Working out when you’re 50 and over can present you with interesting challenges, but can also be extremely rewarding. Not only that, but it is essential to preserving your independence into old age. In part 1 of this 2 part series, I went over some basic guidelines you should keep in mind if you’re in your 50s and want to start becoming more active. I talked about how some things still hold true (such as the importance of both strength training and cardio), and also how it’s important to recognize that past injuries, weak spots, and even emotional scars may have an impact on how your body reacts to exercise.
In this post, I will go over some more practical suggestions on where to get started. As usual, it’s important to be smart – if in doubt, always consult your doctor before becoming more active. My suggestions are meant to be really general and not meant to substitute the advice of your doctor or trainer.
Starting out with cardio
When you first start out with cardio (whether it’s running, biking or the elliptical), you may realize that you’re huffing and puffing in no time, and that can be totally normal. You can’t expect your body to go from having never done that before, to being an elite athlete. So you might feel like you’re done in 10min and be left wondering how you’ll ever increase that time. One trick is to split it up: so if you want to do 20min of cardio, do 10min at the start of your workout, do some strength training exercises in the middle , and finish off with another 10min at the end. Your body may not be able to handle too much cardio in one go, but if you give it a break, it might. Alternatively, if your schedule allows it, you can do a 10-15min cardio session earlier in the day, and another one later on in the day. It doesn’t all have to be in one go – shorter bouts of cardio still totally count!
In terms of what to start with, I personally find running to be a bit too high impact for clients in the 50+ age group (again, this depends on your fitness level and current weight!). The bike, the elliptical or the rowing machine are excellent cardio machines that will get your blood moving in no time. I’m more of a fan of the elliptical because you’re not sitting, and are also incorporating the arms. For that reason, the rowing machine is also a good option. Steer away from bootcamps and too much jumping, at least at the beginning. You need to establish a good fitness base before you get into the crazy jumping stuff!
Starting out with a simple weight training circuit
Just because an exercise is simple doesn’t mean it’s not effective, and doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Let me tell you my clients learn this the hard way 😉 The important part is using the right weight and doing the right number of reps. Gym people do squats and bicep curls all the time and get fantastic results – they’ve just learned what weight to use and how many reps to do!
Here are some simple (but effective) exercises you can try:
- Lat pull-downs
- Bicep curls
- Shoulder presses
- Triceps extensions
- Holding plank
And you know what? I bet most of the exercises above are familiar to you! Doesn’t mean they can’t be hard. Doesn’t mean they can’t be incredibly effective!
Here are some other questions to guide you when you lift weights:
- How were the last 3 reps of your set? Easy? Hard? You can’t tell? If you can’t tell, it was probably too easy. Use a heavier weight next set.
- How did you feel the next day? Getting off the toilet was a challenge? If so, then you pushed too hard, turn it down a smidge.
- How did your joints feel? It’s normal for your body to be a bit rebellious when you first start working out, but if one joint feels persistently unhappy and painful, you might want to check in with a physio.
In terms of reps and sets, start with 10 reps and do one round of your circuit. Gradually, start adding sets to the exercises here and there, and increase the number of reps. Remember – they key is to move slow and add exercises and reps gradually.
How often and how much?
Frequency: As you might expect, this will vary depending on your current fitness level! If you’re brand new, I find that doing 3 workouts per week, spaced out with 1 day in between, works well. It gives your body enough time to recover in between.
Once this becomes a habit, you can start increasing the number of days. For example, once your cardio endurance has gone up, you might find that cardio will need to happen on its own separate day.
Intensity: I find intensity to be rather subjective, as one workout might feel easy one day and painfully tough the next (for a variety of reasons!). However – you want to feel like you worked out. Some people would describe it as getting the “sweat glow”, others as having this feeling of being “happily tired”. You want to feel a bit fatigued, because you just exercised – and your fatigue may be different depending on what you just did. If it was cardio day, you might feel your legs to be quite tired and you’ll be quite sweaty. If you focused on your upper body, for example, there may not be a lot of sweat, but specific muscles might feel like they’ve worked.
Again, when it comes to intensity, I recommend:
- 10 reps to start, working your way up to 15 reps of an exercise (and assessing if it was too easy or too hard)
- 1 round of a circuit, gradually adding sets to exercises
Don’t forget your walks!
Walking, as boring as it may sound, is completely underrated! We spend too much time sitting and way too little time moving! Our bodies were meant to move, and I’m not just talking about that time you spend at the gym! (Check out the post I wrote a while ago on sitting and the horrible effects it has on our bodies). Walking is amazing, and the best part is everyone can do it, and we’ve been practicing since we were toddlers!
It also turns out New West is full of hills! Aren’t we lucky? You’ll be hard pressed not to come across one, and walking uphill can be amazing cardio and can do wonders for getting your blood moving. Don’t underestimate the power of walking, especially uphill!
So – how can YOU incorporate walks into your daily routine? Trips to your local grocery store? Evening strolls with your partner? Walking your pooch in a different direction? Think of what options would work for you!
Don’t forget your mind and soul
With all this talk about physical exercise, one can forget an important component of health: your mind and soul! If you are not in the right place emotionally and spiritually, it can be really hard to get your butt moving and keep up your motivation. I cannot emphasize this enough with my clients too – EVERYTHING is connected to EVERYTHING. Including things that are physical, to things that are not.
So challenge your mind and your imagination: buy a puzzle. Learn a new skill. Join a pottery class. Read a really cool book. Paint. Do arts and crafts. Re-organize that shelf that’s full of crap and make it look pretty. Whatever will help to kick start your brain!
And feed your soul: Meditate. Volunteer for a cause that is close to your heart. Spend time with people who are uplifting. Work on building new relationships, and strengthening existing ones. Go dancing. Sing in the shower. Laugh and play and be childlike.
If you’re stuck
I hope all of the above has been helpful and has shed some light on where you can start. If it still feels like too much, just know that it’s totally normal, especially if physical activity hasn’t been on your radar for years. There are still lots of things you can do. Getting help from me or another personal trainer can be fantastic. Joining a class can also be a good way for you to learn a few exercises, and feel like you belong to a community (for New West peeps, the community center offers some fantastic fitness classes). And remember the walks! That alone is a really simple way to bring more activity into your life!
After being skinny unfit for the majority of my life, I discovered fitness by accident once I became a mom and started working out with my husband. A couple of years later, I started Tone Every Zone out of an overwhelming desire to help other busy individuals and couples juggle a hectic lifestyle while staying active.
My mission is to teach people about fitness and work with them as a team to make long lasting lifestyle changes. My personal values include being professional, honest and transparent in all of my doings but also being funny and silly because that’s what makes life (and your training sessions) fun!
Every day I hear from tons of couples who are dying to get more active but they just need that extra push! Getting people started on a fitness program is what I love to do. Check out my personal training packages and share your story with me so I can help you reach your fitness goals!