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This January, we’re on the search for quick, accessible hacks to kickstart 2023 in the strongest way possible. Today’s strength kickstarter: how to test your fitness, whatever your age.

Our strength, flexibility and overall fitness changes as we age – that’s a fact. Most people in their 20s are going to be able to out-sprint someone in their 60s. And because of that natural decline, it’s around this time of year you’ll start to see trainers and fitness sections declaring you ‘unfit’ if you can’t meet certain fitness targets for your age bracket. 

Can’t run a sub-30 minute 5k in your 20s? Struggle to do 10 back-to-back full press-ups in your 30s? Then your new year’s resolution surely should be to get fitter… right?

Well, no. Fitness and strength may well be a natural peak when you’re in early adulthood but they decline much slower if you keep on moving. In fact, when it comes to activities like running, you may actually get better and more confident as you age. 

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At 23, you might be at the very start of your fitness journey – when surviving a 5k Parkrun seems impossible. By 33, if you’ve been running consistently for a decade, you might be working towards a marathon. 43 may see you aiming simply to run around the block while juggling parenthood, jobs and other commitments, while 53 could well be the age you resume running ‘seriously’ – perhaps aiming to complete 100 Parkruns, enter trail races or go on running trips abroad.

 Age-related goals don’t necessarily have to be about a slow decline – they’re more to do with life circumstances. 

Why age-related goals aren’t necessary

Ed Conway, PT and founder of FIT AS, isn’t a fan of strict age-related goals either. “I don’t fully agree that people should exercise differently depending on their age group (or be defined by it),” he tells Stylist. It’s only when you get to 55-ish that factors like muscular atrophy, metabolic slow-down, osteoporosis and hormone level changes can come into play – but, Conway stresses, that physical decline also depends on your fitness background.

Proving that age (for the most part) is nothing but a number, he continues: “I was relatively active and kept myself in shape throughout my 20s with a daily cycling commute, a 5k jog and weekly football, but I’m 37 now and doubly as fit as I was as a 20-year-old old.”

There are loads of us within the fitness industry who have similar stories. At 21, I ran my first 10k and it almost killed me; it was only at 27 that I started to get seriously fit – running my first marathon and lifting weights for the first time. At 33, I’m infinitely fitter and healthier than I was a decade ago when my main food groups included Estrella beer and Pret sarnies. 

Recovery is the main thing that changes as you get older

The main thing to be aware of as you get older is recovery, says Conway.

“The older you get, the more time it takes to recover from vigorous exercise and warming up/down properly becomes ever more important.”

A 2016 study published in Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise states that older triathletes experience slower protein synthesis than younger athletes. Protein synthesis is the process of muscle repair; the slower that happens, the slower it takes for the body to fully recover from exercise.  

If you want to track recovery, most fitness watches offer those metrics. But going with how you feel is always a good rule of thumb; don’t push it if you’re feeling knackered on a workout day (that goes for everyone, regardless of age).

Six fitness tests that are worth trying

But all of that’s not to say that you can’t test your fitness every so often. Whether you’re 20, 40 or 60, it can be really useful to have certain measures by which to measure our strength, cardio capacity and flexibility.

Conway suggests the following:

  1. 1 minute of burpees
  2. 1 minute of high knees
  3. 1 minute of mountain climbers

Rest for 15 seconds between each minute.  

Once you’ve done each set, write down how many reps you’ve managed and use that number to measure against the next time you try them.

We also recommend having a go at the following, to test balance, stability and body strength:

  1. 1 minute plank hold
  2. 20 seconds balancing on one foot
  3. 10 press-ups in a row

If you find the above easy, add on. Try planking for two minutes, balancing for 20 seconds on one foot with your eyes closed (the holy grail of health, apparently), and doing a minute of press-ups. 

Images: Getty

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