The point at which women peak physical performance-wise is not all that different than men – late 20’s to early 30’s. After their peak however, certain physiological changes will begin to occur.
As you grow older, maintaining flexibility is a challenge. Typically you’ll lose 3 to 4 inches in the standard sit and reach test over the course of your working life. The reason? Collagen fiber cross-linking. Through the aging process, collagen fibers start to link across each other thus reducing our ability to move as much. You can reduce the effects of cross-linking by doing yoga and dynamic stretching.
One of the changes in metabolism that occurs is a reduced maximum heart rate. As you know, the formula for finding your maximum heart rate is 226 minus your age. The formula takes into consideration that as you grow older your heart does not respond to a physical stress like it did when you were younger. To keep from overworking your heart, try to keep your target heart rate at 80% or less than your maximum heart rate.
Metabolism – the rate at which your body burns calories – is another challenge as you age. The fire in your furnace doesn’t burn as bright as it once did. It just takes a little more stoking in that you’ll have to work harder at exercising (and consume fewer calories) to maintain your current weight and fitness level.
This is perhaps the biggest difference between men and women. Women lose the largest amount of bone after reaching menopause where men typically start their bone loss around age 65, meaning women can start losing bone density much earlier than men. Because women have the highest amount of bone density by age 20, it is important they engage in physical activities and get enough calcium in their diet throughout their life to keep their bone density high until it starts to decline after menopause.
As you reach middle age, muscular performance starts to decline at the rate of five percent every ten years. By the time you retire, you will have lost 30% to 40% of your muscle strength. So is it time to order your casket and pick out a burial spot? No, not by a long shot. However it is time to start an active strength training regimen if you are not already doing weight training.
Not only does weight training preserve muscle mass you have left, it also burns calories to help with your metabolism. Plus it is non-impact so it is easier on lower body joints such as hips, knees and ankles.
Reaching your physical peak and starting down the other side doesn’t mean the end of physical activity. It simply means you’ll have to adjust your physical performance expectations and change to different kinds of physical activities.