No matter what your age, you can improve your fitness
If it's been a long time since you've exercised and you're feeling less than fit, you might think that it's too late to make a change. But you're wrong. You can improve your fitness at any age.
"The stories in this area are actually very dramatic. Even people 100 years old or older can build muscle strength," says Dr. Edward Phillips, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Jonathan Bean, a professor in the same department, describes the case of a 101-year-old man who wanted to be able to wheel his own wheelchair down the hall to read the newspaper. The man embarked on a weight training plan.
"He got to the point where he could use a walker to go down and read the newspaper," says Dr. Bean. This far surpassed his original goal. It's an extreme illustration, but a potent one, of Dr. Bean's point: it's never too late.
That said, there are some limits to how much you can progress. "Workouts aren't going to turn someone in their 80s, 90s or 100s into someone who is 40 or 50 years old, but most people can get stronger and improve their endurance," says Dr. Bean.
Today, only an estimated 40% of American adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week, the low end of what the government recommends.
And many people who do walk or get other aerobic exercise often don't meet the second part of the government's recommendation, twice-weekly strength training. Only 20% of adults meet that goal, says Dr. Phillips. "We're sacrificing our healthy older years by not moving," he says.
Often the barrier that keeps people from moving as much as they should is mental.
"Some people assume, 'Well, I'm 70, I can't lift that, or I can't go skiing or bike riding, because I'm too old.' They can't, not because they physically would be unable to, but because they've made the decision that they can't mentally," says Dr. Phillips. "Even among those of us who are into fitness, there may be an exaggerated sense of 'I can't do that because I'm older.'"