. If you’re not getting enough of this, your workout mix may be under-delivering for you.
Look for activities that let you unplug and get into a reflective groove more. This often means getting outdoors (or at least away from a typical gym / exercise-class environment). And as great as exercising with friends can be, this also should sometimes mean exercising alone, man. Like Superman in his Fortress of Solitude.
So if you need to diversify, how should you think about it? At one level, it’s pretty clear: blend and alternate activities that emphasize cardio/endurance, strength and flexibility (and don’t overlook balance). But within that general guideline, figuring out what works for you demands some curiosity, experimentation, and the expectation of continuing to monitor yourself and make changes periodically.
Here are some thoughts on what “checklist criteria” look like for your own diverse program. Good luck on your new age of diversification, man.
“I had skin like leather and the diamond-hard look of a cobra. I was born blue and weathered but I burst just like a supernova. I could walk like Brando right into the sun, then dance just like a Casanova.” (Bruce Springsteen, It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City – click to listen).
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