the art and science of taking care
Health | Beauty | Fitness | Nutrition

The Best Workout for Every Age

Depending on the decade, you should have a different focus when you exercise.


As your body changes with each decade, so, too, should your workouts. But finding the workout that’s best for you right now doesn’t mean giving up your favorite yoga class or forgoing Zumba—it just means working in other forms of exercise, too. Here, the best workouts to incorporate into your routine at 20, 30, 40, and 50. 

Focus on: Cardio
Try: A treadmill class

If you already love to lace up your running shoes, keep doing it; your 20s are a great time to do cardio. But if the idea of a long run sounds about as fun as a trip to the dentist, many gyms now offer classes that incorporate intervals, races, and other activities that make time on a treadmill anything but boring. A long-term study of thousands of young adults found that those who had greater endurance during a treadmill test in early adulthood were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality later in life. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends doing 2½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (jogging or running) per week, along with at least two days of strength training per week.

Focus on: Building muscle
Try: High intensity interval training or weight lifting

While life in your 30s can seem insanely busy at all times between advancing in your career, growing your family, and trying to keep up with friends and chores, it’s more important than ever to make time to care for yourself too. After 30, you can expect to lose 3 to 8 percent of muscle per decade. You’ll probably notice that you can no longer wolf down fast food without gaining a few pounds, thanks to a slowing metabolism (some experience this slowdown earlier; some later). While you should keep up your cardio, incorporating more strength training into your routine can help you build muscle mass. Aim to train each muscle group twice per week, and alternate between heavy-weight/low-rep exercises and low-weight/high-rep ones. High intensity interval training does both and can also help with weight loss.

Focus on: Fighting cellular aging
Try: A little of everything

Over the hill? As if! You’re doing more than ever! But you’re also starting to think more about aging. Luckily, exercise can help. One study found an association between people who were more active in middle age and a lower risk for shortened telomeres, and shorter telomere length has been associated with the onset of aging-related conditions. Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. These caps get shorter as we age, meaning our cells are more vulnerable to damage. The study participants reported participating in an array of activities, from jogging to biking to walking to weightlifting. The CDC also recommends a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, so if you want to run and try HIIT and take yoga, do it!

Focus on: Protecting your bones
Try: Weight-bearing exercises

Want to spend your golden years living more fabulously than the Golden Girls? Make sure you’re taking good care of yourself now. As you go through menopause, your estrogen production declines, accelerating bone loss. The U.K.’S National Health Service says that women may lose up to 20 percent of their bone density in the first five to seven years after the onset of menopause. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends high-impact weight-bearing exercises such as tennis, dancing, and hiking to help maintain bone density. Lower-impact weight-bearing exercises, including the elliptical or stair master, will also do the trick. (You should check with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen.)