Age really is just a number. You might be 55, but look 40 and feel 35. Or, you might be 50, but look and feel 65. It all has to do with how well you care for your body and what you do to stay active.
When it comes to exercise, many people assume if they weren't active during their 20s, 30s or 40s, there's no point in getting started in their 50s or even later. Fortunately, that's just not true. It's never too late to start an exercise program. Starting a workout routine can help reverse some of the problems caused by inactivity and can make you feel great about yourself overall.
Let's take a close look at the benefits of exercise for women over the age of 50 and take a peek at some of the different types of exercises that will help you feel your best.
Benefits of Exercise for Women Over 50
When it comes to your muscles, the saying "use 'em or lose 'em" really holds true. Starting around the age of 50, the average person loses about 1 percent of muscle each year . But the thing is, you don't have to resign yourself to losing muscle. With exercise, you can restore lost muscle, even well into your 90s.
The benefits of exercise don't stop at improving muscle mass and strength. Certain types of exercise can also help improve your bone health.
Up until about the age of 30, your body works hard to produce and build up bone. After that, you're more likely to lose bone than to create more bone . Bone loss speeds up even more during menopause because of the reduction in estrogen production. That's when the risk of osteoporosis can really set in.
But bone loss and osteoporosis aren't inevitable. Performing weight-bearing exercises, which force you to work against the forces of gravity, can help improve bone density and reduce the risk of bone breakdown.
While we're on the topic of menopause, let's take a look at some of the benefits of exercising to reduce common menopause symptoms.
The changes that happen to a woman's body during menopause, such as a decline in hormone production, can lead to weight gain and the development of excess abdominal fat. Getting or staying active while going through menopause can help you avoid some of the associated weight gain. Maintaining your weight can, in turn, help you avoid certain conditions often associated with being obese or overweight, such as Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and heart disease.
Types of Exercises
Not all exercises are equal, and it's important to make sure you include a mix of different types of exercise into your workout routine. The four main categories of exercise include:
- Strength training . Good weight training routines for women over 50 include lifting weights, as well as exercises that involve the use of resistance, such as Pilates or working out with resistance bands.
- Aerobic/cardiovascular . Aerobic or cardiovascular exercises are sometimes called endurance exercises, since you are supposed to maintain them for at least 10 minutes. During aerobic exercise, your heart rate and breathing should increase, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation with a workout buddy. Walking, jogging and swimming are all examples of aerobic exercise.
- Stretching . Stretching exercises help improve or maintain flexibility, reducing the risk of injury to the muscles or joints. Yoga is a popular type of stretching exercise.
- Balance . As you get older, the risk of falling increases. Exercises that help improve or maintain balance can reduce your risk of falls. A balance exercise can be as simple as standing on one foot.
Although there are four separate categories of exercise, it's important to understand exercise doesn't happen in a vacuum. For example, when you perform an aerobic exercise such as walking, you aren't just strengthening your cardiovascular system, but also building your leg muscles. Some types of strength training exercises can also help stretch the muscles or improve your balance.
How Much Exercise to Get
How much exercise should you do each week? The amount of exercise recommended for women over the age of 50 is the same as the amount recommended for other adults. Try to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. That works out to 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, or 15 minutes of vigorous exercise five days a week.
You can break up your activities into small chunks of time, but doctors recommend you devote at least 10 minutes at a time to aerobic exercise. Along with 150 or 75 minutes of activity, you should also perform strengthening exercises at least twice a week.
If you have limited mobility and have an increased risk of falling, it's also a good idea to perform balance exercises at least three days a week .
Getting the All-Clear to Exercise
Here's one crucial thing to remember before you jump into a new exercise routine, especially if you're new to working out: Get your doctor's approval before you start any new program. They can also provide guidance when it comes to the best exercises for women over 50 and the best exercises for you, based on any health concerns or issues you have.
Strength Training for 50-Year-Old Women
Resistance and strength training is particularly important for women aged 50 and older, as it helps slow down bone loss and can reverse the loss of muscle mass. Several workout plans for women over 50 are specifically designed to help older adults develop strength and retain muscle mass. Those programs include:
- Muscles in Motion . Set to music from the 1950s and '60s, Muscles in Motion helps you tighten and tone your upper and lower body, with a particular focus on the abdominal muscles. The group class uses hand weights, resistance bands and exercise balls to build strength.
- S.O.S. If you are particularly concerned about the risk of osteoporosis or are concerned about bone loss, S.O.S. is the fitness class for you. It focuses on resistance exercises that help improve bone health and muscle mass.
- SilverSneakers® Classic . SilverSneakers® exercise programs are available free of charge to people on Medicare. The classic program focuses on strength training as well as aerobic activities. Designed for all fitness levels, there are modifications available for people who need additional support or assistance.
3 Strength Training Exercises You Can Try at Home
While participating in a fitness class at your local YMCA is an excellent way to get out and socialize, it's also possible to do strength training exercises from the comfort of your home. You don't need to purchase fancy equipment to do many of these exercises. As long as you have a pair of hand weights and a chair, you should be good to go. A mat can make things more comfortable, but a carpeted floor works as well.
1. Plank Pose
The plank can not only help strengthen and tone your core muscles — aka, your abdominal and lower back muscles — it can improve your balance, too. Planks can also help straighten your posture, which is a plus if you sit in a desk chair for much of the day.
There are a few ways to do a plank. For a high plank, get into a position as if you are at the top of a push-up, with your arms and legs straight.
Another option is a low plank, which can be easier to do if you're a beginner. Instead of supporting yourself on your hands, bend your arms at the elbow and support your weight on your forearms.
No matter which version you choose, keep your back completely straight and your head up. Your entire body should form a straight line parallel to the ground.
2. Squats With Chair
Another weight-bearing exercise that's easy to do at home is squats with a chair. During this exercise, you squat over a chair as if you were about to sit down, but don't make contact with the seat. Instead, you stand back up and repeat the process multiple times.
Squats not only help tone your lower body, but they can also help improve balance. When you get started, you might find it's easiest to perform the exercise with your hands and arms extended out in front of you.
3. Chest Fly
Women tend to have very weak and underdeveloped chest muscles. The chest fly is a weightlifting exercise that helps strengthen those muscles.
To do the exercise, you'll need a pair of hand weights. Lie on the floor or a mat, flat on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Take one weight in each hand and raise your arms over your chest.
Slowly, open your arms out to the side, lowering your arms and wrists toward the floor — but don't actually touch the ground. Keep a slight bend in your elbows, so you don't lock out your arms. Raise your arms back up and repeat.
Yoga for Women Over 50
According to a 2016 survey, nearly 40 percent of yoga practitioners in the U.S. are over the age of 50. Some women over age 50 have been practicing yoga for years, if not decades, while others come to it for the first time in their 50s.
One thing that's important to understand about yoga is that there are many different types of styles. Some forms of yoga might be too fast-paced, strenuous or physically challenging for some people, no matter their age, while other styles are designed to be therapeutic and gentle. Unless you're an experienced yogi, it's usually best to stick with the gentler forms of yoga, which usually focus on stretching and balance more than on building strength and muscle.
One of the best ways to get started with yoga and to begin an exercise program when you haven't been physically active in the past is to try chair yoga. During chair yoga, you perform many of the poses, or asanas, while seated on a chair or using a chair for support while standing. Many of our locations offer chair yoga classes. Find out if the Y closest to you does by visiting our locations page, then click on the name of your branch Y.
Beginner Exercise Programs for 50-Year-Old Women
As we said, it's never too late to begin an exercise program, whether you're 50, 65 or 80. That said, if you're just starting out with physical activity, it's a good idea to look for a program designed with beginners in mind. Often, beginner exercise programs are slower-paced and feature low-impact activities, which can reduce the risk of injury.
When choosing an exercise program for beginners, look for one that combines multiple types of exercise, such as strength training with stretching and aerobic activities. That way, you'll be able to learn a variety of exercises and will get the most value from your class.
Gateway Region YMCA offers several different exercise programs for women and adults over age 50 who are looking to start a workout routine. A few of your choices include:
- SilverSneakers® Cardio
- Fit for All
Get out and Explore While You Exercise
Although taking an exercise class or working out at your local Y branch can be an excellent way to get fit and be social at the same time, remember you can take your workouts outside. Taking a walk around your neighborhood after dinner can be an ideal way to see what's going on around you, get some fresh air and keep your muscles strong.
You can also take things up a notch and try going for a hike on the weekends, which will give you a chance to enjoy nature while improving your endurance. When you're first getting started with hiking, take it easy. Start with short hikes on relatively flat, easy terrain. You can extend the duration of your hikes and the difficulty level as you become stronger and more confident.
Swimming for Women Over 50
Swimming is one example of an excellent exercise for women over 50. While plenty of other exercises, such as running and walking, can put a lot of strain on your joints, swimming is very low-impact. The water acts as a cushion and support around you, keeping pressure off of your joints.
Don't be fooled by its gentleness, though. Swimming will give you a total-body workout. It will help you build endurance while it strengthens the muscles on your upper and lower body and in your core. Additionally, by helping develop your core, swimming can also help improve your balance, reducing the risk of falls when you're back on land.
Looking for Exercise Programs for Women Over 50? Your Local Y Is a Great Resource
From yoga to strength training and from aerobic activities to outdoor adventures, the Gateway Region YMCA has many workout and exercise programs designed specifically for women over age 50 and other active adults. One of the benefits of being a member of the Y is that all our fitness classes are included in your membership. There's no need to register in advance — just drop in and try out a class that interests you. You'll get a chance to connect with others in your community while helping out your health.