What is a good fitness regimen for people over 50?

If you are over the age of 50 and would like to start a fitness regimen, it's not all that different than coming up with an exercise program for anyone else. You don't need to take out a membership at a gym-there's an abundance of information to be found online, in books and through DVDs. A consultation with a doctor is the first step. Not only can the doctor assess that you are healthy enough to start a new program, but this will also alert you to any possible limitations or complications.

Cross-training uses a combination of exercises and is a terrific way to avoid boredom and maintain your interest in exercising. It also helps to keep the balance for energy levels that may go up and down from day to day. An additional benefit to cross-training is that it can help prevent injury by exercising different muscle groups. Some people find particular exercises that they enjoy and prefer to stay with them, but there are a few different kinds of exercise that most people should attempt on a routine basis.

Anytime you workout you should begin with a short warm-up. This just means that you're getting your muscles ready for work by warming them up. One easy way to do this is to begin walking at a leisurely pace. You can also stretch to warm up, but it's key that these stretches are dynamic rather than static-meaning, you should be active while stretching rather than just standing still, to avoid straining the muscle.

Aerobic, or cardiovascular, exercises enable you to burn fat and lose weight, in addition to improving your cardiovascular health. Aerobic exercise can include activities like walking, cycling and swimming. Most people should engage in some kind of aerobic exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.

Strength training, also referred to as weight training, works to strengthen your muscles and bones. This should be a part of your fitness regimen at least two days a week. Just 2-pound hand weights or even filled bottles of water can supply ample resistance. There's also balance and flexibility training, which can aid in preventing common injuries such as falls. Pilates and yoga are included in this category of exercise.

All workouts should finish up with a cooldown, which stretches muscles and allows the heart rate to return to normal. This typically involves stretching for five or 10 minutes.

These fitness basics are for people without any restrictions.

Picture of seniors exercising
Wendy Batts
Your program should begin with a well-rounded fitness assessment that includes, but is not limited to, your medical history, goals, daily activities, occupation, body measurements, and movement assessments (like the Overhead Squat Test which measures muscle imbalances).  The results from these assessments can help identify areas where you need to focus on to successfully achieve your goals.  A well-rounded program will consist of stretching tight (overactive) muscles, strengthening the weaker muscles through resistance training and doing cardiovascular exercises for improving endurance and reducing the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease or diabetes.  In addition, I might suggest making sure your program also incorporates some balance training, as research has shown this helps improve activities of daily living (ADLs).  Switching up your program will also help keep you from getting bored and will offer you greater results overtime.  Overall, I would suggest stretching daily; performing your resistance workout 2-5 times a week and doing cardiovascular workouts 3-5 times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes a day to maintain a good fitness regimen that can lead to long-term benefits.   No matter your age, a good fitness regimen depends on your interests, level of fitness, and overall goals. 

Quality fitness programs for people over 50 are going to have many of the same components as programs for all other ages with same differences. Some of these differences may include greater emphasis on flexibility, mobility, range of motion and exercises that promotes greater ability to perform activities of daily living (ADL) pain free or with greater ease. If you are over the age of 50, be sure to get clearance from your physician before starting any fitness regimen and make sure a few other assessments take place prior to exercise. Some of these include a medical history review, current and past injuries review, postural and movement assessments and notification or discussion of specific outcomes you want to accomplish.  

If you are new to exercise, the best fitness plan is one that will include the five components of fitness: body composition, cardiopulmonary endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and flexibility.

Body Composition: Is typically measured with skinfold calipers by a certified health professional. This test measures the ratio of your body weight that is body fat vs. lean body tissue. Utilizing this test and reassessing regularly is a great way to gauge your progress and effectiveness of your fitness program and nutritional plan.

Cardiopulmonary Endurance: The best way to begin this program is to find a walking trail outside or a treadmill in a fitness facility. Walking is a great low-impact activity that strengthens multiple muscle groups while improving balance and endurance simultaneously. Start with 20 minutes of continuous walking 3-4 days per week. Each week, add 3-5 minutes or .25-.50 miles to your walk and/or increase your speed. Once your walking becomes relatively easy, start jogging for 30 -60 seconds intermittently throughout your workout.

Flexibility: Flexibility is effective when utilized properly. It is wise to consult a personal trainer, or online coach to assess which muscles you need to stretch. This is done through a simple movement assessment. Maintaining proper flexibility decreases your chances of injury and allows for continual results throughout your fitness program.

Muscular Strength & Endurance: Resistance training is the best way to increase your energy, improve your conditioning, maintain weigh loss efforts, and prevent injury. It is most effectively utilized when applied to a fitness program SPECIFIC to your individual goals and needs. It is wise to consult a fitness professional or online coach to assist you in designing this program. For beginners, a full body workout 2-3 days per week is recommended. This means 1-2 exercises per body part, 1-2 sets per exercise, 15-20 repetitions per set resting no more than 30 seconds between sets.

If you have no medical and/or physical issues, daily foam rolling (SMR) to workout all the knots and stretching top to bottom to for flexibility. 30 minutes of cardio zone training and 30 minutes worth of core, balance and resistance/weight training 3 days a week for endurance, toning and strength. On the off days go for a 30 minute walk to burn extra calories.  You’re 50 and beautiful. Stay active and healthly.
Joy Larison
Since I am over 50, I can tell you what I do! I enjoy jogging on my treadmill 3-4 times a week, I strength train 2-3 times varying my workouts to include body resistance, weight machines, and TRX suspension training. Sometime I use my Wii with the balance board for a different workout. Once a week a do a power walk at Sea World for a change of enviornment and challenge. Of course, what works for me may not be best for you. Depending on your likes and current fitness level, your workout should involve cardio vascular training (walking, swimming, etc) along with resistance work (weights, body resistance, yoga, etc.). If you have any orthopedic limitations I can recommend water aerobics classes as they combine cardio fitness along with the resistance of the water for strength. Be sure to talk with your doctor before you begin, and it would also be a good idea to invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer to set you up with a program that meets your needs.

If you’re just getting back into fitness over the age of 50 the first thing to do is to get a thorough physical and health screening from a physician which includes a thorough examination, health history questionnaire and a thorough fitness assessment, including an evaluation of aerobic fitness, muscular strength and fitness, and balance possibly through a movement screen like the over head squat assessment.  

Once you’ve been cleared for exercise start slowly and give yourself plenty of time to progress. A thorough fitness program should include aerobic fitness, muscular strength training. Some balance training, which is known to improve the ability to do activities of daily living, and decrease risk of falling, and flexibility training to help mobility. You should engage in some sort of flexibility training everyday and strength training 2-3 times a week and aerobic exercise 203 times a week, and balance training 1-2 times a week.  

Start slowly and make sure not to increase your work load by more than 5-10% each week and give yourself plenty of time to recover between workouts.

If you are over 50 and you have medical clearance you can do anything that people under 50 can do. It all depends on your comfort level and your desire to do certain things. The best way to start is slowly with just 30 minutes or so of light walking, stretching and weight lifting. Balance is a very important part of optimal fitness and injury prevention for everyone but even more so when you get over 50. Millions of dollars are spent on caring for people over 50 after they fall. So it's important to NOT FALL. And falling can be easily prevented when stretching balance and weight training are done. A good fitness regimen will not only sharpen your body but it will sharpen your mind. 

As a fifty-year-old woman I can sprint, weight train, run, walk, stretch, and do things any one of any age can do. Age is not a barrier nor does it necessarily have to put limitations on your fitness regimen.

Your current activity level is a better indicator of what your fitness regimen should be.

If you are starting out, use your body as a tool for resistance or light weights. A can of soup or gallon of milk can give you resistance when you first start out. As your body adapts to the demands placed upon it, you can increase the resistance by adding more weight or the angle your body is at. 

Start with pushing against the wall to start engaging the chest muscles. Once that becomes easier, move to placing your hands on a counter. Continue with increasing your level of difficulty by choosing to go closer to parallel with the floor and ultimately you will be able to do push-ups on the floor.



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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.