Every wondered what the right exercises are for your age-group? Here is a thorough breakdown of the recommended exercise for each age group.
Preschoolers (ages 3 to 5)
Already from the 1970s, activity levels for preschool children began to drop and the amount of obese preschoolers is increasing worldwide. This is due to decreasing levels of physical exercise with indoor-based activities such as watching TV and playing computer games growing in popularity. Many schools have also cut their outdoor activities and indoor areas are perceived to be safer with less supervision needed. There is a call back to the outdoors and parents and teachers alike need to encourage preschoolers to have fun being active by teaching them physical games, building safe play areas, and inviting little ones to explore the outdoors. Toddlers (12 to 36 months old) also need to exercise with 60 minutes of informal activity and 30 minutes of structured playtime daily. Little children, in particular, need to build motor skills, coordination and balance with a need for healthy muscles and bones through a number of different cardiovascular and strength activities (e.g. jumping, running and hanging from the monkey bars). Doing just one thing for an hour can get boring and tedious, so it’s best to break this up into bite-sized time periods e.g. six 10 minute playtime sessions doing different things.
What to do?
- Playing tag or chase: preschoolers can also hop, waddle, or dance instead of running
- Playing catch or kickball with different sized balls
- Swimming/water play, such as running in a sprinkler or washing the car
- Riding a tricycle or scooter in a safe and contained area
- Crawling through a cardboard-box tunnel or obstacle course
- Dancing to music with friends with scarves and ribbons
- Building an indoor obstacle course e.g. with sofa cushions, hula hoops and chairs lined up to form a tunnel or a balance beam
- A minimum of 60 minutes daily on organised physical activities (e.g. soccer, kickball, riding a tricycle/scooter)
- At least 60 minutes a day to several hours on unstructured physical activities (e.g. crawling, running, dancing, gardening)
Tweens (ages 6-12)
In most countries, with the influence of video games, fewer school playing fields and fewer physical education activities, research shows that most primary-schoolers do very little physical exercise or nothing at all. During this age group, a wider range of activities is preferable to build up as much mineral density as possible, core strength, muscle and joint coordination and calcium reserves. It must also be noted that before puberty, children do not produce lactic acid and so their energy reserves are much greater – meaning they can exercise for longer periods without tiring.
What to do?
- A variety of cardiovascular activities in exercises that involve hopping, running, skipping and jumping with rapid twisting motions and high intensity and energy e.g. dancing and ball sports
- All sports, especially those that develop coordination, core body strength, balance and fine motor skills and which are enjoyable e.g. athletics, tennis, badminton, hockey, football etc.
- Stretching for 20 minutes should precede and follow all weight bearing and cardio activity
- Cardiovascular exercise 4-5 times weekly leading to sweat-production 60-90 minutes each session
- Children who are training for sports can do an additional two one-hour weights sessions per week
Young women build their greatest amount of calcium before their 20s and so frequent weight-bearing activities which stimulate calcium production and core muscle strengthening, which establishes posture are vital. Weight training (including free, static and body resistance weight) is effective to build bone, muscle and joint health while skeletal structures grow to their maximum length. From puberty, teenagers begin to develop lactic acid and experience a variety of hormonal changes that place a demand on their energy and mineral stores. They will begin to tire quicker and need shorter, more frequent exercise. Sweat producing exercises stabilize hormones and effectively utilize sugar and insulin deposits (to counteract possible weight gain of puberty). High intensity exercise balances mood through endorphin release and stimulates the lymphatic system.
What to do?
- High intensity cardiovascular and strength development exercises e.g. sports such as volleyball, hockey, tennis, netball, basketball, water polo, running, dancing, swimming, sprint and long distance cycling, aerobics and fast walking
- Weight training with lighter weights (1-3 kilograms) joined with pre (fluid stretching) and post stretching (static stretching as the body is warm).
- It generally takes 30 minutes of high intensity exercise for the body to begin burning fat and so daily 30-60 minute sessions of cardiovascular activity are ideal
- 10-20 minutes of stretching daily pre and post high intensity exercise (see note above)
- 20-30 minutes of weight training preferably before cardiovascular activity, but can be done separately with 6-10 repetitions of each movement. Higher repetitions versus heavier weights are advised
Young Adulthood (ages 18-28)
Exercise scientists state that weight maintenance is easiest during the first decade of adulthood: the metabolic rate works most efficiently; stress to the body parts is minimal with quick injury recovery time; calcium is more easily absorbed and stored for later use in preventing osteoporosis among women. Women need to focus on cardiovascular activity to burn fat, stabilize sugar and insulin to improve fertility; they also need to build bone health through regular weight-bearing activity, maintain flexibility for later years, release stress and condition their posture. At this age, women may be desk slaves, so developing good postural habits is really important.
What to do?
- Weight-bearing activities e.g. running, walking, football or martial arts
- Posture and balance work e.g. Pilates, Alexander technique
- Dancing – e.g. modern, ballroom and contemporary styles
- Regular cardiovascular exercise e.g. cycling, aerobics, brisk walking, or fast-paced sports
- Three one-hour sessions of cardiovascular activities a week such as dancing, running, walking or swimming where the heart rate is increased to 60-70% (talking is difficult)
- Three 30-40 minute sessions of posture and balance work weekly combined with weight-training (10-20 minutes) three times weekly
30s and 40s
Women will notice that their metabolism declines by at least 2% per decade after the age of 30. The good news however, is that we can still stimulate the metabolism with high-intensity aerobic interval exercise until 50. At this age, the effect of wear and tear becomes noticeable, and recovery time may take longer. So, strength training becomes more important for maintaining joint stability and increasing lean body mass and stretching exercises will help to improve core strength, flexibility and postural alignment.As professional athletes will tell us, it is possible to play top-class sport until one’s mid-30s. Post 35, women’s resting heart rate increases and muscle mass and strength decrease, mostly caused by a decrease in the human growth hormone. Strength training continues to be important at this age at it triggers the human growth hormone.
What to do?
- Cardiovascular activities like indoor rowing, running, swimming or triathlon training
- Weight training activities using gym resistance machines or free weights
- Pilates for building core strength and flexibility
- Two to four one-hour sessions of free or static weights weekly (note that body weight can also be used as is done in Pilates)
- Three to four 30 minute cardiovascular sessions weekly
- 10-15 minutes of stretching morning and evening
- One to three 30 minute sessions a week of Pilates, Alexander technique or tai chi
Most women in this age group feel more intense aches and pains due to the wear and tear on their joints. This is a key stage of life for modifying aerobic workouts to include non-weight-bearing activities, such as swimming, rowing or cycling in addition to weight-bearing activities that improve bone density and help prevent injury. Menopause is likely to occur during the late 40s and early 50s, and hormonal changes can cause weight fluctuation. Portion size for meals should be watched carefully with calorie intake reduced by 15% percent with every decade of age unless physical activity increases. The more muscle mass a woman has, the higher her metabolic rate will be and the more fat burned when resting: but if new to weight training, though, women need to start slowly and precondition their body. Stretching is key as flexibility is vital for long-term physical independence and exercise specialists say it’s as important as brushing one’s teeth.
What to do?
- Strength training and weight-bearing activities (e.g. walking, dancing and aerobics)
- Regular dynamic stretching, deep breathing and core body strengthening e.g Pilates, tai chi or the Alexander technique
- Free weights of four sets of each exercise 6-10 times, 30 minutes three times weekly
- Two to four one-hour sessions of more gentle cardiovascular work weekly (can talk with effort while exercising) with weights/resistance and stretching
- Core balance and posture exercises e.g. Pilates, Alexander technique or tai chi one to three times weekly for 30-60 minutes per session
- Light stretching before bedtime 5 minutes each night and on waking when the muscles are warm
Investment for later life is the motto as women approach their retirement age. Nerve conduction and reflexes slow down as women age, but effective exercise can slow the rate of decrease. Elderly women become injured due to falling because of loss of balance but by stimulating the nervous system, they can remain balanced, stay agile and be stable on their feet.
What to do?
- Pilates, Alexander technique and core-stability exercises three times weekly for 30-40 minutes each session
- Proprioception-based exercises such as standing on one foot and/or with eyes closed several times daily for as long as possible
- Strength training with lighter weights, or rubber resistance bands and aim for 20 to 30 repetitions of movements for 30 minutes.
- Gentle cardiovascular e.g. walking and swimming
- For cardiovascular fitness, gentle swimming, walking, cycling and rowing indoors or on water is recommended 3-4 times weekly for 30 to 40 minutes as low-impact exercise is best to protect knees and hips
- Generally, 2-4 one-hour cardiovascular and weights/resistance sessions, followed by stretching is advised
- Pilates, Alexander technique or tai chi one to three times a week for 30-40 minute sessions
Between the ages of 30 and 70, the average person loses 25% of their muscle mass. In this decade alone, women can lose 15% of their strength. Relatively speaking, though, endurance increases, which explains the number of veteran runners in marathons. Ultra-distance challenges to boost fitness levels, working on weaknesses, example strength, should take priority in this age group. Balance, body awareness and ability to function in daily life can be enhanced by strength work and high-intensity sports at this age are to be avoided as they can lead to joint deterioration and repetitive stress injuries.
What to do?
- Swimming and gentle water aerobics for cardiovascular fitness
- Lighter weight training and gentle cardiovascular and combined weights/resistance sessions
- Postural realignment and muscle conditioning exercises e.g. Pilates, Alexander technique or tai chi
- Use lighter weights (1-3 kgs) and do up to 30 repeats, with a longer recovery time between sets, and rest days between sessions.
- Work the upper body once or twice a week, and the lower body once or twice on different days, so they have lots of recovery time.
- Two to four one-hour cardiovascular and weights/resistance sessions, plus Pilates, Alexander technique, yoga or tai chi one to three times a week are also recommended.
For the 70s and 80s, social aspects become an important driver in staying active and it’s more important to stay active in activities such as walking, swimming and hiking groups. Postural realignment and stretching exercises are all beneficial – any exercise that promotes the standing up, balancing, stretching and breathing with coordination. Tai chi and Pilates in particular are recommended. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that this gentle movements like tai chi increased physical confidence and reduced falls by 47.5% in people aged over 70. Club activities such as table tennis clubs can be played with limited level of mobility and a really good cardiovascular workout and socializing is still possible
What to do?
- Table tennis, walking, swimming and badminton
- Golf is also popular, but with caution as it can lead to hip injuries
- Two 40-60 minutes classes each week of Pilates and
- 30-40 minute sessions of cardiovascular exercise 3 times weekly
80s and Beyond
As women enter their beautiful sunset years, it’s more important than ever to exercise with the correct clothes and shoes. Aging means that thermoregulation isn’t as efficient, so it is more important to wear more layers of sports clothing when exercising. Nordic walking, marching along with sticks like ski poles for balance and propulsion is highly recommended for the over-80s and the right walking or running shoes are especially important at this age. Exercises like Nordic walking can have a great effect on cardio fitness and endurance as the balance and stability that poles or sticks provide helps to reduce the risk of falling, which improves the motivation and confidence to exercise. Swimming is also good exercise for this age group as is stretching after exercise: elasticity in muscles and tendons decreases with age therefore suppleness needs to be increased.
What to do?
- Nordic walking, gentle swimming, and static stretching when the body is warm every day
- Gentle Pilates and deep breathing
- Stretching exercises 2-3 times weekly for 30-40 minutes
- Daily gentle cardiovascular exercise for 20-30 minutes per session
My favourite exercise is still Pilates as it can actually been safely done at any age and gives a full body workout. Join one of my classes in Horison or Northcliff, Johannesburg: Group Pilates classes.
Charlotte Jean Steenekamp