A Change of Focus
Just as our priorities change with age, so do our motivations for fitness, suggests Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"When you're younger, you're working out five and six times a week and it's all about sex -- about having a great body, about being virile," says Milner. "As you get older, it becomes more about keeping your health" as well as practical considerations like doing household chores and maintaining independence. That's why it's more important now than ever to forget the hard-body, "all or nothing" philosophy of fitness, Milner says. Instead, accept that you can get many fitness and health benefits by incorporating even moderate exercise into your life.
The old catchphrase "use it or lose it" has some perspective now, says Milner: Yes, you need to use it or you'll lose it -- but you don't have to use it at the same degree you did previously.
"People's perception of exercise is so extreme. It doesn't have to be that way," Milner says. "You just want to move. We're animals, we're meant to move. Not moving is the worst thing you can do."
That's not always easy, of course. Time and energy are huge issues with fitness as we age. In our mid-years, we're often short on time as we balance career and family duties. Later on, we may have more time -- but less energy.
Still, it's essential to make time for physical activity, especially since you may not be getting as much in your daily life.
"The reality of it is," says Cluff, "as you get older, generally speaking, you may sit a little longer. Your lifestyle changes in the negative sense because you're not required to do what you did when you were younger, like chase kids around." Milner cites the health-club chain Curves, famed for its 30-minute circuit workouts and no-frills approach, as an example of a company that "got it right" for the over-40 set.
"It gets you in and out quickly, it's non-intimidating, once around the circuit," he says. "It eliminates the obstacles."
If you don't want to join a gym, you can get rid of the fitness obstacles in your own life. Remember that even daily activities -- things like gardening, household chores, walking the dog -- can help you stay active, maintain or lose weight, and keep your health.