They say that your 50s are the “second act” in your life, the time when you have a chance to decide what you want to do once you’ve finished the life of a busy professional. Kudos to you for surviving decades of hard work, raising a family, and living the way you had to. Now, you’re free to do life YOUR way.
Whatever that means for you—traveling around the world, spending more time on your hobbies, heck, even taking up a new career like art or writing—there’s one very important factor to consider: your health.
By the age of 35 or 40, most people will have developed at least one (minor to chronic) health problem. Even the healthiest person will have to watch what they do, and they’ll have to make sure to take care of their heart, lungs, joints, spine, muscles, or internal functions. As you age, your body isn’t able to run as smoothly, and health problems are the primary consequence of getting older.
But don’t let that be you!
Why Exercise Matters More than Ever
Exercise is one of the best ways to stave off health problems and stay young and spry well into your golden years. Exercise will:
Keep your joints flexible and mobile. Regular exercise prevents the connective tissue around your joints from tightening and limiting your flexibility. It can also keep your joints mobile and move properly well into your 60s and 70s.
Protect your spine. Back problems are VERY common as you age, but regular exercise will help to keep the spinal erector muscles strong. The stronger the muscles, the better protected your spine will be!
Prevent weight gain. Your metabolism has slowed down since your 30s and will continue to do so as you age. That means you’re running a risk of weight gain—, particularly fat gain! Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent that problem. Exercise burns calories and fat, stopping your body from storing it in the form of the excess belly, butt, and arm flab.
Reduce your risk of heart problems. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cardiac disorders are all common problems among those over 50. Exercise, however, strengthens your heart, lowers your blood pressure, eliminates cholesterol, and keeps your cardiovascular system working well.
Prevent muscle and bone loss. Muscle and bone loss are other common problems among the older generation, but exercise is one of the best ways to keep your muscles and bones from wasting away. In fact, you can GAIN muscle through a workout program!
Keep your muscles strong. If you don’t work those muscles (like you used to during your more active days), they’re going to weaken. Exercise helps you to maintain your strength well into your later years.
Maintain energy levels. The less energy you use every day, the less energy your body produces. The more energy you use the more is produced. To stay active and energized, you have to make sure your body understands that it has to produce plenty of energy every day.
As you can see, exercise is one of the best things you can do to enjoy your later years. Be smart, and add exercise into your daily routine!
What Type of Exercise and How Much?
These are two VERY important questions, and thankfully the answers are pretty simple. Let’s start with “What type of exercise?”
Cardiovascular Training (running, jogging, jumping rope, cycling, etc.) will be good for your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. It’s ideal for lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. If you have a history of heart problems, are suffering from diabetes, or just want to avoid any metabolic or cardiovascular problems, you’d do well to mix in some cardiovascular training.
Endurance Training (lifting light weights in sets of 15-25 repetitions) is good for keeping your muscles strong without bulking up. If you have joint or bone problems, limited mobility, or are recovering from an injury or surgery, it’s better to avoid lifting very heavy weights. Endurance training will be the key to keeping your muscle and bone mass from decreasing.
High-Intensity Training (sprint training, HIIT, etc.) is a lot harder on your body, but if you can hack it, it will be AMAZING for your muscles and your cardiovascular system. Be aware of any contraindications (injuries, pain, etc.), but try mixing in a bit of a high-intensity training—even just one or two sessions a week will do wonders!
Strength Training (lifting heavy weights in sets of 6-15 repetitions) is the best form of exercise you can do as you age. Not only will it keep your muscles strong, but it can help to increase bone mass. The majority of your workouts should include some form of strength training. It is excellent for your heart, lungs, muscles, bones, joints, and metabolism. Regular strength training is your best option for fitness!
Flexibility and Mobility Training (Yoga, Pilates, stretching, etc.) are vital for keeping your joints mobile and flexible. There is a certain degree of joint stiffness to be expected with age, but that’s where flexibility and mobility training come in handy. This type of training will ensure that your body can move easily and without pain. For those with a family history of arthritis or other joint problems, it’s vital to engage in this type of training.
Sports (basketball, baseball, football, etc.) are an awesome option for exercise. Not only are they a lot of fun, but they’re a great way to engage in social activity with your peers. However, be warned: a lot of sports involve movements that can lead to injuries if you’re not careful. Don’t push yourself too hard, but let your body set the tone for your play.
How to Exercise Safely in Your 50s
Much as we hate to admit it, once we hit our 50s, our bodies don’t work as well as they did during our teens, 20s, and 30s. The risk of injury is higher, and we have to be more careful with how we train.
Here are a few tips to help you exercise safely and reduce your risk of injury:
Work with a Trainer. A trainer can help you to make the best use of your time at the gym, and can develop a program that will enhance flexibility, mobility, strength, endurance, and cardiovascular capabilities. Plus, they can ensure you are doing the workouts safely and with the correct form.
Check with your doctor. Before you start training, run it by your doctor. They may have recommendations for or against certain types of exercise according to your current health condition.
Don’t overdo it. Don’t try to use more weight than you can handle. The last thing you want is an injury—your body takes a bit longer to heal than it used to. Work with the right weight, train at an intensity your body can handle, and push yourself ONLY to your limits and no more.
Give yourself more recovery time. Younger bodies can recover faster, but once you pass 40 and 45, your muscles, joints, connective tissue, and bones take longer to heal. Make sure you give yourself AT LEAST 48 hours between training the same muscle—72 is often better if you use high volume.
Don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t do it”. Age is a state of mind, nothing more. Your body is capable of amazing things. It may take you a bit longer to get in shape, but you can get there. Nothing can stop you if you are determined to get fit.
The 7 Best Exercises to Do
If you’re putting together your workout program—either at the gym or home—here are the seven exercises you MUST include in your workouts:
For a stronger upper body, you HAVE to engage those “pushing” muscles: chest, triceps, and shoulders. Nothing works the pushing muscles better than a push-up.
The beauty of push-ups is that you can adjust your position according to your strength. You can do push-ups on your knees if you can’t handle your full body weight, or do one-armed push-ups if you’re strong enough. There are dozens of push-up variations that will work every part of your body.
Be warned: push-ups can be hard on your elbows and wrists. You have to make sure to get that form just right!
Pull-Ups are a gorgeous exercise for your upper body “pulling” muscles: shoulders, biceps, forearms, and upper back. The fact that they use your body weight means you can do them anywhere—all you need is something to hang onto, and you’re ready to work.
Pull-ups are tough, and not everyone can do them unassisted. At first, try doing pull-ups with your feet on a chair, using your legs to support your weight. As you grow stronger, move the chair farther away, until only your toes are resting on the chair. Eventually, you’ll be strong enough to lift your weight without the chair.
Side and Lateral Dumbbell Raises hit your shoulder muscles (front, back, and side) very effectively!
The good thing about these raises is that they require very little in the way of flexibility and mobility. They also place the strain on the MUSCLE rather than the joint (a common problem with Military and Shoulder Presses). You can use as much or as little weight as you want, making this an excellent movement for strength and endurance. Best light set of dumbbells can be found here at best price.
Bent Over Barbell Rows
Bent Over Barbell Rows combine the best of both worlds: core (spinal) training with the upper body “pulling” training. It hits your lower back, abs, glutes, upper back, shoulders, biceps, and forearms very effectively.
You may feel tightness in your back at first, but as you train, the tightness will dissipate as the muscles in your lower back grow stronger. That strength in your spinal erectors will translate into better lower back strength in EVERY area of your life—meaning a much lower risk of back injuries!
Squats work your quadriceps (front of your thighs), hamstrings (back of your thighs), and glutes (butt) very efficiently. The beauty of Squats is that you’re using both legs, so neither is straining more than the other. There are many types of Squats you can try according to your posture and form. In fact, the many Squat variations can help you to find the position that works best not just for your legs, but for your back and neck as well.
Lunges are a bit harder, but they hit the back of your legs (hamstrings and glutes) more efficiently than Squats do. And this is VERY important because those back-of-leg muscles are weakened by years spent sitting down. By training your hamstrings and glutes, you can prevent lower back problems and enhance flexibility in your legs and hips.
Plank is one of those exercises that has become HUGELY popular in the last few years, and for a good reason! It hits your core (back, abs, and side muscles) effectively, but there is no risk of joint injuries. Crunches, Sit-Ups, V-Ups, Jackknifes and all the other core movements can make existing joint problems worse, but Plank is an isometric (no movement) exercise that will reduce your risk of injury to ZERO. But the fact that your muscles are permanently contracted makes it a highly efficient exercise for developing serious core strength.
These are the 7 best exercises to include in your weekly training program. They’ll hit every muscle in your body effectively, but they’re the safest, most efficient exercises for you to do.