Social media is full of images of middle aged celebrities showing off their well-toned bodies, and we can’t seem to stop talking about them. The thing is, generally speaking, the list of fit men and women in their forties and fifties is already long and it keeps growing by the minute. There are some good reasons for this: greater awareness, more focus on personal wellbeing, and better knowledge about the importance of health and fitness.
However, this hasn’t always been the case. Not so long ago, we hardly even talked about fitness and wellbeing in India. Exercise was what we were made to do in physical education or PT classes at school. Those in boarding schools used to do it every morning, six days a week. But after graduating from school, the only activity that most pursued were sports such as cricket, football, hockey, basketball and racquet sports.
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“Back in college in the late 90s, I never went to the gym. One friend who stayed nearby and went to the same college used to ask me to go along with him but I rarely did,” says Sid S. The 43-year-old goes to a gym regularly these days, and also plays sports like beach volleyball. “I don’t really know why I didn’t work out back then. If only I had started when in college, I’d have achieved whatever shape I desired,” he says.
Nitin N, a friend of Sid’s, went to a boarding school and used to exercise as part of his daily routine. However, since then, all that he did for the next 10 years or so was intermittently play cricket and hockey intermittently. It was only around 2010, when he had entered his thirties, that he began exercising again. Nitin, now 44, continues to exercise regularly today and even he can’t explain why he took a break. “Maybe, it was because I had been forced to do it for so long as a kid, I didn’t exercise the minute I had a choice,” he says.
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Kolkata-based Gautam Rajda, 48, started working out only at the age of 39 when his doctor warned him to reduce his excess weight. He was given a choice between exercise or life-long medication for health problems such as blood pressure and cholesterol. “I hate pills. Exercise was a much more palatable option,” says Rajda, who at this point in time is the fittest that he has ever been in his entire life.
No matter what your age, exercising regularly is always better than not doing anything at all, says medical, fitness and nutrition experts alike. Studies have shown that strength, stamina, and flexibility all drop significantly after the age of 55, but many of these functional losses can be reversed through an active life and exercise.
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However, exercising in your middle age requires some precautions that one doesn’t really need to bother about in their twenties. Rajda says he undergoes a full medical check-up every six months to make sure all health vitals are in order. “I make sure I do mobility work and warm up properly before starting the workout. Every workout session ends with a cool down,” he says, adding it is important to do so in order to avoid injuries.
Even those who have worked out all through their twenties need to take care and pay attention to things they used to take for granted.
Suraj Juneja, 44, who started going to the gym while in college, is still going strong despite a busy work and travel schedule. He continues to lift heavy and try new routines like calisthenics. He says staying mentally strong and positive helps him push the limits and improve. “I refuse to entertain the thought that I cannot do a certain thing just because I am in my 40s now. The day I approach workout with that kind of a negative attitude and fear, I won’t be able to do anything. Of course, I also am practical about what I am capable of and know my limits. It would be stupid not to be practical,” says the Kolkata-based Juneja.
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Shahid Lokahndwala, 37, like Juneja has worked out all through his twenties but now his approach to exercise is a lot more careful. The Mumbai-based Lokhandwala loves CrossFit and running, and used to race through his workouts while lifting heavy. Nowadays, he doesn’t focus on either. Instead, he chooses a weight that is just about challenging enough and focuses on form and complete range of motion. “I am not competing. I am doing this to stay fit and move about freely. I don’t want to risk an injury by getting carried,” he says.
Another difference that he has noticed is that he doesn’t recover as quickly as he used to. So, he makes sure he stretches properly after a workout, uses a percussion massager whenever he feels sore or tight and regularly visits a physiotherapist for deep tissue massages. “I also include a de-load week in my routine so that my body can recover,” he adds.
Thanks to increased awareness, an increasing number of people in their mid-thirties and beyond are adopting an active lifestyle. While this is great, they need to be practical, know their limits, consult their doctors and prepare themselves properly so as to avoid injuries and setbacks as well as reaping full benefits of their active lifestyles.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.
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