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FITNESS

Fitness After 40: Perfect Workout Intensity for Your Age

Is High Intensity Interval Training for everyone? Not exactly -- let us explain.

November 2, 2023
Medically-reviewed and fact checked by Ryan Lester, PA-C

In our fast-paced world, we're all drawn to shortcuts and 'hacks’ -- regularly seeking quick solutions to the longer problems we face in our lives. With ideas on how to “Get rich quick”, watching videos on “20 minute abs”, or reading cliff notes instead of the book, it’s easy to forget that while these routes sometimes work, consistency has proven time and time again to be the best approach when attempting to cultivate a new habit -- especially when it comes to fitness, which can be more suitable and sustainable for us all as we age.

The Draw of High-Intensity Workouts

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Tabata, and High-Intensity Training have become quite popular in recent years. The allure of rapid results and the possibility that we can achieve fitness in minimal time has universal appeal. The reality for those over 40 is these high-intensity workouts, while effective for some, might not be the best fit for everyone, especially as our bodies enter a new phase of life. It's not about being young, disciplined, or hardcore enough; it's about recognizing our limitations and what works best for each individual.

Why Hardcore Workouts May Not Work

  • The Intensity Barrier: Many high-intensity workouts demand a level of ferocity that can be uncomfortable and even unsustainable for those who aren’t used to training at this level.
  • Discomfort and Dislike: The distress associated with high-intensity workouts can lead to a dislike for exercise. When working out feels like a grueling task, it can strain the relationship we’re trying to cultivate or maintain with physical fitness.
  • Inconsistent Progress: Achieving the intensity required for these workouts can be a challenge for many, leading to inconsistent progress and frustration. Even with adapting, the concept of plateauing from too much progress too soon may impact the rewards you see and feel later from less visible progress.

The Minimalist Approach

However, the good news is that we don't have to resign ourselves to either 'go hard or go home' mentality or to completely give up on fitness. There's another path forward where we can integrate the best aspects of high-intensity workouts without going overboard.

Principles of Efficiency for Fitness Over 40

Here are some routes to consider:

  • Higher Intensity, Less Duration: It's not about doing everything at maximum intensity, but about adding short bursts of high-intensity exercises into your workout routine. This can help achieve better results without long, exhaustive sessions that might normally burn you out.
  • Balanced Discomfort: Instead of forcing yourself to endure a constant high-intensity regimen, focus on brief moments of discomfort during your workout. This is more manageable and sustainable over time, will help with plateauing, and grow your love for exercise.
  • Consistency over Extremes: A consistent fitness routine that includes short high-intensity intervals can yield better results over time than occasional extreme workouts. As with developing most healthy habits in life, the hardest part is showing up regularly.
  • Functional Strength: Prioritize functional strength exercises over traditional bodybuilding routines. Exercises that challenge your overall strength and flexibility are more suitable for longevity, and more likely to aid in the aches and pains we associate with aging.

Above All -- Get Started, and Experiment

If you're used to grueling, long workouts and are still skeptical of a middle ground, consider this: if your current routine hasn't produced the desired results in the last few months, it's worth exploring and experimenting with a new approach. You have nothing to lose and -- potentially -- much to gain by simply committing to moving your body every day in a way that suits you. Walks are great, hikes work well for stepping things up a bit, and you can dip your toes in the water with different light-weight training that targets the muscles and strength you want in your body.

Maximizing your fitness over 40 isn't about becoming a fitness fanatic -- it's about finding a balanced, efficient, and enjoyable approach that aligns with your age and lifestyle. You may feel some need or urge to reach peak fitness as fast as possible, that your clock is ticking and there isn’t time to waste, but remember that these doubts aren’t based in the present. You have plenty of time to get healthy, and to develop or rediscover your relationship with your physique. Breathe, listen to your body, and stay steady and measured, and enjoy the journey -- the rewards will be some of your most cherished.

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