Q: “I am 60 yrs old. I have been regularly doing weight training for the past 30 years, including a half squat (80 kg), bench press (50 kg) and shoulder press (40 kg). But no cardio. My doctor advised me to include cardio so I bought an elliptical. In the beginning it was difficult to do even for one minute. After one month I can do it for 20 min continuously but with minimum speed and minimum tension.
My question is, should I increase speed or tension or duration of the workout?”
A: Good for you for creating a program that includes both strength training and cardio. Here’s why it’s a smart move:
Resistance training builds muscle mass to keep us strong as we age. Muscle mass also keeps our metabolism high and prevents obesity. “It can slow the muscle loss that comes with age, build the strength of your muscles and connective tissues, increase bone density, cut your risk of injury, and help ease arthritis pain,” says WebMD’s Barbara Russi Sarnataro.
Cardiovascular exercise improves the heart’s ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles efficiently. It reduces our risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer. Older adults who get regular cardiovascular exercise are less likely to fall. It also keeps your brain working youthfully and helps you sleep soundly at night.
In addition to cardio and strength training, balance and flexibility exercises will help you preserve your quality of life well into old age.
Longer, Stronger or Faster?
Assuming your primary goal is general health and not fat loss, you will benefit from stepping up your cardio in any of these areas:
- Going Faster: “More vigorous aerobic activities, such as brisk walking, running, swimming, bicycling, roller skating and jumping rope are best for improving the fitness of the heart and lungs,” the American Heart Association says.
- Adding Tension: Adding tension and using your body weight will strengthen your legs and core, which will in turn make it easier to exercise more on the elliptical.
- Keep Going: While it won’t prevent weight gain as efficiently as increasing speed and tension, long cardio does have a place in your conditioning. “It gets the blood flowing and helps in the recovery of the muscle tissue after performing strenuous exercise,” says Skyler Meine, CPT. Read more
Switch It Up
Interval cardio (going as hard as you can, resting with low-level activity, and repeating) is more beneficial than steady state cardio (long bouts of cardio at the same intensity). Your elliptical may have an interval setting that varies tension and speed to give you a great interval workout.
For those over 65 or with physical limitations, the American College of Sports Medicine and American Heart Association offer these guidelines.
To prevent soreness and injury, always do a warm-up and active stretching before you exercise.
How Many Days of Cardio Do You Need?
According to the American Heart Association, healthy adults between the ages of 18–65 need at least five days of 30-minute activity each week. With that in mind, your best bet might be to focus on getting up to a 30-minute cardio routine. Once you’re there, shift gears: gradually go faster or add tension.
Are you doing strength training on the same day as cardio? If you’re getting exhausted quickly during cardio, you might prefer to alternate strength training and cardio days. By using your “rest” days to do long cardio, you’ll have more energy when you hit the elliptical machine.
When combining cardio and strength training in the same workout session, which should you do first? Find out.
Avoid the Sedentary Trap
They say that all physical activity adds up to a healthier heart, so don’t stop when you leave the gym. Climbing stairs, yard work and taking the long way into the grocery store will all benefit your health.
Finally, create a plan and track your results. This will be the best way to determine what works for you and it’s a great way to stay motivated!