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Why Walking Isn’t Enough

This is an excerpt from Age Strong by Rachel Cosgrove.

Aerobics, walking, spinning, or whatever the hot new cardio workout is often becomes the focus and priority exercise for women in their 40s and beyond because it’s what they know. Prioritizing an intense strength training session is rare for women over 40 years old. “I’m too old to do that stuff,” one woman shared with me.

At a photo shoot for a women’s fitness magazine, a model was filmed while walking to capture someone looking happy, strong, and confident for a cover. Someone on the set said that looks like a photo that could be used for the other magazine that has a target market demographic of women 35 to 54. Sure enough, if you flip through that magazine, you’ll mostly see pictures of women walking. This struck me. I realized that if you’re 35 or older, the advice in magazines aimed at you is very different than if you are under 35. Once you turn 35, they lead you to believe that walking is enough exercise for you. You’re old, after all. Pardon my French, but screw that! Why not step up your workout game as you approach 40 by lifting more, jumping higher, and learning new skills? It’s up to you what your 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond look like.

Living an active lifestyle is encouraged, and as we age, it’s easy to become more sedentary. It is a great idea to track your daily activity to be sure you are staying on the move, including walking plenty. If you don’t move it, you will lose it. Walking is a good thing. I’m not knocking it. However, if your only form of exercise is a cardiovascular activity without any strength training as you age, you’ll find yourself getting weaker, getting injured more often, and having a slower metabolism.

I’m a cardio addict myself. I love running, biking, hiking, and walking. I’ve completed two Ironman Triathlons that consist of over 2 miles (3 km) of swimming, 120 miles (193 km) of biking, and a full marathon, all in one day. That was 12 to 14 hours of straight cardio in one day, not to mention the hours and hours of training leading up to those events. Every time I ramp up my volume of aerobic activities to the extreme levels that it takes training for an Ironman, I struggle to keep my strength and body composition where I feel best.

In fact, going overboard by doing too much traditional cardio can create hormonal issues, sleep problems, and overtraining symptoms. That is definitely not something you need while you’re already navigating perimenopause and menopause.

Where Cardio Fits

So how does cardio fit into an anti-aging workout program? There are obviously benefits to having cardiovascular health, and if you are tight on time, the good news is the strength training programs in this book are done to improve your cardiovascular health and help you get stronger. If you don’t enjoy cardio, you don’t have to do it! Because you’ll be doing compound exercises paired with short rest periods, your heart rate will be pumping, and you’ll notice that you’re out of breath, getting a cardiovascular benefit. These full-body strength training programs two or three days a week as your absolute non-negotiable, number one priority will be the most beneficial to age strong with a healthy body composition and fit cardiovascular health. A study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed that using a strength circuit of just 12 sets elevated excess post-oxygen consumption (EPOC) for 38 hours after the workout (Schuenke, Mikat, and McBride 2002). Elevating EPOC for 38 hours means your body’s metabolism and calories burned stays elevated for almost two days after the workout. You’re getting a benefit far beyond the workout itself. This means instead of worrying about the calories burned during the workout, a strength training session will kick your metabolism up for the next day or two!

If you do want to run, bike, hike, or do another aerobic activity because you enjoy it, then, by all means, add it in while keeping strength training as the main focus. Ideally, if you do cardio activities at an intensity that does not tax your system, it can help improve your recovery. Perform cardio below 75 percent of your maximum heart rate so it is part of your active recovery. If you go too hard for too long, you’ll end up eating away the hard-earned muscle you are working to build and decreasing your recovery, which will affect your next strength workout.

More Excerpts From Age Strong