Exercise is one of the most powerful tools to support vitality and longevity, but certain types of training are most beneficial for long-term health
As we grow older, it becomes increasingly important to maintain our physical health. However, the aging process brings with it a natural decline in muscle mass and capacity due to a decrease in physical activity. Knowing this, an effective training program becomes imperative in mitigating the adverse effects of aging.
At OPEX, we believe that the exercise program you are doing today should set you up to do the things you want to continue to do into your final years of life. Three key components should be incorporated into every training program:
- Resistance Training
- Easy Aerobic Work
- Tough Aerobic Work
In this four-part article series, I will first discuss why these should be included in each training program broadly. Then, in the subsequent articles, I will get into the weeds of each.
Resistance training is crucial in staving off the physiological degradation that accompanies aging. As we age, our physical activity levels and muscle mass gradually decline, a process that accelerates sharply after the age of 65. The vicious cycle of declining physical activity due to weakness, and increasing weakness due to decreased activity, feeds this sharp decline.
Resistance training counters this drop-off, helping to maintain muscle mass, or our exoskeleton, thereby keeping our skeleton bones healthy and intact. The physical benefits of resistance training are well-documented: improved movement efficiency, functional independence and hormonal benefits. Additionally, learning to recover from challenging physical activity ensures a robust physiology as we age.
The psychological benefits of resistance training are less discussed but equally vital. Overcoming challenges through resistance training can build confidence and stimulate dopamine release, creating a sense of accomplishment. It’s also important to find balance between the three types of training characteristics, as there is a thing called diminishing returns that we must be on the lookout for.
Easy Aerobic Work
Easy aerobic work forms the foundation of all movement. Aerobically fit individuals have more stamina for daily activities. This type of work also enhances endurance and recovery during resistance training, as well as efficiency during tougher aerobic work.
The energy production during aerobic exercise is more efficient than other exercise types. Moreover, it confers massive benefits to the cardiovascular system, facilitating better coordination between the heart, lungs and muscles, contributing to longevity. Other benefits include improved glucose regulation, increased mitochondrial density and the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that boosts learning and memory. Plus, it can be practiced safely throughout one’s life, promoting sustainable behaviors as an extremely beneficial psychological upside.
In OPEX terms, we would classify this as Maximum Aerobic Power (MAP) 7 to 9, or 10 min and up of aerobic pieces performed at a challenging but sustainable pace, relative to the amount of time we are working for. Get an introduction to the OPEX method of energy system training in this free guide.
Tough Aerobic Work
Tough aerobic work is the final essential component of an effective training program. Intense aerobic work should not be hastily undertaken, but gradually incorporated as one becomes more aerobically fit. We teach our coaches to progress their clients from long to short prior to including this type of work, as discussed here.
Tough aerobic work pushes the heart to pump more efficiently, increasing stroke volume and cardiac output, leading to enhanced oxygen delivery to the muscles. This in turn improves aerobic capacity.
This is the type of work that will improve your VO2 max. VO2 max, or the total volume of oxygen one can utilize, is an important metric in aerobic fitness. Higher VO2 max is associated with lower mortality rates across the board. The average VO2 max is 40 mL per kilogram per minute, with high and low figures being 60 and 20 mL per kilogram per minute respectively.
At OPEX, we classify this intense, aerobic work in the Maximum Aerobic Power (MAP) 1 to 6, or the 30-second to 5-minute interval range.
An effective training program that supports healthy aging should include resistance training, easy aerobic work and tough aerobic work. These elements work synergistically to support both physiological and psychological health. In the subsequent parts of this series, we will delve into each of these components in more detail. At OPEX Fitness, we aim to design training programs that promote lifelong fitness, rather than short-lived gains, helping individuals live physically free and vital lives well into their last decade.
See you next week where we will take a deeper look into resistance training.
See Carl’s previous column here.
Carl Hardwick, CEO of OPEX Fitness & CoachRx is a strong advocate for bringing honor to the coaching profession and raising the value of all fitness coaches. He lectures frequently about program design, business systems, and building a sustainable coaching career. Follow him on Instagram @hardwickcarl and OPEX Fitness on YouTube