Having trouble getting in shape?

Maybe you want more energy, be strong enough to do what you love, to lose weight or stand taller. It could be you just want to feel good again. Whatever your reasons, if something’s stopping you from starting to exercise, your not alone.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about getting in shape after 50, and the answers to them.

There are so many safe, enjoyable, do-able ways to get fit after 50! Sometimes all you need is a little more information and a helping hand…

1. I’m just starting out. How much exercise should I do?

Answer: How much exercise you begin with depends on the shape you’re currently in, NOT your age. If you’re healthy but have been sedentary for quite a while, choose an exercise you think you’ll enjoy, or have enjoyed in the past, and start out gradually (say 15 minutes all or most days of the week). Increase your time or intensity (not both at once) by 10% per week until you’re as fit as you want to be.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) released new recommendations in 2011 (thanks to copious new research), outlining the amount and quality of exercise healthy adults need for getting in shape. Think of these as a possible end goal, NOT your starting point…

  • Cardiovascular Exerciseat least 150 minutes per week at a moderate-intensity. That’s any exercise that gets you breathing heavily enough you’re a little breathless, can still talk, but can’t sing. You can break your exercise sessions up into 10 minute segments, if you wish.
  • Strength/Resistance Training – work each muscle group two to three days a week. Wait 48 hours before you work the same muscle group again.
  • Flexibility Exercises – to improve your range of motion, do stretching exercises two to three days per week. Warm up prior to stretching, with a few minutes of easy aerobic activity, like walking. Stretch each of your major muscle groups 2 to 4 times, holding each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Balance, Coordination and Agility Exercises, also know as neuromotor exercise – should be done 20 to 30 minutes, two or three days a week.

The research shows that even if you do less than recommended, your overall health may still improve – especially if, up until now, you haven’t been exercising at all. So, don’t worry about how much you need to do, just start getting in shape!

2. I’ve heard you have to exercise 60 minutes a day to lose weight. Is that true?

Answer: 60-minutes a day comes from the National Academy of Science’s recommendation for people who are trying to prevent weight gain, or keep themselves from regaining after weight loss. If you burn more calories than you take in, you lose weight. The fitter you are, the more calories you burn, even when sleeping.

The problem is, when you think you have to do something, it becomes a chore. The important thing is – do something. If you develop a healthy, active lifestyle, one that you enjoy, you will greatly increase your odds of losing weight and keeping it off. Trying to push yourself to do 60 minutes, especially to start with, can cause you to give up and go back to doing nothing.

Start small and think about how losing weight will change your life for the better. Will you have more energy, lower blood pressure or move more easily? Take the first step and notice these changes beginning as you’re getting in shape.

3. I hate to exercise and have never done it, but I want to be more active. What can I do?

Answer: If you’ve never exercised and your over 50, talk with your doctor about your exercise plans. Begin to incorporate more activity into your daily life. For example…

  • start taking the stairs whenever you can
  • when you run errands, take the farthest parking spot
  • if you work at a desk or on a computer, set a timer and get up and stretch or walk around for a few minutes.
  • plan fun physical activities like a walk in the park, taking a foot tour of your city or going dancing
  • do chores during commercials
  • walk around when your talking on the phone

To be sure you follow, through write down when you’ll do these things and check off each time you do what you’ve planned.

To build more activity into you life, consider joining a walking group or taking a dance class. Having a schedule and other to be with, increases your chance of succeeding.

Finally, if you think you hate to exercise, but you’ve never really tried or just tried on your own, consider doing at least a few sessions with a certified personal trainer or wellness coach. Someone with more experience can help you find ways to make getting in shape fun.

4. I have a heart condition, can I still exercise?

Answer: You do not want to go it alone getting in shape if you have a heart condition. Talk with your doctor about what’s safe for you to do.

If you have significant heart problems, consider a cardiac rehab program. You’ll need a prescription from your doctor and they will have you do some tests before beginning. This is an excellent way to get in shape after a heart attack or heart surgery.

If your heart condition is less severe, check out a hospital based wellness program. The staff in these programs are well educated and trained and can help you develop a safe program to meet your needs.

5. What is interval training and is it safe for women over 50 to do?

Answer: With interval training you alternate higher intensity exercise with periods that are less intense. For example you might walk at 4.5MPH (or any pace where you can still talk but feel quite breathless) for a minute and then slow down to 3.5MPH (or to where you can talk but feel a little breathless) for 2 minutes before picking it back up to 4.5MPH for another minute. You would do this throughout your workout.

You can do interval training while walking, running biking or working out on any of the cardio machines at the gym. Instead of picking up your pace you can also increase the grade (if on a treadmill) or add in some hills.

Interval training is not something to do when you start out getting in shape. You need to establish a base of fitness first (workout consistently for a couple of months).

6. I keep hearing about BMI and how important it is. What is it?

Answer: BMI means body fat index. It’s a way of estimating your body fat by using your height and weight. You can also determine what a healthy weight would be for you by working backwards from the healthy BMI for your height.

BMI works well for most people and has been found to be scientifically sound, unless you’re very lean and muscular. Muscle weighs more than fat and that throws the calculations off.

Here’s how to calculate your BMI (I’ve used a 5 foot 3 inch tall woman who weighs 136 pounds as an example)…

  • Measure your height in inches and then square it. (5 feet 3 inches = 63 inches. 63 x 63 = 3969)
  • Divide your weight in pounds by this number (136/3969 = 0.034)
  • Multiply this number by 703 (0.034 x 703 = 24.09 BMI) This gives you your BMI

If your BMI is less than 25 you’re at a healthy weight. From 25 to 29.9 means you’re overweight. If it’s 30 or higher, you’re obese. Start getting in shape and your BMI will improve.

7. How can I lose weight if I have hypothyroidism?

Answer: Managing your weight with hypothyroidism usually involves medication as well as getting in shape and watching your diet. Form a partnership with your doctor to help discover what works best for you.

Gradually building up to higher intensity workouts can help, as can making your workouts longer. Add in weight training (2 to 3 days a week) if you’re not already doing some. You can also try doing a few sessions with a certified Yoga instructor. Certain Yoga poses are said to help the thyroid function better.

Since hypothyroidism can cause you to gain weight easily, having a healthy diet and eating small to moderate portions is very important as well.

8. What exercises are safest for an elderly woman with osteoporosis?

Answer: I would check out Sara Meek’s book Walk Tall It outlines a very safe exercise program for both osteoporosis (and good way to improve your posture even if you don’t have osteoporosis). If you can, try to see a physical therapist trained in the Sara Meek’s Method in person, as this is the best way to be sure you’re doing the exercises correctly.

9. I want to re-shape and firm my body. Is that possible when I’m over 50?

Answer: You can improve your fitness level at ANY age. As you’re getting in shape, you body will naturally become firmer. Be careful about becoming to concerned with changing your body’s shape.

As women, our bodies change shape at certain times in our life cycle, one being menopause. You may become more prone to storing fat around your waist following menopause. A good exercise program can help limit that. Beyond that, your genetic make up decides where you store fat and the general shape your body takes (I’m not talking overweight here). It is what it is. Why not just celebrate it?

10. I’m in my 60’s, how can I stay flexible?

Answer: Yoga is a great way for getting in shape when your goals is to increase your flexibility and/or maintain good balance. Something that becomes even more important as we age. “The New Yoga For People Over 50” by Suza Francina demonstrates a number of good routines and dispels the myth that age and stiffness have to go together.

Stretching all the major muscle groups in your body can be done in as little as 10 minutes a day. As a minimum aim to stretch 2 to 3 days per week (I’m in favor of doing it daily). Do at least 2 repetitions of each stretch and hold for 10 seconds to start, working your way up to 30 second holds. Be sure to warm up for 5 minutes before you start stretching.

More On Getting In Shape After 50

Fit women know not only how to get in shape, but how to stay that way. They’ve learned how to motivate themselves.


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