Exercise’s anti-gravity effect on your body provides more than enough incentive to hit the gym (hello, perky posterior!). But it only works if you do it correctly-too much of one thing and not enough of another can actually add years to your body.
We talked to the pros to single out the most common exercise habits that age you, and what to do instead.
Mistake: You never take a break
If you’re tired all the time and feel achy and sore, you may not be allowing your body enough time to heal between workouts, which can age you, says John Higgins, MD, associate professor of medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and director of exercise physiology at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.
“In your teens and 20s, it took approximately 18 hours to repair muscle fibers affected by a workout, but this increases to 36 hours in your 40s or older,” he says. Using those same muscles before they’re completely recovered can trigger inflammation. “Workouts become more difficult, your immune system may not function as efficiently, and you may have trouble sleeping,” says Dr. Higgins.
The fix: Take enough time between workouts, and allow at least one whole day for rest per week where you do nothing more than stretching or light yoga (these gentle yoga poses are a great place to start!).
Mistake: You focus only on high-intensity
It’s easy to understand why you’d be drawn to high intensity interval training (HIIT): It burns tons of calories in less time, and the burn continues even after you’ve finished exercising. But if that’s all you do, you’re putting yourself at a higher risk of injuries and wear and tear on your body, says Dr. Higgins.
In fact, the popularity of these high-intensity workouts has led to an increase in rhabdomyolysis, a breakdown of muscle fibers so severe it can result in kidney damage and even death. “Though still rare, rhabdo can affect other body organs as well, especially if you allow yourself to become dehydrated,” says Dr. Higgins.
The fix: Allow yourself a minimum of 48 hours of recovery time after a HIIT workout or after intense programs like CrossFit.
Mistake: You only do cardio
If your workout consists of hours of cardio and no weight training, you’re setting yourself up for a less-than-firm body. Muscle burns calories even when you’re resting, so less muscle means fewer calories burned throughout the day, not to mention a lack of muscle tone. And as you age, your muscles become a use-it or lose-it situation: “We start losing muscle at the rate of approximately a half pound a year after the age of 25–or five pounds a decade–without regular strength training,” says Jessica Matthews, MS, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise.
The fix: Include strength training in your workout program at least two to three days per week to maintain and build lean body mass and decrease body fat percentage. (No need to make friends with the meatheads–these 25 toning movesfor women are designed just for you.)
Mistake: You neglect your posture
Few things make you look older than a hunched posture. Worse, the shape of a person’s spinal column may predict her risk of requiring assistance in old age, according to a recent Japanese study published in the Journals of Gerontology. “Everything in life pulls us forward, from sitting and leaning in, to all the new technologies that require us to bend forward to text and type,” says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym.
The fix: Reverse this trend by including pulling and reverse movements in your workout such as seated rows, suggests Holland. Yoga poses such as the Cobra, Mountain Pose, and Tree Pose also help improve posture if incorporated into your workout once or twice weekly.
Mistake: You don’t know your pelvic floor is part of your core
In your quest for a flatter belly, you probably focus on your obliques (the muscles responsible for rotation) and your rectus abdominis (the muscles responsible for the “six pack” effect). But you should also be focusing on your pelvic floor, says Guy Andrews, MA, CSCS, executive director of Exercise ETC, Inc., a provider of fitness education programs in Florida. Neglect your pelvic floor muscles, and you can end up with that soft, round belly many women develop after middle age, as well as urinary incontinence, says Andrews.
The fix: Performing Kegels to activate the pelvic floor is an important part of strengthening your entire core (check out these simple step-by-step Kegel instructions!). Aim for three sets of 10 repetitions, three times a day.
Mistake: You go from zero to 60
If you’re late for class and start lifting and hoisting weights without easing into it, you can wreak havoc on your system, says Dr. Higgins. “The physiological and chemical changes that normally happen with exercise can be more pronounced when you jump into an aggressive routine.” A release of inflammatory chemicals occurs, including thyroid hormones and cytokines (inflammatory proteins), which impact the immune system and make it more difficult to recover, says Dr. Higgins.
The fix: Ease into a routine for five to 10 minutes of easy lifting or moderate cardio before going all out. If 10 minutes is all you have, try one of these 10-minute toners created by Prevention fitness expert Chris Freytag.
Mistake: You only use machines
If you hop on machines for your entire resistance training program, you should add a dumbbell move or two for a greater anti-aging impact, says Holland. “It comes down to functionality and strength for everyday life activities.” Machines lock you into place and stabilize your body, which is fine for beginners, but it doesn’t require working in all planes of motion or using stabilizing core muscles, says Holland. “Free weights enable you to be as strong and fit as you can be and strengthen you optimally.” In addition, free weight require balance, an ability that diminishes with age.
The fix: Alternate free weights one day and then machines the next time you work that same body part. For example, on a machine day, use the chest fly machine, but then swap in dumbbell chest presses at next workout. Or, when working your back, use the seated row machine one day and dumbbell rows the next time.
Mistake: You don’t include power moves
Professional athletes aren’t the only ones who need power. Defined as the ability to exert force in a short amount of time, we use power to get out of the way of a swinging door, dodge a hole in the sidewalk, and to make it across the street before the light turns red, says Holland. “Problem is, we do fewer of these activities as we age, which results in a loss of fast-twitch muscle fibers over time. We lose the ability to react quickly.”
The fix: Simply adding a power move to your regular workout helps: Perform a squat by lowering normally and then quickly standing up and rising up onto your toes; or lower yourself into a lunge at a moderate tempo and explosively return to your starting position.
Mistake: You stick with low-impact workouts
Biking, the elliptical, and low-impact aerobic classes are great cardio workouts, but they don’t do much for your bone density. To stave off osteoporosis, you’ll need some impact, says Andrews. “Impact is an integral part in maintaining bone health: The impact travels up the leg and is absorbed at the hip, thus helping prevent hip fracture after menopause.” In fact, a recent study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise showed that running significantly reduced osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk.
Mistake: You buy bargain sports shoes
Who doesn’t love a good sale? But it’s one thing to buy that bargain purse, and another to cut corners on fitness shoes. “Cheap shoes that aren’t biomechanically correct or suited for specific activities will potentially create imbalances in your lower legs and could lead to back injury,” says Holland. Tennis shoes, for example, are designed to support your foot side to side as well as back and forth, whereas running shoes are designed to help you move forward. “The wrong shoes could also cause you to roll your ankle,” Holland says.
The fix: Find the best shoes for your workout with our ultimate 2013 Sneaker Guide!