Fitness Over 50 - Getting To The Heart Of It

Practicing fitness over 50 can help you live life as if you were 20 years younger.

70% of what we think of as "normal aging" is optional. Finding it hard to get up from the floor, having achy joints and feeling tired most of the time isn't a given. A large part of how we age is a choice and choosing well begins by getting active.

So how do you begin a fitness over 50 program and start feeling better than you have in years? Here's a basic outline of where to start and how to progress. Do see your physician before you begin and have a physical.

At every level of your fitness program you want to warm up before working out, whether doing aerobics or strength training. Easy walking at a very slow pace for about 5 minutes is one way to warm up. Be sure to cool down at the end of your workouts as well by doing 5 minutes of some type of slow movement followed by gentle stretches to the areas of your body that you've used. Warming up and cooling down is important at any age. It's essential when you're over 50. Don't skip or rush your warm up or cool down and always stretch slowly.

Fitness Over 50 - Know your Heart

Here are a few numbers you need to know before beginning your fitness over 50 program...

Your Maximum Heart Rate: To find you estimated maximal heart rate subtract your age from 220. For example I'm 53, so my estimated maximum heart rate is 220 - 53 or 167. Think of your maximal heart rate as a reference number. You shouldn't try to exercise at your maximal heart rate. An Olympic athlete might be able to maintain her maximal heart rate for all of 60 seconds. Unless you're in absolutely phenomemal condition, it's not safe to go there and not necessary. The way to find your actual maximal heart rate is by having a physician do a stress test on you to absolute exhaustion.

Your Target Heart rate: This is the range your heart should be in when exercising. It's from 60% - 85% of your maximal heart rate.

A Heart Rate Monitor is a really good investment. It's very difficult to know what your heart rate is and whether or not you're really in your target range without a heart rate monitor. If you're serious about becoming fit, think about getting one.

Test yourself. After you see your physician and get the OK to begin an exercise program, perform a simple do-at-home aerobics test to know what level of aerobic fitness you're starting from.

Fitness Over 50 - Beginner's Fitness Program

First choose the types of aerobic exercise you want to try. Then, begin with a slow easy pace, one that gets your heart rate up to 60-65 percent of your maximal heart rate. You can use a heart rate monitor to be sure.

Do what you can. Maybe it will take 30 minutes before you feel tired. Perhaps you'll be exhausted in 5 or 10 minutes. Quit when you're tired. Just come back and do it again tomorrow, and the next day and the next. Show up, giving it your best, 5 - 6 days per week.

Gradually increase the amount of time you walk, as you're able.

What should you shoot for long term? 45 minutes at this pace 5 - 6 days per week, without pain or discomfort is a good goal. When you can do that, you may choose to stay at this level for life. Even if you go no further than this, you'll still have made huge health gains and feel much better for it. If you want to progress on to a higher level, be sure to workout at this level for a month or two consistently first.

Fitness Over 50 - Intermediate Fitness Program

At this level it's time to start rounding out your fitness program by adding some strength training. You can decrease your aerobic workouts to 4 days per week (45 minutes) and do strength training on the other 2 days.

Strength training has so many benefits for women over 50! It helps relieve the pain of arthritis, is effective in preventing and treating osteoporosis and helps build lean muscle mass to make us more efficient at burning calories.

With strength training, again you have choices. Free weights, machines, exercise bands or tubing, Yoga and Pilates, all offer ways to strength train. Choose something that appeals to you to start with.

If you choose free weights, machines or bands, do a few sessions with a physical therapist or personal trainer (depending on the condition of your joints). He or she will show you how to perform the exercises correctly and how to safely progress your program. Begin by using a level of resistance or weight that is fairly easy, at least for the first month or so. By learning proper form and starting with lighter weights, you give your body time to adapt and prevent injury.

If it's Yoga or Pilates, seek out a certified instructor to learn from. Do some one on one sessions with the instructor before entering a class. Women with osteoporosis need to be especially cautious with Yoga and Pilates as some moves are great for you and some put you at risk of fracture. Learn which moves are and aren't safe for women with osteoporosis.

Whatever method of strength training you choose, be sure to work all the major muscle groups of your body.

Again, you may choose to stay at this level for the rest of your life. If however, you do want to progress to the next level, wait until you have consistently, for several months, been doing strength training in a way that is significantly challenging to you. The extra strength you build doing this helps protect your tendons and joints and gets them ready for higher levels of fitness.

Fitness Over 50 - Advanced Fitness Program

Here's where you push the envelope a bit. That's why you want to stay at the lower levels until they are fairly easy and you've been doing them consistently for a fair amount of time. Keep doing aerobic exercise 4 days per week, but make 2 of your aerobic workouts harder.

Aim for 70-85% of your maximum heart rate while working out. A good way to ease yourself into this is to do interval training. Workout for 2 minutes at 60-65% maximum heart rate and then for 1 minutes get your heart rate up to the 70-85% range. Alternate 2 minutes slower, 1 minute faster throughout your workout until you're able to be at 70 - 85% of your maximum heart rate throughout your workout.

You can also begin to make your slower paced aerobic workouts longer. Add variety to your workouts and think outside the box to keep it fresh. For example, if you've been walking or doing a class at the gym that keeps your heart rate in the 60-65% range, once in a while replace one of these days by doing something fun that keeps you in the same range but may take a little longer. Go kayaking or biking for a few hours. Or find a nature trail to explore. You may just discover a new activity you love.

Speaking of switching things up, every change of season change your strength training routine. Try a new class or swap out some or all of your exercises for new ones. Your muscles adapt after a time. To keep them strong, and you from getting bored, you need variety. Just be sure to continue strength training 2 days per week for 45 minutes. If you love strength training, you can up it to 3 days per week.

Do women over 50 really work out this hard? All the time! There are women over 50 everywhere enjoying life and having fun, doing things more easily than others half their age.

Fitness Over 50 - You're In Control

This fitness over 50 program outline gives you the general guidelines for how to go about getting in shape after 50. The most important thing about becoming fit and active for life is realizing you're in control. Make it your own by choosing types of fitness you enjoy and are able to participate in. Progress in ways that feel right to you. Not everyone wants to reach the highest level and that's fine. It's your life, it's your choice.

What exercises would you enjoy doing with others? Having others join you makes the journey to fitness a lot more fun and helps you stay the course. If you need help to stay motivated, get it even if it means spending money for professional assistance.

How could you reward yourself along the way, while building your fitness over 50 program? Tracking your progress on a fitness log let's you see how your doing. It's shows you when you're kidding yourself and when you deserve a pat on the back for a job well done.

Please don't forget to stretch. A healthy body is both strong and flexible.

Whatever you do, engage in fitness over 50. Make it as natural a part of your life as brushing your teeth or washing your hair. There is no pill or diet that will give you anything even close to the health benefits and the quality of life, that being active will.

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Do-at-home fitness tests

How to have good posture

Staying flexible

Strength training

Having good balance