Saving for retirement is much like exercise: It’s better to start sooner than later to reap the rewards later in life.
“Think about your health like a bank,” says Kathleen Trotter, fitness expert and author of Finding Your Fit: A Compassionate Trainer’s Guide to Making Fitness a Lifelong Habit. “You want to put as much money in the bank as early as possible because you get that credit. It’s very hard if you start retirement and you’re already in body debt – if you haven’t been exercising, if you haven’t been sleeping and if you have made poor choices.”
Being active can mitigate natural changes that occur with age, such as bone loss, muscle loss and mobility loss, notes Trotter. “And the more you can put in that body bank earlier in life, the less likely you’re going to feel all those changes later in life.”
Indeed, numerous studies link exercise in middle age to tremendous benefits as we age, including prevention of chronic illness and better cognitive function.
“As we reach our senior years, we might expect to see even greater benefits in individuals with memory impairment brought on by conditions such as dementia.”
A recent study from McMaster University found that high-intensity exercise boosts memory. Participants were all healthy young adults, and their memory performance showed significant improvements over a short period of time. Jennifer Heisz, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster, said, “As we reach our senior years, we might expect to see even greater benefits in individuals with memory impairment brought on by conditions such as dementia.”
Another study by the Dallas-based Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine found that two years of regular aerobic exercise training during middle age may reduce or reverse the risk of heart failure associated with a sedentary life.
“Exercise really is the magic pill because it positively affects so many aspects of mental health and physical health,” says Jeff Woods, owner of Custom Fit personal training in Edmonton. “It has a positive effect in your present life, but also in your future life.”
There are potential financial gains to being fit and healthy, as well. A study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, “The Asset Cost of Poor Health,” found that among people with similar assets in 1992, those with good health in 1992 accumulated at least 50 percent more in assets by 2008 than those in poor health in 1992. While out-of-pocket healthcare costs deplete resources, the study notes that poor health may trigger a number of other costs, such as home renovation or relocation, loss of earnings and the costs of hiring various service providers.
Better health also allows people to stay in the workforce longer and keep earning. In a 2017 study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 41 percent of retirees who retired early did so because of health problems or disability.
“The worst thing is to work your entire life and say, ‘When I retire I’m going to have fun,’” says Trotter. “And then you get to retirement and you finally have the time to do the things you want to do, and your body can’t actually do them.”
Patty Clark, national executive director of Active Aging Canada, says that while people are more informed about the benefits of healthy aging, taking action is still a challenge for many, especially if they haven’t been active in years. “For them to start to do something, there has to be a pretty big motivating factor,” she says. “Some light bulb has to go on to say, ‘I need to do something about this.’”
While everyone’s light-bulb moment will be different, the connection between middle-age fitness and a healthier, happier retirement is definitely motivation to get moving.
Top 5 Fitness Trends for the 45-plus Crowd
1. Strength Training
Strength training, which uses resistance to build muscles and strength, increases lean muscle mass and can play a role in slowing bone loss. Strength training can be done with free weights, weight machines, resistance bands or even your own body (see trend number 2). Classes that combine strength training and high-intensity interval training are becoming more popular too, notes Trotter.
2. Body Weight Training
Body weight training helps improves balance, flexibility and strength – no gym required. Examples include burpees, lunges, planks, arm circles, crunches and push-ups. Suspension straps (which are anchored to stationary objects, such as doors or poles) have also gained popularity, says Woods. “The great thing about body weight training is you’ve always got your body with you, so you’re never searching around for equipment.”
3. Functional Fitness
Functional fitness exercises help people do everyday activities, such as climbing stairs or carrying boxes, safely and more easily. “Functional fitness focuses on strength, endurance, balance, speed and agility,” says Allan Misner, personal trainer and author of The Wellness Roadmap: A Straightforward Guide to Health and Fitness After 40. “It gives people the tools they need to improve their life and that are going to lead to longer independence.”
4. Balance & Co-ordination
Activities that improve your balance and co-ordination are key. “That’s something we lose with age, so agility and co-ordination are really important to keep the brain strong,” says Trotter. She suggests activities such as dancing, sports or even just doing multi-directional motion. “If you’re on a treadmill, try side walking.”
5. Group Exercise
Any type of group exercise class is popular with the 40-to-60 age demographic, says Woods. “People gravitate to the social component and accountability to friends who might be participating,” he says. “And it’s a supportive, non-judgmental scenario for the most part.”