Fitness over Fifty

There'srunning shoes(131648)Credit: flickr a woman in my neighborhood who inspires me.

Jean is 74 and runs at least five days a week, lifts weights and takes yoga classes.

I'd see her jogging past my house and just shake my head, thinking she must be a little loopy.

I finally got to meet her, when I had to drop off some misdirected mail to her home. We got to talking and she asked me if I'd like to go for a run with her sometime.

GULP..  I used to run, but with a seventy hour a week work schedule, online writing and spending the last two years as a caregiver for my best friend there was never enough time.

Sadly, my friend passed away.  It was a difficult time and I continued to sit on the couch or in front of my computer.

Even sadder..I'm over 50, and I realized that was no way I could keep up with this woman who is old enough to be my mother.

The best piece of advice Jean gave me was "If you don't, eventually you can't".

That resonated with me!  My first thought was " I could never get back to the fitness level I once enjoyed."  My second thought was.."Why not?"


I got my fancy new sneakers and I'm out every day. There is more walking than running, and the gains are not as quick as they used to be. Some days I just don't want to do it, but I go.

I had to ask my son to help me move some furniture that I could have moved easily in my thirties and I'm not as flexible as I once was.  Time for weights and stretching.

I'm not ready for the rocking chair yet and I suspect you aren't either.

Lets look at some data and some basic plans to improve, strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health.

What Do the Experts Say

There is nothing in these studies that will surprise you. You know that physical activity keeps you living longer and living better and the numbers back that up.

Check out this information from a study by the University of Houston.

My Grandfather was born before the turn of the 20th century. He had a 50% chance of living to 47.  He lived to his early 80's. Now statistics say we all have a 50% chance of living to almost 80.

You can't fight genetics, but you can battle against the conditions that we just assume come with aging.

The study shows that even moderate physical activity can reduce your chances of developing some types of cancer, heart attack and strokes, and type 2 diabetes. Add weight bearing activity and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

What's happening to us when we don't exercise? Our cardiovascular system is in decline. Our bones are becoming more brittle. We're at a greater risk of depression and other forms of mental illness. Our immune systems are weakening.

Another study from Harvard Medical school suggests that half of us don't do even the minimum amount of exercise to stay healthy. That number is likely even higher in people over fifty.

What stops us from getting enough exercise? It is certainly more comfortable to sit.

What motivates us to exercise? In my case it was the inspiration of my new friend Jean, and the pain of watching my best friend, who was once a great athlete, pass away.

Maybe it is bad news from your doctor, or watching the Biggest Loser.

Now it's time to make a plan.

Just Do It!

It sounds easy, but it's not.

Trying to schedule time for exercise can be challenging. I am tackling it in two different ways. Firstly I set aside one precious hour a day to get moving. It's a mixture of walking and running. Some days it feels great. Other days I hate it, but once I'm done I feel better.

The second approach is a little more sneaky. Now I park at least three blocks from work. It's a small thing, but every step counts.

There are two ten pound dumbells sitting on my living room floor. There is a workout log on my coffee table. While the television is on I do a series of lunges, squats and work on my upper body strength.

I have a couple of exercise and yoga videos. I'm not crazy about them so I don't use them often. The bottom line is, if you really don't like it, you won't do it. Find something else.


Break your fitness routine into three major components:

1. Cardiovascular

Quite simply, this means getting your heart rate up. The American Heart Association recommends an exercise target heart rate ranging from 50% to 75% of your maximum heart rate, which is normally calculated as the number 220 minus your age.

You don't have to run to get your heart rate up. A brisk walk. particularly if it involves going up hills will do the trick. Dancing, biking and swimming are also good cardiovascular activities.

2. Flexibility

Can you touch your toes? If the answer is no, it's time to incorporated stretching into your life. There is a video below, which outlines some basic stretching exercises. Yoga and pilates are also great options.

3. Strength

We lose muscle mass as we grow older, but that does not mean we can't fight back. Incorporate weights into your fitness routine.

Now that you've thought about what you are going to do, don't forget to think about WHY you are doing it. Do you want to lose weight, get in shape for a big event or enjoy a better quality of life? You are more likely to succeed, if you have a goal in mind.

How you get to that goal is your journey. Will you join a gym, take a yoga class, sign up for the bowling league or do it all on your own?  It's up to you.

(((A reminder...if you have health issues or have been sedentary for a long time, talk to your doctor before beginning your exercise program)))

Fitness Beyond 50 - Turn Back the Clock
Amazon Price: $15.95 $8.00 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 19, 2013)
This is a good all round look at fitness programs for people over fifty.
Strength Training Past 50 - 2nd Edition (Ageless Athlete Series)
Amazon Price: $17.95 $7.34 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 19, 2013)
Everything you need to know about working out with weights.
Stretching for 50+: A Customized Program for Increasing Flexibility, Avoiding Injury, and Enjoying an Active Lifestyle
Amazon Price: $14.95 $7.22 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 19, 2013)
A very good guide to stretching exercises. You'll be surprised at how good they feel.

Six Basic Stetching Exercises