Exercise is one of the core elements of functional medicine — and with good reason. By the age of 60, one’s quality of life and life expectancy can be attributed to his or her level of physical fitness. While a regular workout routine is excellent for overall health, some exercises are more beneficial than others when it comes to longevity — and it comes down to building and maintaining muscle mass with age.
Strength, balance and flexibility have come into play when determining quality of life and longevity because muscle loss over time can limit mobility, and fast twitch muscle fibers, the ones that help people pull themselves up or catch themselves if they are about to fall, are generally the muscles that decline first. As people age, falling becomes the leading cause of injury-related deaths in Americans over the age of 65. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, within just a 10-year span more than 200,000 U.S. citizens over the age of 65 died after experiencing a fall.
Building a foundation of muscle mass through proper strength training can help one’s overall health in many ways because strong muscles support the spine and core. Isometric and plyometric exercises are ideal for building the lean muscle tissue that is so important as people age.
Isometric exercises build and strengthen connective tissue and lower stress hormones through super slow movements with an emphasis holding positions to build strength and lean muscle. Free weights, machines and one’s own bodyweight can all assist when it comes to isometric exercises. Plyometric exercises, often called jump training, employ explosive movements that require muscles to exert force that ultimately increases power and speed, and even improves reflex response time, which can aid in preventing falls. A combination of isometrics and plyometrics can help the body thrive as people age.
Some examples of isometric exercises include holding a push-up or plank position or extending the muscles by holding a lunge position. While speed is an asset in many sports, the keys to isometrics are slow pace and solid form. In addition to building strong lean muscle, isometric exercise offers a multitude of benefits. It can help realign poor posture (thus reducing or eliminating back pain), protect the spine and improve mind-body connection. Isometrics are also an integral part of rehabilitation therapies after an injury or surgery.
As for plyometrics, think big explosive movements such as jumps, squats, alternating high-knee lifts and more. Plyometrics can not only help people improve their speed (which once again can come in handy with age when it comes to reflexes) but also help build muscle strength around the joint to help support them. Plyometric exercise also serves as an efficient way to burn calories.
For those that are looking to increase quality of life and lengthen their life, exercise is one of the keys. But it takes a combination of the right type of exercises to really reap the benefits. With a customized workout plan that combines isometric and plyometric exercises, people can not only survive as they age, but they can thrive. When starting a new exercise routine, it’s important to seek a doctor’s advice to help create an individualized fitness plan best suited for each individual. Before starting to exercise, spending five to ten minutes warming up can help reduce risk of injury and muscle soreness. At the end of an exercise session, spend equal time cooling down to help the body gradually recover, allow the heart rate and body temperature to return to normal and to reduce risk of cramping and muscle stiffness.