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Post 35? It’s never too late to start exercising

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-07-2017 Shweta Taneja

So you’ve finally decided to start exercising? That’s great news.

For exercising regularly can reduce fat, stress and cholesterol, improve body functions, prevent diabetes and boost self-confidence, says Ali Irani, head (physiotherapy and sports medicine), Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai. The tricky part, however, is to ensure that your routine is safe, painless and enjoyable, especially if you are above 35. “It’s best to keep yourself low on intensity and duration initially, especially when you’ve never done it before,” he says.

Our experts suggest ways to make sure you keep moving, steadily and steadfastly.

Keep small, realistic goals

Want those six-packs? It’s possible, but you need to be patient, for it won’t happen immediately. Ditch the body sculpting, ignore the guy doing a 200kg squat and be aware of your limitations. “Get some realistic goals in,” says Raju Easwaran, senior consultant, orthopaedic sports medicine and joint preservation surgery, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi. “If you have been sedentary most of your life, your muscles are tight due to prolonged sitting, making your initial levels of exercise tolerance low,” he adds.

If three days after you’ve finished that workout, you find it difficult to get out of bed, you will probably ditch the exercising goal for the next decade, so start with minimal-intensity exercises after adequate stretching, says Immanuel Paul, consultant (physiotherapy), at the Columbia Asia Referral Hospital in Bengaluru.

As you work out every day, your body will adapt slowly to the increasing loads put on it, so you can steadily increase weights or sets towards your fitness goal. “Start with a combination of improving flexibility, aerobic capacity and strength. Sustained over a year, it might give you six-pack abs,” says Dr Easwaran. Ideally, the focus of your first few months of exercise should be to build good cardiovascular fitness, stamina and endurance. 

Visit the family doctor

The first step before starting any workout is to evaluate how fit you are. Although moderate physical activities like swimming, brisk walking and aerobics are okay if you’re healthy to start with, it’s advisable to get a complete medical check-up done to rule out any heart disease, asthma, lung disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, says Dr Paul. “If you suffer from any medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma, the doctor visit becomes a must to discuss your goals and fitness levels,” he says. 

Enjoy your workout

According to Seema Grover, senior consultant (physiotherapy and rehabilitation), Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi, enjoying a workout is most important—that’s what will ensure you keep at it. “Don’t push yourself too hard, overexert, avoid fatigue and injury by taking it slow, and you will continue to progress,” she says. Add in a variety of exercises for the whole week and vary your workouts. “The goal is to stay active, be it inside the gym or outside. Take the stairs, walk to the car, use public transport while you travel, be active,” she says.

Remember, there’s a reason you didn’t exercise all those years. Your motivation is low to begin with. As with everything new, there will be a period when you will deal with the inertia, perhaps give in to the temptation of skipping the walk for a round of coffee with friends. “Motivation is low for first-timers,” says Dr Easwaran, “so it’s best to find a group exercise or friends with the same fitness levels as you to keep you going to class.” Stick to it until it turns into a habit.

Check your gear

Many a fitness injury can occur because people are not geared properly, says Mumbai-based dietitian and sports nutritionist Deepshikha Agarwal.

“Tight-fitting clothes are a strict no. Wear fabrics that absorb sweat and don’t stick to your body,” she says.

For shoes, opt for ones which are well-padded, with good shock absorption. If you have any joint pain, add supportive gear like wristbands, knee-caps or ankle bands, she adds. Change shoes every six months because the cushioning wears out. 

Don’t miss the warm-up

If you are in your 30s, it means you’ve lost the amazing flexibility you had to start running as soon as you got up. “When you’ve done no exercise for a long while, muscles adopt a shortened position, leading to tightness,” says Dr Paul. Straining these muscles before they loosen can lead to injury. “Warm-up stretches the major muscles of the body, increases the blood flow, preps the joint for full range of motion, and provides aerobic requirement for endurance training, reducing the chance of muscles and tendons from getting injured,” he adds.

Begin a workout by stretching the shoulders, chest, neck, trunk, lower back, posterior and anterior legs and ankles for at least 10 minutes. “Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, with five repetitions.” 

Photo: iStockphoto

Change your diet

Around the latter part of your third decade of life, some of the body’s functions start declining, says Dr Grover. “Skin elasticity, metabolism, immune efficiency, repair processes, production of key hormones, strength and flexibility, all start going down,” she says.

You can change your diet to adapt to these changes, though it’s better to stick to your normal diet for two weeks after you begin exercising, says Pavithra N. Raj, dietitian, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital. “Change it gradually to add in complex carbs like brown or red rice, wholewheat products, soya products, beans, ascorbic- acid-containing fruits, green leafy vegetables, grainy bread and pulses.” Pack in protein with egg whites, lean cuts of chicken and fish, milk, soya, paneer, pulses and ragi and don’t forget an everyday dose of vitamin D by walking in the sun, preferably in the morning.

Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise, for you can lose up to 1.5 litres of fluid in an hour while exercising, says Agarwal. “Keep sipping water during the workout, avoid caffeinated drinks and make sure you drink at least 3 litres of water per day,” she says.

Learn to train properly

Badly executed exercises are a sure-shot recipe for injury. The first step to avoid one is to work out with an ergonomically correct posture, says P. C. Jagadeesh, consultant, sports orthopaedics and arthroscopy, Fortis Hospitals, Bengaluru. “A correct posture ensures your body is aligned with respect to gravity, so there’s lesser stress on your muscle groups, your core muscles engage more effectively, and you get maximum output with minimum stress,” he says.

Test your posture when you’re doing an exercise by viewing your body profile in the mirror: The earlobes, tips of your shoulder, trunk, the bony part of your thighs, knees and ankles should all be in a straight line. Any deviation from this alignment—say, if your ears are in front of your shoulders, or your shoulders roll towards your chest—would mean the posture is wrong and could injure you, says Dr Grover.

Know when to stop

A certain amount of discomfort during an exercise is normal and inevitable as you’re challenging your body to do more than it is accustomed to—but you should stop if you experience pain because something could be going wrong, says Dr Irani. “Stop right away if you feel pain and take rest till it’s gone,” he says. Look out for excessive pressure in the left or middle part of your chest, or the left side of your neck, left shoulder or left arm, muscle cramps, dizziness, sharp pain in your joints, feet, ankles or bones or irregular heartbeats, says Dr Paul—these are all signs of something going wrong during the workout.

For starters

Some exercise forms that are safe

Swimming: It helps you lose weight while being kind on the knees and the back, says Dr Raju Easwaran.

Brisk walk/light jog: Walk for 20 minutes every day and increase the time and speed gradually by the minute till you reach an hour, says Dr Ali Irani.

Basic yoga: Get the muscles of your back, shoulders, hips and knees to stretch and get used to moving, says Dr Immanuel Paul.

Biking with minimal resistance: Start with a warm-up of no-resistance biking and then do low-resistance biking for 10 minutes, says Dr Seema Grover. End by stretching major muscle groups like hamstrings and calves for flexibility.

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