Working out at 50, dos and don’ts
You want to work out and you are in your 50s or 60s!!! Wonderful. Let’s talk about the dos and don’ts, what works and what doesn’t. Working out in your fifties, as everything else in life, has dos and don’ts. Generally, people will say working out after 50, but I find that this is too general. A 50 year old woman or man is very different than an 80 year old person, their work out programs are very different. The definition after 50 is already changing and it will continue to change because it is putting all people after 50 in the same bucket and that doesn’t work out (pun intended).
Working out after 50 Dos
Do work out in your 50s and beyond
This is the most important thing we can say. Working out or being active is imperative for our wellbeing, physical, mental as well as emotional. Working out in our 50s is not about looking good, that is a side effect, but is about physical and mental health.
Do check with your doctor
If you take medications for high blood pressure, you are diabetic or you have any other medical condition, you have to check with your doctor. As a personal trainer I ask for medical clearance if the client takes medicines. Some medicines affect the way you will respond to exercise. For example, some high blood pressure medicines are diuretics and that means that if the person sweats a lot, he or she needs to drink more water than someone who doesn’t take this type of meds or there could be dehydration and/or loss of electrolytes.
Do disclose your illnesses to the trainer
If you are going to work out with a personal trainer or in a gym, do disclose your medical history. This will help the trainer or the gym to advise you in what to do and/or what to avoid. Normally the gyms have orientation sessions and this information will be very valuable to help you develop the best workout program for you, to maximize results and to avoid injuries and unnecessary risks.
Do go slow
As we age our bodies take longer time to recover and the risks of injury are higher. We ladies in our 50s and beyond need more time to develop stamina, muscle strength, flexibility and balance. We need more time to rest between workouts and we need more time to increase weights and number of repetitions. In cardio, we need to start with less time and less intensity. In yoga, Pilates, Barre and similar modalities, we need to start with less stretching. It is safer and more pleasant to start slow and progress slow. Slowly but surely is the way to go.
Do listen to your body
You are the expert on your body. Your body will tell you if you are doing too much. It is good to push yourself, but never to the point of injury. Let me repeat “go slow,” push yourself only a little bit at the time. You can reach similar levels of a 20 years old, but it will take longer and it will take more effort, and for many people it is possible, not for all.
Do stay committed to your work out
If you stay committed and work out 3 or more times a week you will see results. It is better to do shorter workouts frequently than longer workouts once a week.
Do vary your workouts
Our body is amazing and it adapts very easily to the exercises. When this happens, it starts to use less calories. In order to burn more calories and avoid injury you need to vary the workouts regularly.
Do warm up
When working out after 50 we need a lot warm up time (or at least 5 minutes). In particular when we are starting to work out after a period without workouts. Warming up prepares your muscles, your nerves and your mind; it helps to avoid injury and to do the exercises in a better form.
Do cool down
Cooling down is also important. It helps the body slowly lower the heart palpitations, the muscles don’t have to stop at once and your mind can calm down. Don’t skip this step.
Working out at 50 don’ts
Don’t stop working out
When it comes to working out, consistency is the most important thing. If you stay committed you will see results. Put the work out time in your schedule and try to stick to it. If you don’t like working out then read the next tip.
Don’t do boring or too difficult workouts
There are a zillion ways to work out, try different workout programs to find the one that is best for you.
Don’t do only cardio
Cardio is great for your heart and to burn calories, but we also need strength training, flexibility and balance. Try to include all of them in your workouts. You don’t need to do all of them in the same workout, but try to have a program that includes all of them at least once a week. Strength training is recommended at least 2 times a week and it can be combined with cardio, flexibility and balance.
Don’t take too much risk
Working out in your 50s is for most people different than working out in your 20s. As time passes we become more vulnerable to injury and it takes longer to heal. Besides that we can have conditions such as weaker bones and not be aware of it. For these and other reasons we need to start slow and avoid exercises that include a lot of jumping, too much stretching, lifting heavy weights, etc. Jumping in general is something to think about, few people after 50 respond well to it. The stretching levels and the weights lifted can be developed, but it will take time for most 50 year olds.
Don’t do too little
If you do a work out and you feel like taking a light walk, you probably are not working hard enough. Some of the so called exercises for people over 50 in reality are for seniors, over 50 is just the name. YOU define YOU, don’t let anybody put labels on what you can and cannot do. Start slow, start at your level, listen to your body and continue adding variety and difficulty to your workout. You want to always challenge the body a little. If you do too little you risk quitting the program because you won’t see the results you want.
There are great programs that anybody can follow. They don’t have to be specially directed to 50 year olds.
A personal note about over 50
I got my personal training certification when I was in my 50s, so I was pretty upset when they described what they called “special populations,” among them children, pregnant women and people after 50. Yep, it doesn’t matter if we are 50 or 100 we are all the same for personal training purposes. This is, of course, absurd. Even if we divide it by decades, some people in their 70s are fitter than some 20 year olds.
Don’t get frustrated
There are variations for all exercises. A new routine is always challenging. If you cannot do an exercise, try to modify it, it is OK. If a class is too long make it shorter, don’t force yourself. Remember, listen to your body. You will improve and you will find your sweet spot when working out. Your workout program has to work for you, not the other way around.
Focus and control. Be mindful of every exercise. This way you will get better results and avoid injury. Better results because you will focus on the muscles you are trying to work.
When we don’t pay attention to the exercises, many times we do the exercise wrong and we put too much pressure on other muscles. An example of this is crunches, if we don’t focus on using the abdominal muscles we end up using the lower back. The lower back is very sensitive to injury. If we do squats and don’t focus we can overextend the knees causing damage to the cartilage and lots of pain. If we do some triceps (back of the upper arm) we can end up working the biceps (front of the upper arm) this will result in muscle imbalance. Besides, strong triceps improve, avoid, or correct the famous batwings in the upper arms.
Don’t do challenges designed for younger people
A lot of challenges, some of them on Instagram, are badly designed, they are not good at any age and terrible for people who don’t exercise frequently. For example, push up challenges. Usually they start with a few pushups a day and keeping adding every day. The people who participate in these challenges keep pushing themselves, but they don’t do the exercises properly. This can lead to injuries, unnecessary pains and not so good results.
If you cannot do the regular push-ups, you can start with modifications such as wall push-ups, counter push-ups, sofa push-ups, knee push-ups and finally graduate to the regular push-ups which require a lot of upper body and core strength. If you are doing on of those challenges and are just starting to workout you will hit a wall and may injure yourself. It is better to start where you are and build up from there. I have a push-up challenge for people starting to work out (at any age). If you just follow a challenge there are other risks such as lack of warm up and lack of cool down.
Don’t buy in the hype
If you are in my age bracket or close to it, you have seen many workout fads. Just like diets, there are also workup fads. It is OK to try them and follow them if you like them, but you don’t have to follow them. The traditional ways of working out work, you don’t need special equipment, more videos, etc.
Don’t think you need a lot of time and money
You can start in your house with YouTube videos or lower price apps. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Time? Well, if you don’t have 30 minutes do as little as 20, but it’s better to do something than nothing.
Do you need a gym? If time and/or money are scarce you can work out at home. I work out at home most of the time, because it is more time effective for me.
Do you need a personal trainer? It is very nice to have guidance, but you don’t necessarily need one. Especially if you don’t have special needs. Remember there are trainers at different prices.
Do you need the Peloton? It is a great machine, but you don’t need to spend that kind of money if you don’t have it or want to spend it. It is nice to have a cardio machine at home, but they also come in all price ranges. I think a treadmill is better than a bike because you get a more complete workout.
In the beginning is better to avoid long term costly commitments.
Don’t follow “no pain no gain”
When working out there will be some pain in the beginning, but you don’t have to be in pain all the time. You may experience strong pain if you are working out too much, too hard or wrong. It is better to do a lighter workout than to quit because the pain is too much. For a workout to be effective, it doesn’t need to be painful.
If you don’t like working out (most of us don’t) try to make it more fun, even if in the beginning you have to lie to yourself and tell yourself that you like to work out. Fake and fake it until you make it, it works when working out.
Working out is too important for our health. Even if we don’t like it, we have to do it. So if we can convince ourselves that is not so bad that will help.
For some motivation this is what the spectacular Jane Seymour (born in 1951) said in a recent interview:
“I try to get my heartbeat up with fast walking at least three times a week.” “I also work out with a trainer and I’ll do about 20 minutes on a stationary bicycle, the spin bicycle, but not spinning like crazy. I do my own form of it, usually with weights, as well. So I try to do the upper body at the same time as the lower body. And then I do Pilates and Gyrotonics, which I swear by.”
“So, things that are really good for my particular body, like the bridge and plank, I can do anywhere in any hotel room or anywhere at any time. I don’t need to go to the gym to do the things that are actually really good for my body. And having been a dancer, you have an understanding of form. So when you work out, I think you are very careful about having good form. Whereas some people just throw themselves in the gym. If you don’t have proper form, you can injure yourself.”
If you need further inspiration check out this 80+ lady on Tiktok https://www.tiktok.com/@erikarischko?
There are many more dos and don’ts but this article is already long, so we will leave it here. If you have questions or want to share a story please leave it in the comments. And let me ask you, what type of exercises are your favorites?