Keep on Movin': Exercise After 50
by Rick Alan
While regular physical activity is important for people of all ages, it has been shown that the benefits of regular exercise are the most important to the people who tend to exercise the least—people over 50, and even more so, people over 60.
There are numerous potential benefits of exercise, including:
In addition, regular exercise may prevent the onset of certain diseases and inhibit the effects of many chronic diseases of aging, including high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
Given these compelling reasons to exercise regularly, why don't more people over 50 do it? The excuses range from feeling too old, to having a specific medical condition, to not having enough time, to feeling out of place. But the truth is that almost anyone of any age can participate in some type of physical activity, even including people with certain conditions. Fortunately, beneficial results can be attained from as little as 30 minutes of exercise three or more times per week. Also encouraging for the 50 plus crowd is that many gyms, health clubs, swim clubs, walking clubs, YMCAs, and senior centers are offering more exercise programs geared toward their age group.
Get a Checkup First
"Before starting any exercise program, anyone—regardless of age—should have a thorough physical and get the go-ahead from his physician," says Dr. Jacques Carter, MD, MPH, of Boston's Beth Israel/Deaconess Medical Center. He also notes that if you have a condition, your doctor will want to make recommendations about what exercise program will be most suitable for you, set any necessary limitations on that program, and monitor your progress.
Create a Goal
Once you have approval from your doctor, what should you aim for? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these exercise guidelines to gain health benefits:
To gain even more health benefits, the CDC recommends these weekly goals:
Remember that it is okay if you exercise for just 10 minutes at a time!
Do a Variety of Activities
Include these exercises in your weekly routine:
Aerobic exercise is anything that causes an increase in the overall activity of your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) for a sustained period. Over time, aerobic activity conditions your body in general, and your heart and lungs in particular, to be able to perform a greater amount of work with less effort.
Even minimal increases in aerobic activity can be beneficial, but try to reach the goals mentioned above. The best approach would be to try to exercise every day!
Factor in the following two elements:
In addition to toning your body and making all movement less strenuous, strength training helps to support your joints, thus preventing arthritic problems and reducing the chance of injuries caused by falls.
There are a range of strengthening exercises that you can do. Some examples include using:
Doing exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, and lunges also build your muscles! Remember to start slowly with your new routine.
By strengthening your muscles, you will also get a "hidden" benefit. Aerobic exercise burns calories while you exercise, but weight training causes the body to burn calories 24 hours a day, even when you are at rest. This is because the body expends more energy to maintain muscle mass than to maintain fat mass.
Stretching exercises serve a number of purposes, including maintaining full motion in your joints, keeping muscles from shortening and tightening, preventing or lessening the effects of arthritis, and preventing injuries by increasing agility and mobility. A physical trainer can help you design a stretching regimen that you can do every day.
Experts recommend other tips to improve your exercise experience:
Finally, if you experience any of the following symptoms during exercise, stop right away!
If you think you have an emergency, CALL 911.
The American College of Sports Medicine
National Institute on Aging
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
Fitness facts for older Americans. AgeNET website. Available at: http://www.agenet.com/fit_facts_elder_action.html .
Frankel JE, Bean JF, Frontera WR. Exercise in the elderly: research and clinical practice. Clin Geriatr Med . 2006; 22(2): 239-256; vii.
How much physical activity do older adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov.... Updated March 30, 2011. Accessed August 22, 2011.
LaRusso L. Stretching exercises. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated May 5, 2010. Accessed July 21, 2011.
Quinn E. Eating before exercise—foods for athletic competition. Alum Rock Union website. Available at: http://childnutrit.... Accessed July 21, 2011.
Last reviewed July 2011 by Brian Randall, MD