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Pre-Black Belt
Pre-Black Belt

Joined: 09 Aug 2004
Posts: 878
Location: New Orleans, LA
Styles: WTF Tae Kwon Do (USTU,AAU), Hapkido

PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 8:00 am    Post subject: Martial Arts for the Over 40 Crowd Reply with quote

As we grow older we become more sedentary. We spend more time at work and less time at play. This means less energy and a loss of efficiency in our biological system (slower metabolism). We gain weight and our muscles become weaker. At times we try all sorts of diets and exercises to get back that youthful look. But we get tired of those fad plans and return to the habits that got us out of shape in the first place. A fad diet or exercise gimmick will not give us the healthy life we need. We need to develop a whole new lifestyle that includes proper nutrition and exercise. The Martial arts has been just the lifestyle change that thousands of adults over 40 have discovered and succeeded at.

People over 40 all over the world have become involved in martial arts for many reasons. Some get involved in martial arts to get in shape, lose weight, along with family members and their children, or to learn self defense. For whatever reasons they join, they are able to benefit from the physical activity and become healthier adults. The increase in activity level equates to an increase in the body's metabolism (burning calories) and lowers blood pressure, improves strength and flexibility and enhances the mood of the participant.


Metabolism is the process where the body converts food and oxygen in order to maintain the body or deposit them as energy sources. Your metabolism slows down as you get older due to a sedentary lifestyle. An active metabolism keeps your body functioning properly and healthy. A high metabolism helps those over 40 maintain a healthy weight. Some activities an over 40 person can do to increase metabolism are brisk walking, hiking, stair climbing, aerobic exercise, calisthenics, resistance training, jogging, bicycling, rowing, swimming and sports like tennis, racquetball, softball and the martial arts.

Blood Pressure

Normal blood pressure is 120/80. You have high blood pressure if you are at 140/90 or higher. HBP is caused by stress, inactivity, obesity or simply just heredity. Martial arts activities and a regular exercise program can help reduce high blood pressure when combined with medication and a proper diet.

Muscle Fitness

There are three types of muscle fitness: strength, flexibility and endurance. Strength and endurance can be increased through the breaking down of and repairing of, muscle tissue. Some exercises encourage the breaking down of muscular tissues and through proper rest these tissues are recovered stronger than before.


Maximum strength in adults generally occurs between the ages of 20 and 30 years old. Then there is a natural decline of muscular strength at a rate of about 3-5% per decade. The more sedentary a person over 40 becomes the less active muscle tissues become due to a loss of muscle protein. However, with regular physical activity this loss can be recovered. The martial arts provide a variety of exercises to promote muscle fitness.

Developing sheer muscle strength can be done though resistance training. Usually this is done with the lifting of heavy weights and low repetitions. However, this type of training will not promote muscle endurance, another attribute that is vital to the martial artist. Muscle endurance can be developed by using lighter weights with many repetitions. Martial artists should find a middle ground that best works for their needs.


Endurance is the ability of the muscles to work continuously without becoming fatigued. There are two types of endurance that are important to the martial artist - aerobic endurance and muscular endurance. Aerobic endurance is the ability to perform over an extended period of time, such as through a training class or being able to compete several times in one day. Muscular endurance is the ability to repeatedly perform intensively for brief periods of time, such as flurries of kicks and punches during a sparing match.

Aerobic endurance depends on the bodyís capacity for oxygen delivery, which is controlled by the heart, lungs and vascular system. The heart is most important muscle in the body and needs to be healthy in order to continue any exercise program like the martial arts. As early as age 30 our maximal oxygen consumption and endurance begins a steady decline to as much as 35% by age 65. The heart's ability to pump blood decreases about 8% per decade as the maximal heart rate declines with aging. However, studies show that middle aged adults who maintain a regular exercise program show virtually no loss in aerobic capacity. Aerobic exercises, where oxygen is being used during prolonged exercise, are good for maintaining an efficient and healthy heart.

A good weight training program to develop endurance would be to do several sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of weight light enough to complete the set but with the last 2 or 3 repetitions being challenging. Other aerobic exercises include running, swimming, cycling, rowing and aerobics class (dance, step or cardio kickboxing). Martial arts aerobic type exercises include intense forms practice, light sparring, footwork drills and prolonged heavy bag workouts (over 90 seconds).

Anaerobic training is activity where there is a lack of oxygen, usually during short burst of high activity. Energy comes from the phosphate compounds stored in the muscles. A build up of lactic acid from anaerobic exercises will lead to muscle fatigue and some discomfort.

Muscular endurance is a must for those martial artists intending to participate in tournament competition. One should focus on short duration anaerobic exercises that work the muscles all out for 30 to 60 seconds at one time. If the exercise goes beyond 90 seconds the body switches to aerobic training. The muscles need to build up a tolerance to the lactic acid that builds up in the muscles during anaerobic activity.

Interval training is a good way to develop muscular endurance and simulate the energy needed for sparing competition. An example would be to work the heavy bag all out for 30 to 60 seconds, followed by active rest (walking, stretching or breathing exercises). This cycle should be repeated five times going all out each round.

Martial arts anaerobic exercises include focus pad drills, speed drills and interval heavy bag training. It is good to mix both aerobic and anaerobic training. Competitive sparring combines both aerobic and anaerobic training. There are periods of bouncing and moving (aerobic) mixed with brief intense flurries of punching and kicking (anaerobic).


People also lose flexibility as they grow older. Their connective tissue, such as ligaments, cartilage and tendons, becomes more rigid. Joints become less flexible. Much of this decline is due to inactivity (that sedentary lifestyle I keep mentioning).

Flexibility is achieved when you work your muscles regularly and extend them through a full range of motion. In the Martial arts you should extend your kicks and punches to the proper extension, but not so far as to hyper-extend the joints. Stretching after the muscles are warmed up can help regain and maintain flexibility.

An over 40 person involved in the martial arts receives many benefits from the practicing of the skills. When practicing the wide variety of kicks or working on forms the student is also developing flexibility, strength, reflexes (neuro-muscular), coordination and endurance.

Get in a Better Mood

Another benefit an over 40 person has by following an exercise program such as the martial arts is the better mood it puts them in. A better mood is developed due to the release of brain chemicals catecholamine and endorphins. Catecholamines are adrenaline related compounds in the brain that help elevate a personís mood. Exercise increases the amount of catecholamines in the brain. Endorphins are produced by the body to make pain more tolerable. Some exercises, such as resistance training, break down cells in the body. The body releases endorphins to cover the discomfort, leading to an elevated mood.

Weight Management

One of the high hopes of adults joining the martial arts is to lose weight. We all know that we have to watch what we eat and limit the number of calories we consume. But do we know what the right number of calories is just to maintain our weight? To maintain your weight just multiply your current weight by 15. This is the number of calories you should consume daily to stay at the same weight. If you wish to lose weight you have to create a caloric deficit. You either have to eat less calories or burn more. Multiply your desired weight by 15 and that will give you the number of calories you should be consuming.

With an increase in activity level comes an increase in a personís metabolism. An elevated metabolism continues the burning of calories even while the body is at rest or sleep. Regular attendance of martial arts training is a very efficient way to increase one's metabolism.

The type and duration of an exercise can have a big impact on the number of calories that are burned. Martial arts training is a good choice for an exercise program to burn calories. Martial arts techniques use the large muscle groups of the legs, arms and trunk. Since bigger muscles burn more calories, it's these muscles you would want to develop if you wish to burn calories. Movements like kicking, punching and grappling engage the whole body and burn more calories than exercises with smaller range movements.

The duration of a workout can also determine how many calories are burned. Studies show that exercising longer at a moderate pace is better than exercising briefly at an intense level. The intense workout will leave you fatigued sooner than a moderate workout, thus allowing for less time to work the muscles and to burn calories.

Diet and Nutrition

The way a person eats can have a big impact on how well they perform and succeed in their martial arts training. A casual or recreational Martial Artist will basically have the same nutritional needs as any adult involved in any other activity. But, if they train often and have intense workouts, their nutritional needs have to be adjusted to meet the need for the required energy sources.

During moderate workouts the body uses body fats and stored carbohydrates as it's fuel for muscle contractions. If the workout is prolonged the muscles begin to fatigue because the stored fuel is being depleted. "Low carb Ė high protein" diets are not a good solution for the martial artist because the lack of carbohydrates can lead to early fatigue during workouts and an overall negative energy balance. By eating 5 low-fat meals a day the body speeds up its metabolic rate to handle the steady intake of food and blood sugar levels are controlled (more energy) and protein is being supplied to the muscles throughout the day to aid in recovery and growth.

Carbohydrate intake can be increased just prior to intense periods of training or competition to provide extra muscle glycogen. An adequate amount of rest between workouts can also help replenish depleted muscle glycogen stores.

Some nutrition tips for the over 40 martial artists:

- Eat five small meals a day about 3 hours apart.
- Eat complex carbohydrates and fiber.
- Include fish, chicken breast, fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Avoid eating processed foods and fats.
- Drink plenty of water. (Weight x .55 = the amount of water you should drink in ounces on a daily basis.)
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Don't smoke.

Medical Concerns

It is important for anyone, especially those over 40, to see a doctor before beginning an exercise program. Things to be cautious of are: previous joint surgery, hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, family history of heart disease, chest pain, dizziness, rapid heart rate or murmur and claudication (pain when moving a limb). Some medications limit activity levels. Consultation with a doctor is advised before increasing any type of activity level.

An over 40 person should be aware of what activities may be harmful and avoid those if they have had a serious injury or pre-existing condition. They should choose activities that are enjoyable and not too stressful or strenuous. Itís good to add variety to avoid ďburn outĒ and to remain interested in exercising. Itís important to find an exercise program that fits into a personís busy time schedule and maybe even one that puts the participant and family together. Many martial arts schools have classes that allow both child and parent to attend together.

A Sensible Plan for the Over 40 Martial Artist

An over 40 person in the martial arts should only have to work out four to six days a week. Two or three days could be dedicated to martial arts training and the other days to "cross training", such as jogging, weight training, swimming, rollerblading or bicycling. Depending on the intensity of the workouts, one or two days a week will be needed for rest to allow the muscles to recover. However, an over 40 person may not always have that much time to train, due to work and family demands on his time.

The intensity of the workouts should switch from high intensity one day to low intensity or rest the next day. The muscle cells broken down on the high intensity day can have time to repair and recover stronger. One can also alternate between working their upper body one day and lower body the next. This works a different set of muscles and allows the other muscle group to rest and replenish its glycogen (energy) stores. For example, do high intense cardio workout on Monday and high intensity drills, heavy bag and sparring on Wednesday and Friday. Then do forms and self defense (Hapkido) on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Each workout should be 30 to 60 minutes. The duration could increase as a personís physical conditioning improves.

Cross training is fine to help improve and maintain an overall fitness level, but does not replace specific martial arts training. If a person wants to be able to kick high he has to do more than stretch and weight train the legs. He has to practice kicking high. This builds a neural-muscular memory connection. When a person wants to kick high the brain sends a signal to the muscles that they recognize and react in the desired manner. So, if you want to punch or kick fast, you have to practice punching and kicking fast. If you want to be able to spar in competition and fight round after round, match after match, you need to practice sparring to gain the benefits of both the aerobic and anaerobic workout.

Martial art schools have set curriculum that students must follow to advance. Many people over 40 can't always "keep up" with the younger crowd. But, not everyone in the class can do some of the things other students can do, no matter what age. Martial arts are for the individual. The individual person has only to set his own goals and strive to achieve them, no matter what others are capable of doing. Everyone improves at their own pace and not everyone will respond the same way to a particular training program. If a person finds that he has limitations he should discuss this with his instructor so that the instructor can help him with a plan to achieve his goals and still be in line with the school's curriculum.

Martial artists should be cautious not to over train or "burn out". They shouldnít take off from training for too long of periods if not necessary. It is estimated that once a training program is abandoned, the gains made through that program are lost within five to ten weeks. If a person has to take a leave for some reason, it is important that they reenter their training gradually to avoid injury. Also, if they don't train often enough they should not go "all out" when exercising since their body is not conditioned to handle the stress. This could lead to serious joint or muscle injury.

Some exercising tips for over 40 martial artists:

- Properly warm up before exercising.
- Know your target heart rate and don't go over it.
- Slow down, or stop, when you feel fatigued. Build up to prolonged and/or intense workouts.
- Adjust the intensity of your workout based on your current condition.
- Surround yourself with highly motivated people.
- Workout with a friend or family member.
- Take progressive steps to improving. Be patient with your training.
- Don't compare yourself to others. Be realistic about what you can do.
- Allow sufficient recovery time between workouts.

Quite often we see that involvement in the martial arts by people over 40 leads to an entire lifestyle change. To maintain your health you not only need to eat right, but also be consistent in some activity and develop a healthy lifestyle. People involved in martial arts become more aware of their health condition and are serious about doing something to improve it. They want to achieve their goals in the Martial arts and being physically fit and healthy is important to do so. So the over 40 martial artist benefits in many ways - fitness, self-esteem and confidence, self-defense knowledge and social involvement.

Source: Martial Arts After 40 by Sang H. Kim, Turtle Press.
when you create the world's largest trailer park, you're going to have tornadoes
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KF Administrator

Joined: 01 May 2001
Posts: 27145
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 8:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the submission.
Patrick O'Keefe - Administrator
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Killer Miller
Brown Belt
Brown Belt

Joined: 29 Nov 2002
Posts: 732
Location: California
Styles: JKA Shotokan

PostPosted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 10:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice article! Very well written.

- Killer -
Mizu No Kokoro
Shodan - Nishiyama Sensei
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White Belt
White Belt

Joined: 18 Jun 2003
Posts: 22
Location: Alabama USA
Styles: Karate Kendo

PostPosted: Tue Mar 21, 2006 7:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good article!

Keith Cash
Alabama USA - Karate Kendo
Certified Professional Instructor since 1990
Seminars: Safety Protection Self-Defense
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Black Belt
Black Belt

Joined: 25 Dec 2004
Posts: 1039
Location: Hawaii
Styles: Kajukenbo

PostPosted: Sat Apr 01, 2006 10:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good info!......I'm one of the over 50 crowd.
What works works
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A. Orstrom
Orange Belt
Orange Belt

Joined: 22 Jan 2005
Posts: 146
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Styles: Kyokushinkai Karate, Nishio-ryu Aikido, Genseiryu

PostPosted: Thu May 18, 2006 6:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very well-written and informative article.

I'm not the 'Over 40 crowd', not even the 'Over 25 crowd', but I found it very interesting and relevant none the less. By explaining how the body reacts at later (in my case) stages of the life, you help others to maintain their body and do something about it in time.

(One small point though; your calculation of the calories needed to maintain my weight had me confused. It took me a minute or so to figure out that you (of course) were talking lbs. x 15, and not kilograms x 15. I live in mainland Europe, so this is not a matter of course to me. Perhaps you should consider editing that in?)

But, as I said, great article. I really enjoyed reading it.


A. Orstrom
The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence,
but in the mastery of his passions.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
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Shogun of Harlem
Yellow Belt
Yellow Belt

Joined: 01 Jul 2005
Posts: 45

PostPosted: Thu May 18, 2006 10:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great info thanks for the post !
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White Belt
White Belt

Joined: 03 Nov 2013
Posts: 1
Location: Bossier City, La.
Styles: Prospective Shorin Ryu student

PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 8:45 pm    Post subject: Shorin ryu at 50 Reply with quote


I turn 50 this month and am considering taking lessons in Shorin Ryu Karate. I'm a Sp. Ed. teacher and the stress relief alone of Karate is a motivator for me, nevermind the benefit of the exercise and self-defense.
I've dabbled in Isshinryu and Northern Shaolin Kung Fu over the years, but now realize that if I'm ever going to achieve any level of proficiency in martial arts, I'm running out of time. Also, I tip the scales at 280 lbs! The original post is meaningful to me. Forgive me for using my first post to revive and old thread.
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KF Administrator

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Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Sun Nov 03, 2013 9:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

No worries. Welcome aboard, Eggman.

Patrick O'Keefe - Administrator
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Black Belt
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Joined: 27 Aug 2012
Posts: 1875
Location: Wales
Styles: Okinawan Karate, Aikido, Ninpo.

PostPosted: Mon Nov 04, 2013 9:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This article is very relevant to me now, I was 41 on Saturday. What really challenges me in my martial arts is flexibility, I'm no Bill Wallace! I started to practice Yoga a few months ago, I find it helps. Thank you for submitting this information, I feel much better now.
Look to the far mountain and see all.
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