Flat Abs After 50?
By Cindy Huang
Metabolism slows and joints wear down with age, making it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. But that doesn’t mean flat abs are out. In fact, Dale Barr, certified trainer and owner of d3 Fitness in Annapolis, says that “chances are you may have strong abs but they’re covered by a layer of fat.” To have visible abs one would most likely need their body fat to be less than 12 percent for men and less than 20 percent for women, says Barr.
If extra fat is the problem, how do you get rid of it? Barr cautions that while conventional thinking is to do more “core” work, more sit-ups or crunches, you can’t effectively “target train.” “Just like we can’t choose where we store fat on our body, we can’t choose where we burn or lose fat. Extra crunches aren’t going to make those abs visible,” he says.
But exercise is still key to losing fat and for gaining muscle. According to Barr, we lose ½ pound of muscle each year starting at age 30. Muscle is important in the metabolism process, Barr says, because it is our most metabolically active tissue. “By age 50,” he notes, “if we haven’t taken steps to fight this, our metabolism will be dramatically slower, our lives become more sedentary, and stress levels are elevated.” To counteract this muscle wasting process and its affects, Barr advises weight training and increased protein intake.
For maximum results, BARR suggests the following diet and exercise plan:
1. Eat 4–6 meals a day, slowly, with a minimum of 15–20 minutes to eat each meal.
2. Every meal should contain 1–2 palm-sized portions of the all important protein dense food; 1–2 fists of veggies; 1–2 thumbs of essential healthy fat; 1–2 cupped hands of minimally processed carbs. Notice there are no desserts, booze, or processed carbs on here.
3. Exercise 45–60 minimum daily with 3–4 exercise sessions being intense workouts and weight training.
4. Recovery from the workouts and life’s stresses (work, family) becomes vitally important and requires 7–8 hours of sleep each night and some form of de-stressing activity (i.e., meditation) 20 minutes a day.
Fitness coach and fascial stretch specialist Carrie Schwerdtfeger, who works at Evolutions in Annapolis, says that bodies react differently to exercise. But if someone eats well and works out regularly, they should see their body start to change within weeks.
For those 50 and older, Schwerdtfeger recommends balancing exercises and movements that engage the core muscles. She suggests avoiding exercises that incorporate lifting the back off the ground, such as crunches, because they’re harder on the body. Schwerdtfeger also emphasizes that exercising regularly won’t result in muscle definition if it’s followed by junk food.
Still haven’t found the right type of exercise for you? People of all ages sweat off fat with Bikram, or hot yoga, where participants do postures and breathing exercises in a heated room, notes yoga instructor Phil Vendemmia. The median age of his students is 43, with some in their 70s and 80s. He teaches at the Yoga Factory, which has locations in Annapolis and Crofton. Vendemmia runs the studios with his wife, Emily. Their Bikram classes run 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees.
Yoga poses can be adapted for people of all ages and body types, Vendemmia notes. “It’s so easy to modify the posture to meet your own depth for that day. You see more of a difference in your waistline than from other forms of exercise.” The postures stimulate metabolism, so the body burns fat accumulated around the waist, he says. “I’ve gone from a size 33 waist to a size 29.”
While the cosmetic benefits (a six-pack!) are alluring, these habits also build stronger muscles, stimulate metabolism, and improve mood, reminds Vendemmia. The hardest part of exercising to achieve a toned stomach is the commitment, he notes. People who visit the studio four to five times a week will feel different immediately and see results quickly.
If you are not finding motivation to visit the gym on a regular basis, consider a personal trainer or a Fitbit to meet your goals. Cosmetic surgery is also an option. Yet Vendemmia argues that a quick fix, such as liposuction, would be harder to maintain than a set of healthy habits.
While strong, visible abs for men and women are achievable, the question becomes, is this a worthwhile goal for someone over 50 years old? Barr answers, “I think it’s a great GOAL. Here’s why: If you should fall short of ‘visible abs’ you’re 2nd place prize is better health: reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, metabolic syndrome, or other obesity related diseases, better sleep, better hormone regulation, and weight loss.” With these health benefits, strengthening your core at any age is a worthwhile pursuit.