This post was written by Mary Aschieris and brought to you by our partnership with Mighty Health, the first exercise and nutrition app specifically for people over 50.
When it comes to fitness over 50, we all wish we could approach working out the same as we did in our 20s (minus the 1980s aerobic workout attire!). As we age we might look at the world with more wisdom and stoicism, but we are presented with physical challenges as the human body is not the same at 50 and over. Specifically, when exercising after menopause, we need to consider factors like preserving and increasing bone density and muscle mass, reducing heart disease, keeping excess weight at bay, and maintaining healthy joints and tendons. Maintaining an exercise routine after 50 requires making subtle changes to keep yourself active and feeling good!
The Human Body Changes After 50—Learn to Work out Smarter, not Harder
If you have participated in regular exercise in the past, you know the good feelings that can accompany an aerobic activity: brisk walking or jogging at the park, a gentle stretch yoga class, or a bike ride. You also might have started noticing reduced mobility and range of motion or unfamiliar aches and pains that are starting to wear you down.
Take it from me and my 50-something BFF who discovered this during one doomed weekend while enjoying our favorite workout routines. First, my friend’s mountain biking excursion ended with her in the hospital for an emergency elbow surgery. I dutifully picked her (and her bike) up from the hospital on Sunday, only to become Monday’s newest ER patient. I had suffered torn ankle ligaments during a high intensity workout. Well, full disclosure: It may have been the pothole I stepped in en route to said workout. In any case, we were both out of commission and were sure there must be a better way to keep our aging bodies fit and healthy!
How Does Exercise Need to Change for Women in Our 50s?
Our situations were extreme, but you can enjoy exercise and gain health benefits in your 50s and beyond. It is important to note that proper warm-ups can reduce the risks of injury while working out. Starting or changing up an exercise routine in your 50s can feel intimidating and unnerving. If you have any known health conditions, carry excess weight, or haven’t undergone a physical examination for a while, it might help you to visit your primary physician to discuss your current health status. For instance, if you suffer from high blood pressure, you might need to wait for a while before doing any heavy weight lifting, or if you have arthritis, you might need to spend more time in the swimming pool than on the treadmill. Otherwise, if you have the all-clear, it is time to get started. Here are some great activities to consider for healthy aging:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends strength training as a pivotal part of any multi-component physical activity program for seniors, noting that it reduces the symptoms of chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, back pain, and depression. Fortunately, you do not need to take on a strenuous weight training program. You can gain plenty of benefits in your own home. That said, if you have access to a gym or fitness center, you can boost those benefits. You can plan an age-appropriate strength program with a gym trainer or an online health coach. Whether at home or the gym, all you need for health-boosting bone and muscle strength is a 20-minute session using a set of dumbbells that are just heavy enough for resistance without causing strain.
Here are a few specific tips for your strength workout:
- Wear comfortable gym clothes and sneakers
- Perform a four-minute warm-up including stretching: maintaining and increasing flexibility is key!
- Embark on a full-body workout, including squats, overhead presses, arm-rows, sit-ups, and more
You don’t want to suffer stumbles and falls that could leave you with breaks, contusions, and concussions. Adding balance exercises to your routine can increase your coordination and stability to keep you vertical and healthy. Besides daily activities that balance exercises help you perform, there are many additional fun pursuits you can enjoy with confidence:
- Climbing stairs
Try adding in a few of these balance exercises to support the natural alignment of your body, which suffers as your muscles and bones start to wear away over time:
- Single-leg balance
- Tree pose
While performing these and other exercises, pay attention to your current level of stability. If you feel unsteady, perform these exercises while holding onto the back of a chair or a solid wall.
Keep Cardio in the Rotation
Strength training becomes increasingly important as we age, but that does not mean we kick off our walking or jogging shoes. Aerobic or cardio exercise helps ramp up our heart rate, makes us breathe harder, builds endurance, and helps us burn calories. It also feels good, especially when you can get outside to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and scenery with a good friend or on your own to enjoy some contemplation. In other words, what’s not to love? Here are cardio exercises for healthy aging:
- Gentle walking around the neighborhood, on a flat trail or the treadmill at the gym, or at the local mall
- Swimming at the local gym or aquatic center
- Moderate and higher intensity workouts might include uptempo runs or bike rides, or you might use the rower or elliptical machine at the gym
Low-impact aerobics classes online
It is important to start and stay in your comfort zone for a while as you get started before adding moderate and high-intensity cardio workouts. If you are injured or recovering from an illness or surgery, start with chair exercises until you regain your strength and endurance.
Alternate Rest Days Prevent Injuries and Enhance Performance
Avid exercisers need to use restraint to avoid over-exercising, which can result in injury and downtime. It is easy to get excited about feeling good, fit, and strong, which sometimes leads people to exercise daily. While a nice stroll around the block is always a good idea, you don’t need to exercise at high-intensity each day. Committing to taking alternate rest days can help prevent injuries and enhance your performance on intense cardio and strength training days.
Maintain a Healthy and Balanced Diet to Support Your Activity Levels
Eating a well-balanced diet helps support a senior exercise program. Keep a few factors in mind when approaching healthy nutrition:
- As our metabolism slows, we generally need fewer calories for healthy aging, especially if losing weight over 50.
- Our appetite might reduce, so we need to make sure we eat enough calories to support our activity level.
- Focus on eating the appropriate amount of nutrient-rich foods that include fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, lean protein, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats and oils.
Get Ready for Peak Fitness Over 50 with Your New Exercise Regimen
One of the most important things you can do to improve and enhance your exercise efforts and results over 50 is to choose what feels good and keeps you safe. Make sure to include strength, balance, and cardio work, and you are set to keep things running as smoothly as possible within your control.
You can also try downloading a health app for 50 and over, like Mighty Health, to learn about the safest and most effective approach to good health and fitness for aging adults. They are there to support you with real health coaches, low impact and joint friendly exercises, and a member community to cheer you on!
Mary Aschieris is a fitness and wellness consultant at Mighty Health. She has over 35 years of experience in the sports and fitness industry as a competitive collegiate athlete, sports complex business owner, and fitness instructor.