Fitness looks a little different for everyone. Whether you lift weights, do yoga, or love to run, the best type of movement for you is truly that which makes you feel happier and healthier. As you approach middle age, though, it becomes increasingly important to exercise with a specific goal in mind: to keep your body as strong and mobile as possible so that you can move and live freely well into your older years.
“I like to remind myself that I’m not training for a specific sport but I’m training for life,” says Dillon Caswell, P.T., D.P.T., S.C.S., writer and content creator at The Prehab Guys. “I’m building capacity so I’m able to enjoy life.”
Think of it this way: If you have legs that work, you want to keep them working. If you have a back that sits up and bends over, you want to keep it oiled up. Nobody wants to sleep on the toilet someday because they don’t have the strength to get up.
So how do you keep your body strong at middle age and beyond? In short, you have to prioritize strength training.
“People should never stop strength training,” says Rachel Sneeden, C.P.T., Pn1. “Once you turn 40, if you don’t exercise and strength train regularly, both your muscle mass and bone density become weaker faster.”
Strength training is important for preventing sarcopenia, age-related loss of muscle mass that can make everyday tasks more difficult. It also keeps bones strong by stressing them more than most daily activities, stimulating bone cells, and ultimately warding off osteoporosis.
To maintain the strength you need, trainers recommend focusing on the following types of exercises in middle age and beyond.
1. Core Work
One of the most important exercises in middle age (and any age!) is anything that targets your core. “Your core supports your entire body and everything you do,” Sneeden says. Two of her favorite moves: bird dogs and dead bugs. “You can be seven-years-old or late into life and still be able to perform a dead bug and bird dog,” she says.
To make these movements easier, move just one limb at a time. To level them up, move your opposite arm and leg simultaneously.
2. Push and Pull
Next up on the list of essential movement patterns: pushing and pulling, which help you do everyday things like open and close heavy doors and pick stuff up off the floor.
For pushing, Sneeden says nothing beats a pushup, which is easy to modify to your ability. “I’ve trained people in their 80s and they do pushups on the wall,” she says. “The extreme incline does not have as much resistance as a standard push-up but still engages all the same muscles.”
If you need to, start with wall pushups, then scale to pushups on a table, counter, or chair. Continue to use lower and lower platforms until you’re on the floor completely.
When it comes to pulling, you might immediately think pullups, which are pretty advanced. They’re not your only option, though.
“The most accessible [pull movement] is a dumbbell row,” says Sneeden. “It’s easy to scale and you can assist yourself on a bench, chair, or couch. If you don’t have weights, you can use water bottles or other odd objects from around the house.”
Bonus: Not only are pulling movements important for day-to-day tasks, but they also help keep your posture really strong, says Sneeden.
3. Hip Hinges
“How many people hurt their backs picking something up?” says Sneeden. “Hip hinges teach you to hinge at the hips and use the strength of your legs—and not rely on your back.”
Think about the start of a deadlift: Can your hips push back as your chest reaches forward? “Some older people lose balance, go stiff, and fall down, but hip hinge strength provides the counterbalance needed for the body to stay steady,” Caswell explains.
Sneeden recommends deadlifts and glute bridges for building strength and familiarizing yourself with the movement pattern. Then, try single-leg deadlifts to challenge balance.
Caswell, meanwhile, likes to work both strength and power with glute bridges. To do so, push your hips up into the bridge quickly and move slowly and with control on the way down. “People tend to focus on losing muscle mass as we age, but we lose our power three times faster than muscle,” he says. “It might seem counterintuitive, but the older we get the faster our movements should be.”
Though you may not think of squats as one of the must-do exercises in middle age, “you’re more susceptible to falling or losing your balance as you get older, so you should start [squats] as young as possible,” says Sneeden. Squats help you stand up from a low position (like lying in bed or sitting on the toilet) and maintain the leg strength needed to keep the strain of these movements out of your back.
Read More: I Did Squats Every Day For A Month
To scale squats, practice them with TRX bands or by squatting in and out of a chair. The goal is to sit and stand easily, with a slow, controlled balance.
Sneeden loves single-leg exercises like lunges because they take a little more mental energy and heighten awareness of your balance.
Lunges have another positive element, too: falling prevention. This is something everyone from young athletes to older adults can benefit from, says Caswell. “Lunging is both a practice in deceleration for athletes and a stepping strategy for people afraid of falling in older age,” he explains.
Basically, they teach you how to not hit the floor. If you lose your balance or get a little wobbly, it doesn’t have to mean defeat. Knowing how to lunge offers a buffer between wobbling and straight-up falling over.
In the library of essential exercises for middle age (and life), carries are one of the most logical. Picking up anything—whether groceries or a grandchild—and walking with it is an essential day-to-day movement.
“I’ll have clients do different types of carries so they’re prepared for anything,” Sneeden says. “Carry a weight in front of the chest, on the side, or overhead. They can walk around or march in place.”
Walking can get harder for aging bodies, and carries ensure you can walk comfortably, balanced, and with a thing or two in your hands.
Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook community, Eating Healthy, today!