Goals are often very personal, and you can train for almost anything you want: from losing 20 pounds to completing your first 10k to winning a gold medal at the Olympics.
However: your goals should change as you get older, for no other reason than your body is changing too.
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The unavoidable effects of aging
Goals of training in your 20's
In your 30's
In your 40's
In your 50's
In your 60's
In your 70's and beyond
Everyone should set training goals.
Training goals give your workouts focus and help to keep you motivated.
After all, to get the results you want from exercise, you need to work out both regularly and consistently.
If you lack motivation, it’s all too easy to put exercise off until tomorrow and, of course, tomorrow never comes! Miss more workouts than you complete and your progress will soon grind to a halt.
Having a goal gives every workout a purpose.
You know exactly what to do and why you are doing it.
Goals such as "lose weight" and "get fit" can work for some people. However, most exercisers achieve better results if they have more structured targets to work toward (1).
Be successful, be SMART
One way to set structured, meaningful goals is to use the acronym SMART. SMART stands for:
○ Specific – what exactly do you want to achieve?
○ Measurable – put a number to it!
○ Achievable – don’t set yourself up to fail
○ Recorded – write it down and make it real
○ Time-bound – deadlines are great for increasing motivation and focus
SMART can be applied to almost any fitness goal. You don't have to use this system, but there is no denying that it works.
Here's the truth of the matter:
While exercise and healthy eating can delay the aging process, even the most ardent exerciser and healthy eater can’t prevent it from happening altogether.
That said, there are lots of things you can do to slow the process down to a crawl!
Many of the physical changes associated with aging can be attributed to hormones, specifically, the reduction of anabolic hormone production. Hormones tell your cells and therefore your tissues, organs, and systems how to behave. Hormones are produced by groups of cells called glands, and glands tend to shrink as we get older.
This means that levels of essential hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and growth hormone decline with age. Hormones can be classified as anabolic or catabolic. Anabolic hormones build and repair while catabolic hormones break down and destroy.
A reduction in anabolic hormone production means that the stresses of daily life go unchecked and tissue breakdown outpaces tissue rebuilding. This is one of the primary reasons that, as we age, it takes longer to recover from injury, illness, and heavy exercise.
Changes associated with increased catabolism and decreased anabolism include (2):
○ Muscle atrophy
○ Reduced functional strength
○ Reduced balance
○ Increased body fat (middle-age spread!)
○ Reduced bone mass
○ Reduced maximum heart rate
○ Slower digestion
○ Arthritic joints
○ Loss of muscle flexibility and joint mobility
In addition, mitochondria, the cells responsible for producing the essential energy-yielding compound ATP, reduce both in size and number. This means that older bodies often tire sooner than younger bodies.
Because of all these factors, your fitness and training goals should reflect your age. If you continue to train like a younger person, you may increase your risk of injury and could lose your enjoyment of exercise.
Of course, there are always individuals who seem to be unaffected by aging. World-class strongman Mark Felix is still setting records despite being in his 50s, and Olympic gymnast Oksana Chusovitina competed well into her 40s in a sport dominated by rivals less than half her age.
However, these are exceptions to the rule. For the rest of us, it makes sense to adjust our training sights as we age.
Here is a decade by decade guide to setting training goals.
Your fitness should naturally peak in your 20's; you should be in your physical prime.
Once you have established a regular exercise habit, this is the time to push yourself and find your limits.
Not only can you train hard, but your body will also recover faster too. Providing you are eating healthily and getting enough sleep, your energy levels should be boundless.
If you are so inclined, your 20's are a great time to get into a competitive sport. Although to be one of the greats, you probably should have started that journey back in your early teens. That said, you still have plenty of time to find a sport or activity you excel at.
Not sporty? Don’t worry; just make sure you focus on developing an exercise habit that will last you a lifetime.
As you leave your 20's and enter your 30's, your body is no longer at its peak.
Your best days aren’t necessarily behind you, but you’ll have to pay more attention to things like rest and nutrition if you want to maintain a high level of fitness. Recovery may be slower, and you may also be feeling the effect of a decade or more of exercise.
If you play a sport, you can still be very competitive in your 30's. All your experience will make you a wily opponent. However, you may feel that you are starting to lose a step behind the younger players and that you need longer to get over a tough match or race.
In your 30's, muscle mass and bone mass can start to decline. This is not such a problem for men, who naturally have more muscle and bone mass than women. However, to prevent osteoporosis in later years, women should start resistance training if they haven’t already.
For men, improving and maintaining flexibility is essential. Men tend to stiffen up during their 30's, and a lack of flexibility can exacerbate the long-term problems associated with sitting.
Your 30's is also when things like work and family start to demand more of your time. This can make exercising regularly a struggle. However, if you want to avoid a rapid decline in fitness and the start of the dreaded middle-age spread, you must try and find time to work out a few times a week.
Cross-training is a very time-efficient way to address multiple fitness goals at the same time.
The aging process has well and truly taken hold at this point.
You’ll probably start to notice that you gain weight much more easily, and just a few missed workouts affect your fitness and strength. Exercisers in their 40's will probably begin to experience more aches and pains too. Your training should reflect this.
Where, in your 20's and 30's, performance and appearance were probably your main goals, your 40's is when you should start laying the groundwork for long-term health and longevity. For men, this often means supplementing weights workouts with more heart-healthy cardio, while women should religiously lift weights to strengthen their bones. Core training is increasingly important during this decade to help prevent lower back pain and improve posture.
In my opinion, training during your 50's is the hardest!
You can still remember your physical prime, but the inevitable effect of aging means you'll never be as fit or as strong as you once were. This can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Rather than risk injury or disappointment trying to relive your glory years, your 50's is an excellent time to discover new types of workout or take up a new sport. Choose activities that will enhance your health and fitness but that are also in tune with your aging body. Good examples include hiking, paddle boarding, cycling, yoga, and swimming. Where possible, avoid high impact activities that could hurt your already aged joints.
As always, strength training is still crucial as muscle mass, and bone density can decline even faster if you don't hit the gym a couple of times a week.
By the time you hit your sixth decade, the aging process will have had a significant impact on how you look, feel, and perform. You may have arthritis, lower back pain, high blood pressure, or any of the other maladies that affect people in their 60's. The good news is that exercise can help reduce the severity of these conditions.
In your 60's, your primary focus should be exercising for health and function. This means choosing activities that carry over into your daily life. Cardio is essential as it strengthens the most important muscle in your body – your heart. Choose activities that are low impact as they are easier on your joints. For example, walk or cycle instead of run.
Strength training, especially for your lower body, will help preserve your ability to walk and climb stairs. Balance training is especially important at this time as a fall can be very debilitating (3).
If you are still exercising into your 70's, that suggests you’ve been doing something right for the previous 50 years – keep at it!
Your aim should be to continue exercising for as long as possible while making allowances for any medical conditions you may have.
Choose activities you enjoy and try and be active every day. Walking is an excellent exercise option, and strength training will help preserve the strength and muscle mass you still have. Just two sessions per week are all you need.
Any additional physical activity will be beneficial, even if it can't be classed as exercise. For example, gardening is a fantastic way to develop strength, flexibility, balance, and mobility.
Aging is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you have to go down without a fight!
Regular exercise can have a significant impact on your health and happiness, but your workouts should also reflect your age.
Use the information in this article to set goals for exercise, understanding that they will change from one decade to the next.