8 Is Enough
Skilled older exercisers know their limits. They know when they can (and should) click their effort up a notch to in order to progress or just because they are feeling strong and energetic and want to push those limits.
Other times they know they shouldn’t and don’t. That’s just fine. We encourage exercisers to pace themselves and choose levels of resistance, ranges of motion, and speeds they are comfortable with. You gain tremendous benefits regardless of the intensity of your exertion because of the type of exercises we do.
Exercise professionals have a measure called rate of perceived exertion that attempts to correlate level of exercise intensity, as felt by the exerciser, with heart rate. In this age of the quantified self, the concept has some appeal, but has limited application to older exercisers, especially if they are on certain medications, such as antihypertensives or antidepressants.
However, you do want to have your own self-made 1-10 scale, with 1 being slumped on the sofa watching reality TV and barely breathing to 10 being an all out effort where your pulse is sky rocketing and you are gasping for breath.
There are many benefits to exercising for very short periods of time where you are closing on 10 and gasping for breath. You are actually improving both your aerobic and anaerobic capacities, the elasticity of blood vessels, releasing natural anabolic hormones that preserve and strengthen muscle (which is especially important for older people), and improving metabolic markers like blood sugar control.
That said, you still get most of those benefits exercising at a maximum of 8 on your exertion scale. The problem with closing on your 10 isn’t that you’ll have a heart attack, which many non-exercisers fear. Those are rare in gyms, even for older adults.
The bigger risk when closing on 10 is that as you fatigue you lose good exercise form and risk injury to a joint or losing your balance and taking a fall. That’s why if you feel super-energetic and want to make a go at your 10, you should do it early in a workout or circuit station before you are too fatigued.
When you’re at 8 and below, you’re breathing hard enough that you can still talk, but must pause mid-sentence to take breaths. At CBF, every class includes plenty of exercises that lift you to 8.
8 is enough.