Exercise Over 50: An Introductory Guide
Are you starting to exercise over 50?
If so, you know it can be a tough adjustment, with muscles and joints complaining after every workout.
It’s imperative to invest in our health and wellbeing at any age, but the stakes only increase in later life.
By doubling down on self-care, you can enjoy a happier retirement, minimising the risk of health conditions and illnesses that manifest in older age.
If you’re keen to become more active, this introductory guide is for you.
But first, let’s explore why you should exercise at all.
Benefits of exercise
Exercise, perhaps more than anything else, is a panacea for many widespread illnesses afflicting modern society.
According to the NHS,
“There’s strong evidence that people who are active have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia.”
Pretty impressive eh?!
Exercise not only leads to physical health improvements but can also improve our mental wellbeing, research showing that physical activity “holds the promise of better mental health outcomes for older adults”, whilst combating conditions such as depression.
As we age, dietary self-indulgences accumulate and metabolic digestion slows, adding weight in unwelcome places.
Exercise not only improves such aesthetics, but also improves functional performance.
As we age, muscles weaken and joints stiffen, requiring regular attendance to prevent the onset of chronic conditions requiring medical intervention.
Such factors are invariably exacerbated by modern lifestyles which encourage prolonged sitting at home and work.
Exercise, rather than a cure, presents a prophylactic we can all use for a better life.
But despite the obvious benefits, the motivation to exercise over 50 often remains elusive. Let’s see why.
Adopting an exercise habit is hard.
While it’s all very well to pass a fleeting new year’s resolution, it’s harder to incorporate exercise into longer-term lifestyle change.
Perhaps you’ve started with enthusiasm but after the second or third week, the motivation for another sweaty gym session wanes.
This is where adopting the right mindset and routines are essential, improving the automaticity of your behaviour.
You may be motivated to exercise on the advice of a health professional in response to a pre-existing medical condition.
Perhaps you suffer from joint pain and stiffness or want to lose weight.
While such conditions routinely benefit from exercise, it can make the process more complicated.
Such conditions often require a gentle runway of increasing activity, often with professional supervision, so the body can accommodate to the extra demands being placed upon it.
If you’ve never exercised before, it’s hard to know what you like or what’s appropriate for your current fitness level.
After all, sprinting out of the blocks too fast risks overuse and injury.
Understanding your current capabilities, therefore, requires gentle experimentation and gradual intensity progression.
In most cases, it’s advisable to consult a professional who can provide an effective, sustainable plan to meet your longer-term health goals.
Starting exercise over 50 may be daunting from a social standpoint and self-consciousness has discouraged more than a handful of enthusiastic starters.
In many gyms and classes you find lean, athletic youths who don’t even seem to break a sweat.
Pre-established social clubs and groups can make it intimidating as an older exerciser or newcomer.
By starting with specific classes or attending with an exercise buddy, such an exercise transition can seem more comfortable.
Never worked out before?
Knowing where to start is confusing. Would spinning be fun or too intense? And what an earth is Zumba anyway?
If you Google fitness plans, you’ll likely encounter a plethora of overcomplicated workout plans, nutrition advice and lifestyle recommendations.
Such overwhelm can easily cause uncertainty and procrastination.
So to simplify matters, here are some exercise ideas for some inspiration.
Best types of exercise over 50
No one said exercise had to leave you feeling like a wet puddle. Simply taking a daily stroll is enough to elevate your heart rate and get the blood flowing. While a walk in nature has the added benefit of resetting both mind and body, simply trying to get a few more steps into your lunch break is an effective way to disrupt static postures and break up the day.
Once you’ve achieved a baseline level of fitness through walking, you can up the ante and put on the running trainers. This can provide a post-exercise glow like no other! If you’re new to exercise, it’s advisable to start with short distances and build accordingly. Note that if you suffer from arthritis and joint pain, the impact of running may exacerbate your symptoms, so either try the treadmill for extra cushioning or pick a less intensive activity from the list.
Ever considered joining the Lycra brigade for some semi-competitive weekend riding? Cycling’s a great way to enjoy the countryside while improving your health. And you needn’t buy a bike manufactured with space-age carbon fibre to feel the benefit. When starting, any second-hand bike will do. Furthermore, cycling clubs abound so there should always be enough riding companions to form your very own peloton.
If you’re a water baby, consider jumping in the pool for one of the best all-round workouts available. Perfect for joint pain and stiffness, swimming allows you to regain strength and mobility without placing undue stress on the body. Gravity assisted exercises are perfect for allowing our body to utilise its full range of motion with support, while the resistance from the water also can also provide a weight-like workout.
As we age, the body invariably loses mobility, which must be maintained. Yoga is the perfect starter exercise, especially for older adults, as the poses can easily be modified according to experience and ability. Practised for thousands of years, yoga helps with both strength and flexibility. Not only that, but incorporating the meditative and breathing aspects of the exercise can also result in improved relaxation and emotional regulation.
6. Tai chi
Tai chi capitalises on ancient Eastern wisdom, using a specific series of movements and breathwork to maintain strength and balance. With prolonged sitting at home and the office, it’s common for our muscles to atrophy and tension to accumulate in specific postural muscles. Tai Chi provides a beneficial antidote to such symptoms, while also emphasising the union between mind and body.
Pilates is a wonderful way of strengthening our deeper core muscles which support the spine and enable good posture. It can be performed either on a mat or using specialist equipment such as a reformer and as an exercise over 50, can be tailored to individual activity levels and ability. If you have back pain, speak to a qualified therapist for further guidance as you may benefit from a more symptom-driven approach, such as clinical pilates.
Perhaps for the more active 50-year-old, CrossFit has a passionate community of vocal advocates. It’s more intense than other forms of resistance training and focuses on core human movements to develop strength and conditioning in the major muscle groups. From squats and deadlifts to shoulder presses and pull-ups, this is a workout that will likely leave you begging for mercy.
If you’re not into traditional exercise, perhaps you could take up an enjoyable hobby, increasing your activity levels as a happy byproduct. Golf can be played well into later life and not only is it fun, but walking for 18 holes is a great workout in itself, especially if you choose a hilly club! The social community in sport is also excellent, making it more likely you’ll stay the course.
Badminton is another sport that encourages a range of movements to work on your cardio and strength simultaneously. Incorporating changes of direction, lunging and bending, it can provide the complete all-round workout.
Why not release your inner Roger Federer and take to the court? Not only is this great exercise, but it also provides an opportunity for important social interaction. Mirthy has experienced first-hand the benefit of facilitating social communities for older adults, so interactive activities like tennis are a great complement, especially if you join a club.
Exercise doesn’t have to be all sweat pants and headbands. There are many gentle activities available, such as gardening, if certain health conditions preclude you from more vigorous workouts. Anything that encourages movement is a worthy addition to the list. Furthermore, gardening has the added benefit of getting us out of the home or office and reacquainting us with nature. So get started digging that vegetable patch!
Why not get your Strictly Come Dancing on to get the old heart pumping? Dancing incorporates various positions and movements which make it the ideal activity to target assorted muscles and joints. It can be a cardiovascular exercise as well as enhancing strength, balance and coordination, essential maintenance factors as we age. It allows us to forge meet new people and form strong relationships over a shared interest, increasing the likelihood of sticking with the new exercise habit!
Despite knowing what to do, it’s tough to actually do it. So here are some handy hints to help the habit stick:
Set an appointment in your diary
Research shows that when we specify an exact time and place for an activity, we’re more likely to follow through. Simply writing what exercise you’ll do and when can provide the clarity and determination to build a habit and instigate true lifestyle change.
Join a club or group
At Mirthy, we intentionally create social clubs around our public speaking activities (sign up for a free profile here!), and that’s because interacting with others offers so many benefits. Exercise is no different, providing added enjoyment as progress is made in tandem and extra accountability for those days that you can’t force yourself out of bed.
Track your progress
Much like organising your workouts ahead of time, tracking your progress is an important practice to endure difficult workouts and periods of low motivation. After all, the visible rewards of exercise can be slow to materialise, so keeping track of your gains, however small, encourages persistence.
Create a goal
It can be easier to cement an exercise habit by having a specific aim to work towards. That might be running a 5k park race, getting fit for a tennis match or losing a few pounds for an upcoming holiday. Once you have a goal, you can reverse engineer the steps and plan a schedule required to achieve it.
Setting the intention of exercising more is admirable, but don’t forget to celebrate your wins. While completing a single workout isn’t an excuse for immediately falling off the wagon, with the right commitment, enjoying mini-indulgences such as a glass of wine at the end of the week or dark chocolate after a meal can be guilt-free!
Exercise over 50 is paramount for a healthy and happy life.
While we might have been able to coast during our younger years, investing in our mind and body provides a vital hedge against common later life ailments.
Although undertaking new activities and maintaining healthy habits in older age is undoubtedly challenging, the satisfaction of achieving greater physical and mental performance is the ultimate reward.
So lace up those trainers and don’t be afraid to make the necessary lifestyle changes for a genuine transformation.
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