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Published on May 10, 2022

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Exercise When You’re Older Than 50: Age Is Just a Number

As we age, our fitness goals may change, but one thing stays the same: exercise is key to overall fitness. Whether you’ve been a lifelong fitness fanatic or you’re trying to get back to active, it’s never too late to make improvements.

Our fitness experts give tips on what to keep in mind.

Train to Your Fitness Not Your Age

Lisa VanGerpen, CNM, MSN, is a busy provider with Avera Medical Group Certified Nurse Midwifery Sioux Falls. VanGerpen is 50, and she includes regular workouts in her own routine. She recommends active lifestyles for all her patients.

Despite her hectic life and balancing work and family, she makes time for regular intense workouts that combine many activities, from weight lifting to rowing and calisthenics.

“After years of only doing cardio, I started lifting weights when I was 40 to help minimize muscle-mass loss that comes with age,” she said. “I started CrossFit® when I turned 47. Over the past three years, I have intensified my workouts more than ever before, but I feel the best I ever have.”

If exercise isn’t part of your daily routine, consider your starting point:

  • Do you now get some cardio and strength exercise every week, but not 150 minutes?
  • Do you sit too much and almost never work out?
  • What steps can you take to get closer to your goal?

Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. Brisk walks are a good example. Think in terms of exercising for about 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. Also include activities that strengthen your muscles at least two days a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Things that Change with Age

When we get older, we face new body challenges. “Joint issues come with repetition, and older people have them more often, because they’ve been working, walking and exercising longer,” Sara Plucker, fitness manager at Avera McKennan Fitness Center..

What we eat makes a difference too. “We lose muscle and our metabolism slows as we age,” said Carla McFarland, RD, LN, a registered dietitian at Avera McKennan Fitness Center. “Food as fuel is vital to your fitness journey.”

She said baby steps with improving your diet are better than drastic changes.

If you’re older than 50 and live an active lifestyle with exercise and workouts, experts recommend a focus on steadiness, stretching and form. “If you’re careful and stretch out well, you can do more intense workouts,” VanGerpen said.

Don’t Leave Out Strength Training

As you age, you want to protect your bones, joints and muscles that allow you to move, stay active and do what you love. So include activities that work all the major muscle groups of your body. That includes your legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms.

You may want to try:

  • Lifting weights
  • Working with resistance bands
  • Trying body-weight strength work, such as push-ups, squats or pull-ups
  • Heavy gardening (digging, shoveling)
  • Some forms of mind-body exercise like Tai Chi

Make the Time

“Women often have busy schedules, and may stop exercising because they feel overwhelmed,” said VanGerpen. “It’s a matter of making the time and seeking out those activities you enjoy.”

For some, that favorite activity is walking, hiking or biking. Others might like time at the gym, be it in an organized class or just using machines. Mind-body movement appeals to others. Sometimes finding some help getting started can make a difference.

Start Small and Build

“Exercise should never be all or nothing,” said Sara Plucker, fitness manager at Avera McKennan Fitness Center. “If you’re starting from scratch, focus on getting that first 10 minutes into your routine

Do what you enjoy, focus on variety and remember: baby steps to start. “Your path might just be three 20-minute walks added to your week, every week,” VanGerpen said

You then can add more as you go. This lighter “lift” is more likely to stick than trying to go from zero to five hour-long spin or aerobics classes a week.

The tried-and-true “get 10,000 steps” approach works well for beginners, Plucker said. Stretching and balance exercises can be good “on ramps” toward a more active lifestyle, too.

Don’t start out with high-impact activities that your hips and knees aren’t used to such as running or jumping. Besides walking, other low-impact activities include swimming, biking or working out on an elliptical machine.

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