Real Fitness for the Over 50 Crowd

By on May 4, 2011

By Kelly Turner, ACE-Certified Personal Trainer

One of my favorite sayings summarizes fitness and aging perfectly: “We don’t stop moving because we grow old, we grow old because we stop moving.”

There’s a misconception that the older you are, the more dangerous exercise is for you. As we age, our balance, coordination and strength become compromised, and it is believed that we should lower the intensity of our exercise, or avoid it completely, to lower our risk of injury. The real danger to your health, however, is not exercising at all.

The truth is, consistent exercise is more crucial for women 50 and older due to the physical changes that occur in the body around this stage of life. Menopause brings new considerations and concerns for women that they didn’t necessarily have to worry about before. The lack of estrogen being produced by the body causes a slowing of the metabolism which can lead to weight gain and muscle degeneration and, perhaps most importantly, bone loss which can lead to injury, loss of mobility, and in some cases, osteoporosis.

Exercise, in conjunction with proper diet, can reverse or stall the effects of bone loss and slowed metabolism. It may seem counterintuitive, but physical stress applied to the bones actually causes them to become stronger, which is the perfect way to protect yourself against weakening bones that can lead to painful fractures and breaks. Weight training is the best way to achieve this, so don’t let your age scare you away from the weight room. Start out with light dumbbell exercises that target the main muscle groups of your body: legs, core, abs, arms, chest and back, three times a week. You don’t have to get fancy; simple exercises that use your body weight as resistance, like squats, pushups, and crunches are enough, and bicep curls and shoulder presses with dumbbells will protect your upper body. For exercises that require dumbbells, pick a weight that allows you to complete 10-15 reps of each exercise with good form, but no more. If you can squeak out a few more reps, it’s time to pick a heavier weight.

Weight training also improves muscle mass, which will instantly boost your metabolism, another unfortunate and frustrating side effect of aging. Even if your body weight does not change, without muscle maintenance, your body composition will begin to shift, and your muscles will fade and be replaced with body fat. The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you burn throughout the day, which can slow and reverse this process and prevent weight gain.

If you have never strength trained before, you may want to invest in one or two personal training sessions. A personal trainer can set you up with a safe and effect workout designed just for you, and show you how to properly perform each exercise. If a trainer isn’t in your budget, try a strength training fitness class at your gym to learn proper technique in a relaxed setting.
Cardiovascular training is also important. Walking or jogging, either on a treadmill or outside, is an impact exercise so it gives you the same bone strengthening results as weight lifting (albeit, only in your lower body.) Cardio is also a great way to burn extra calories and improve endurance and mobility. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 4-5 times a week, and don’t be afraid to push yourself. Intensity is your best friend, no matter what your age, so as long as a doctor has not warned you against raising your heart rate beyond a certain level, work hard and work up a sweat anyway you find enjoyable. In addition to walking, swimming, biking and hiking are a great way to get in your cardio and most gyms and community centers are offering fitness classes just for the “early senior” crowd that are designed specifically for your body’s needs. Senior hip hop, Zumba, and other forms of dance classes are growing in popularity and can be a great way to work up a sweat in an unintimidating atmosphere with health-minded adults your own age.

Falling is a big concern for aging adults, and can cause all types of injuries, including broken bones and even death. Balance and coordination are areas of fitness that should also become a focus for the over 50 crowd to protect yourself and your mobility. Yoga is a perfect way to gain balance and strengthen muscles while giving you a great sense of your body and the way it moves. Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never done yoga before- take a beginner class at your gym, or pick up a yoga DVD, and just try your best. You may be wobbly and unstable, but if your balance is challenged, your body is learning and you are reaping the rewards. Try a class once a week to keep you on your toes, and muscles and joints flexible and limber.

Your body is a machine, and if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Don’t give in to the stereotype that we have to slow down as we age. It’s never too late to take control of your body and your health. Even if you’ve never so much as stepped foot inside of a gym, the sooner you start, the sooner you can slow and even reverse the stereotypical signs of aging. Age is just a number: don’t let yours limit you.

Learn more about fitness over 50:
Why Women Should Lift Weights
5 Weight Loss Plans with the 50+ Woman in Mind

Kelly Turner is blog editor and fitness expert for DietsInReview.com, which provides the tools and information needed to shape a healthier you.

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Real Fitness for the Over 50 Crowd