Too many women over 50 believe it’s too late to get in shape. They mistakenly believe they have to accept the fact that since they are older they will never weigh what they did in college, or they won’t be able to get rid of the belly fat or widening hips that seem to come with middle-age (not to mention the stiffness, lack of balance and diminishing flexibility).
Then, of course, there are all the aches and pains associated with getting older. Now I’m not saying these pains are not real nor am I saying that age isn’t a factor. What I am saying is those aches and pains are more than likely due to not being in shape to begin with, exercise improperly over the years, or maybe from a previous injury.
What I’m also saying is you don’t have to put up with a steadily expanding waistline, lack of balance, and the inability to touch your toes! The key is to knowing where you’re starting from and then creating a well-balanced plan that improves:
Muscular Strength & Endurance
As we age we start to lose about ½ pound of muscle per year. This is one of the main reasons our metabolism slows down. The good news? You can change this.
Plan on lifting weights at least twice a week, and plan on lifting weights heavy enough that you reach muscle fatigue or failure by 8 – 10 repetitions. Building muscle not only increases your metabolism, it also stimulates testosterone. For all you women out there, please don’t let this scare you — you need testosterone too, and I promise it will not make you bulky!
Proper form when lifting is key to getting results and staying injury free. If you haven’t lifted in a while, I strongly suggest you hire a trainer. As we age we don’t recover as quickly, and I’m sure you don’t want to hold up your progress, so exercise smarter, not harder.
The heart is one of the most important muscles you can exercise. Don’t skip on cardio workouts, but don’t rely just on cardio to get you in shape either. For beginners you want to start with steady state cardio, meaning you stay at the same level of intensity throughout the workout. As you improve you’ll then want to add in interval training. Cardio intervals are one of the best ways to burn body fat and hold onto your muscle. If you are not familiar with interval training, this is when you increase your intensity for a set period of time and then decrease your intensity to a moderate level. Intervals can be as short as 30 seconds up to a couple of minutes.
For example if you are just starting to jog, you may do 2 minutes of jogging and then walk for 3 minutes. If you are in better shape go for HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training): 30 – 60 seconds high intensity alternating with 30 – 60 seconds of moderate intensity. HIIT has been proven to burn more fat than steady state cardio and have a positive impact on hormone levels. To maintain cardiovascular fitness, 3 times a week is sufficient. To lose weight shoot for 4 or more sessions per week.
Flexibility is the ability to move your muscles through a full range of motion about a joint. The more flexible you are the better you are able to handle a fall, the more your posture improves, and the easier it is to perform daily activities.
Every often I hear clients comment, within their first month of training, on how much easier it is to get in and out of the car or reach the top shelf in a cabinet.
Be sure you warm up before stretching. Stretching when your muscles are cold will cause muscle tears. Once you are warmed up, you’ll be able to reach further and will be less likely to strain your muscles. Be sure to hold each stretch for 30 seconds for maximum benefit & no bouncing!
Functional & Core Conditioning
If you’re over 50, you probably didn’t do much if any functional training in your 20’s or 30’s. Back in the 70’s, and 80’s most exercises were performed in the frontal or sagittal planes of motion. Examples of these are squats, chest press, lat pulldowns, bicep curls, or leg extensions. Think traditional weight lifting moves. As the fitness industry grew and more research was done, functional exercise started to become more popular. Working with unstable surfaces, rotational moves were being added to programs, and as a result the overall physical fitness of clients was improving.
One of the reasons so many baby boomers have knee, back, and shoulder issues is because we didn’t exercise functionally. So be sure to add moves such as wood chops, Russian twists, lunges with rotations, or planks with hip dips to your workouts.
I cannot stress enough the importance of good balance. As we age we are losing muscle, bones become more brittle, and we recover much slower. One bad fall could land you in the hospital with a very long recovery. A few years back I slipped and broke my foot. Three months of crutches, and believe me the change in my body was dramatic. I was shocked at how weak I had become and the change in my body composition.
When working on your balance training you want to make sure you include both static and dynamic balance. Practice on both stable and unstable surfaces, and by all means have a trainer help you with this. You want to make sure the balance exercises you are doing are appropriate for your level of fitness and that you progress correctly.
Consistency and steady progression is crucial to getting results and holding on to it. Remember, if you don’t challenge yourself you won’t see results. If you include each of the 5 components listed above into your fitness program not only will you be fit and lean you’ll also avoid injuries, feel young and agile.
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Lisa Swanson is an ACE Certified Health Coach, Personal Trainer and Orthopedic Exercise Specialist as well as a certified AASDN and PN level 1 nutritionist. With over 35 years experience helping people turn their lives around, she is on a mission to provide relevant and useful knowledge to help women in midlife reach their goals.
Check out my interview with the Magnificent Midlife podcast on staying fit and healthy long-term.