How to change your fitness routine to stay strong and mobile as you age

Clifton Mark · CBC Life · Posted: Feb 21, 2020 4:09 PM ET

This professor of biomechanics shares tips he swears by himself

It’s obvious that the appropriate fitness regime for an average 20-year-old may not suit the average 60-year-old. Many have vague ideas about shifts from hockey to golf or from CrossFit to aquafit, but can we be more specific? How should our approach to fitness change as we age?

Dr. Stuart McGill is professor emeritus in Spine Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and founder of Backfitpro Inc.. He’s both a researcher and clinician, and he’s worked with everyone from desk workers to elite athletes to help them live and perform without pain. Now in his 60’s, with hip replacement, McGill is focusing more and more on adjusting fitness regimens to enhance function in an older body. We asked him to explain how the demands and capacities of our bodies change as we age, and to take us through the seven-day training cycle that he uses to stay strong and mobile into his later years.

Tuning your body to meet the demands of your lifestyle

According to McGill, the key to designing a fitness regime is to first understand the specific demands of a person’s job and lifestyle, then measure the person’s ability to meet the demands. A training approach should be designed to develop the capabilities that the individual needs but currently doesn’t have.

Demands, of course, vary with each individual. Playing squash, working at a desk, or being a firefighter all call for different forms of physical fitness, and individual training should reflect that. McGill is blunt about this: “Many people have back pain because they are an office worker training like an NHL hockey player, when they should be focusing on addressing the physical stresses from prolonged sitting, then build fitness for resilience.”

He says that most often they’re either overtrained or undertrained. And the reality is that physical capabilities change with age as do the specific risks. As such, he recommends we change our training accordingly. “Fitness programming is like tuning a vehicle. Tune the body to efficiently meet a specific demand,” says McGill. He adds that it’s essential to “work within your capacity, and increase your health and injury resilience without crossing a tipping point that causes injury.”

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