3 of the Worst (and 3 of the Best) Exercises for Older Men
Aging is a terrifying process. Although there is an undeniable accumulation of valuable wisdom and experience, there is also the obnoxious accumulation of unnecessary body hair and fat deposits. Physical activities that were once so easy we could have accomplished them with Gov. Chris Christie sitting on our shoulders now require the aid of a hydraulic jack and several tubes of anti-chafing gel. Fortunately, we can forestall quite a bit of further age-related deterioration with a few relatively simple lifestyle choices. Mainly, we have to get movin'.
Exercise is one of the most powerful weapons we have in the fight against aging. It helps us to maintain cardiovascular health, it has been shown to aid in preserving and even improving cognitive function, and it keeps us ripped and shredded. However, some exercises are more appropriate for men of advanced years than others. Here are a few exercises that will get you in shape without wrecking what's left of your dwindling bones and muscles.
Avoid: Leg Press
The leg press is both an exercise and the machine on which the exercise is performed. The exerciser lies back on a bench and pushes a resistance platform upward and away from the body with the feet. The exerciser must engage the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings in order manipulate the device successfully. On the surface, it sounds fine. However, for men aged 40 or older, whose knees, lower backs, and hips possess roughly the same compressive strength as Waterford crystal, there are significant drawbacks.
If you've got a bee in your bonnet about restoring your former physical glory, and if that glory was having quadriceps the size of Jonah Hill, then go nuts. But if you want to increase strength and flexibility, don't start by performing an exercise that not only damages your knees and fails to produce any measurable core strength benefits, but compresses your spine. The main problem with leg presses is that they endanger the very area they are meant to protect: the lower back. Although the bench is supposed to stabilize the back during the action, if you allow your pelvis to rotate upward as you lower your knees, you're increasing the likelihood that you'll herniate a disc.
Try: Body weight squats
If you want to utilize a broader range of motion and build significant core strength, go for body weight squats. They're not as staggeringly impressive as leg presses, but they offer a comprehensive scope of conditioning for real-world applications. The only real-world situation where leg press conditioning might help you is if you find yourself inexplicably trapped under a leg press.
Avoid: Bench Press
The entire point of exercising is to look and feel better. So, why would you, as an older-than-middle-aged man in only slightly better shape than a 10-year coma victim, struggle with an activity that not only may crush your larynx, but make your lower extremities look like you're pedaling an invisible bicycle?
For those of you unfamiliar with the bench press, it is the 80+-year-old mechanism consisting of a bench, a weight bar, and a rack upon which the weight bar is set. The bench is a classic, no doubt; it is the muscle-heads' Holy Grail. But it's an entirely unnecessary apparatus for people merely trying to get in shape. This is particularly true if 1) you haven't done any weight training in a while, and 2) you don't have anyone to spot you, or you don't have someone familiar with correct form to spot you. It can be a very, very dangerous activity.
Yes, we said yoga. There is no more all-inclusive workout routine than yoga. Yoga practitioners not only enhance their overall strength and cardiovascular fitness; they develop the kind of flexibility that could possibly lead to a career in Cirque de Soleil.
The problem with restarting a fitness regimen is the unfortunate compulsion to pick up exactly where we left off 25 years ago. We would put on our tiny gym shorts and terry-cloth sweatbands, and take off running down the street like Secretariat while listening to Mike & the Mechanics on our Sony Walkmen.
This isn't a great idea today—largely because we would look like idiots.
However, from a purely practical perspective, jogging is the type of activity that has to be physically worked toward. The trauma to the feet, ankles, knees, and hips from high-impact activity could cause painful damage, particularly in those who are above their ideal weight. The expression "learn to walk before you run" applies to all cubicle-dwellers who mistakenly believe their sprightliness was preserved in amber.
What—you think power-walking isn't sexy? Well, then being an Olympic athlete isn't sexy because power-walking is an Olympic sport, buddy! It's also an excellent cardiovascular workout whose calorie burn is comparable to jogging while being significantly lower-impact. It's also a weight-bearing exercise, and research suggests that weight-bearing activities, such as running, walking, and dancing, help improve bone density, making fractures less likely in old age.
After we reach a certain age, it becomes more important to work out smart than to work out hard. Even if you happen to be in good physical condition for your age, taking a few reasonable precautions will help you to preserve your youthful physique.