In my columns and eBooks I use the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) on Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults. (2009). In 2018 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published Physical Activity for Americans, 2nd ed. The 118 pages include a chapter on Active Older Adults. This applies to all older adults. I found this very helpful book while doing research for my eBook Cycling in Your 70s, 80s and Beyond. The recommendations are similar to those of the ACSM; however, the new guidelines are more detailed. These are major conclusions:
Move more, sit less. Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. For more on the research about sitting, exercise and longevity see my column on Update on Exercise and Longevity.
At least 30 minutes most days. Specifically, the guidelines recommend:
- 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or
- 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or
- An equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
- Additional health benefits result from even more moderate-intensity aerobic activity than then 300 minutes (5 hours) a week.
Frequency and volume. Many studies show:
- Performing an activity at least three days a week produces health benefits.
- The total amount of aerobic activity is more important than the duration of each episode.
Going for a three hour ride and a two hour ride (five hours total) isn’t as good running errands on your bike a couple of days totaling an hour, a couple of brisk morning rides on the trainer totaling an hour, and your three hour weekend ride. Or you could go for a couple of 30-minute walks after dinner instead of running errands or riding the trainer.
Intensity by rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Very few people have heart rate monitors and even fewer have power meters. Both as a coach and a rider I’ve found RPE to be just as effective as heart rate and power except for elite athletes. The recommendations define:
- Moderate-intensity activity produces noticeable increases in breathing rate and heart rate.
- Vigorous-intensity activity produces large increases in a person’s breathing and heart rate.
- I wrote a column on Training by Perceived Exertion.
I wrote related columns on:
- 14 Training Rules for Older Cyclists.
- Is It Necessary to Build an Aerobic Base?
- How to Do Endurance (Aerobic) Training Correctly.
- Anti-Aging: Benefits of Training with Intensity
- 8 Exercise Mistakes Older Riders Make.
Muscle Strength Training
In addition to aerobic activity all adults should do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity involving all the major muscle groups:
Variety of activities. The improvements in, or maintenance of, muscular strength are specific to the muscles used during the activity, so a variety of activities is important. These should include legs, hips, chest, back, abdomen, shoulders and arms.
Muscle overload. Strength training is any activity that makes muscles do more than they are accustomed to doing during the routine activities of daily life. Examples may include climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, using a push lawnmower instead of a power mower, parking in the far corner of the parking lot and carrying bags of groceries instead of using a cart, digging in the garden and shoveling snow instead of hiring a neighbor kid. Strength training also includes calisthenics that use body weight for resistance (such as split squats, single leg squats, push-ups, pull-ups, and planks), lifting weights and working with resistance bands.
Frequency. Two non-consecutive days a week are sufficient; however, if you have time a third day helps. Because of the variety of types of and intensities of activities the guidelines don’t specify an amount of time.
How hard? To be effective you need to do each exercise to exhaustion, i.e., you couldn’t do more stair climbing, snow shoveling, etc. If you’re using weights or resistance bands you shouldn’t be able to do one more set. One set of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise provides most of the gain in strength. Two or three sets will do a little more but aren’t necessary.
Non-aerobic. Most muscle-strengthening activities don’t help you meet the aerobic guidelines.
Progressive. Remember the principle that overload plus recovery yields improvement. If you just do the same exercises and the same amounts you’ll never improve. You need to change to more challenging activities (e.g., single leg squats instead of split squats), increase the resistance (e.g., more than body weight) or increase the volume (number stairs, number of push-ups or add a third day.)
I wrote three relevant columns:
- Strength Training for Older Roadies, which includes different leg exercises using your body, not weights. These are illustrated with photos.
- 5 Simple Exercises to Keep Cyclists Injury-Free
- Why Year-Round Strength Training Is Good.
Balance activities. Practicing balance increases your ability to resist forces either within or outside the body, e.g., unexpectedly stepping off a curb or being jostled in a crowd. Balance exercises are important to improve activities of daily living, to reduce the risk of falling and to reduce the risk of injury if you do fall.
I wrote a column on Why Practicing Balance is Important
Older adults should maintain the flexibility necessary for regular physical activity and the activities of daily living. Stretching is effective in increasing flexibility. Time spent working on flexibility doesn’t count toward the above guidelines.
I wrote a column on Why Stretching May Help You.
My eBook Off-Season Conditioning Past 50 includes information on endurance and intensity workouts, cycling outdoors, indoor cycling, cross-training, strength training and more. I combine these into a sample 12-week program with options for people with limited time to train, beginning cyclists, health and fitness riders, club and recreational riders and endurance riders. The 26-page Off-Season Conditioning Past 50is $4.99.
My Cycling Past 50 Bundle includes:
- Off-Season Conditioning Past 50 – how to best work on your off-season conditioning given the physiological changes of aging.
- Healthy Cycling Past 50 – what happens as we age and how to incorporate cycling and other exercise activities into our daily lives to stay healthy and active for many years.
- Healthy Nutrition Past 50 – what to eat and drink to support both a healthy lifestyle and continuing performance.
- Performance Cycling Past 50 – how to train to achieve more specific cycling goals given the physiological changes of aging.
The 94-page Cycling Past 50 Bundle is $15.96.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes chapters on how to meet the ACSM’s recommendations on aerobic, high intensity aerobic, strength training, weight-bearing exercises, balance and flexibility. I include sample weeks and months for different types and amounts of exercise. I give you plans to build up to 100 km and 100 mile rides. I include a plan to increase over two years your annual riding from around 4,000 miles (6,500 km) to over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) a year. You can easily modify the plans for different annual amounts of riding. I discuss the importance of recovery and how to gauge if you are getting enough recovery. I combine the different kinds of training into programs that balance training and recovery. The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.