Aging Well: Tips for Staying Active After 50
By Stephen Bonwit, acac R.N.
” We are always the same age inside.” – Gertrude Stein
I certainly agree with this quote. I recently “celebrated” a milestone birthday, and though grateful for the opportunity; I do not feel like the 60 year old adult my license says I have become. They say exercise is the fountain of youth, and that exercise is the best medicine you will never take. Well, I don’t know who “they” are, but I personally believe they are on to something.
Why Stay Active After 50?
We all know that exercise helps to maintain a healthier body weight and reduce risks for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. We all know exercise helps to reduce bad cholesterol and promote good cholesterol. Blood pressure can be positively impacted by exercise. We know all these things, but often this knowledge alone is simply not enough to serve as motivation.
The answer to the question “Why stay active after 50?” is something that no one can answer for you but yourself. You must look inward and define that which is relevant and important for you. It is about keeping it real. As for myself, I am independent and maybe just a little stubborn. I want to do things on my own terms. Frankly, staying active after 50 has helped me to maintain a “vehicle” that will allow me continued independence, hopefully for decades to come. I don’t want to be limited by a body that can’t keep up with my mind, or get to that point where I am “writing checks with my mouth that my body can’t cash.”
That is what is important to me – independence late into life. For you, it might be the ability to be truly active in your grandparenting roles. It might be having the energy and ability to pursue that activity in retirement about which you are passionate. It might be having the ability to do the things you love later in life when spare time is more available, and personal demands less. In our 50’s, we are at yet another crossroads, and choosing the more active path may result in our eventual 60 – 70 year old (or older) selves looking into the mirror and thanking those 50 year old selves that chose to stay active.
Find your reason. Find your passion. It is only then that you will be open to following tips to staying active after 50.
Tips for Staying Active
- Make physical activity a no brainer. Establish a work out schedule and stick to it. Make it a habit. Don’t think about it, except to look at your week and pencil in the 2 – 3 times you will hit the gym. Put the gym bag in the trunk and don’t go home after work. Work out the logistics. Don’t make your self crazy, just make it work. If you are realistic with your time constraints, your plan is most likely to happen.
- Know your limits. If need be, “do little often.” An ideal weight training routine occurs at least 2 times per week (American College of Sports Medicine). It is estimated we lose 1 to 2% of our muscle mass per year when we get into our 50’s. We can slow this down with resistance exercises. Do just one set of 8 different resistance exercises (10 to 15 reps) to hit the major muscle groups. You get as much as 60% to 70% of the benefits from the first set alone. Keep it simple. A trainer/ exercise specialist can show you some basic exercises that are right for your level of ability.
- 30 minutes is all it takes. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise (cardiovascular- such as walking or biking) 5 days per week or 25 minutes of vigorous cardio 3 days per week. This cardiovascular activity can also be broken up into blocks of 10 – 15 minutes and spread throughout the day. Keep it simple but keep it consistent.
- Incorporate balance activity. Just standing on one foot at the exercise bar or at your kitchen sink, gradually not holding on with your hands but positioned to catch yourself, is incredibly effective. We often don’t practice our balance unless we are losing it, and then it may be a little too late. It is amazing how quickly balance reflexes respond. Just make sure to “give yourself a parachute” and allow for a safe recovery when doing balance activity.
- Mix it up, keep it fresh! Use your resources. Ask a trainer to show you different exercises or try a new class after introducing yourself to the instructor. This can keep you from plateauing.
Though these tips apply to most age groups, I believe the principle tip is to “keep it real.” You might need outside guidance on putting together an exercise program, but the “why” already lies within you. The need to exercise to maximize the quality of life is a requirement that comes with the equipment (your body). The most important component to an exercise program is the “why?” Identify what is important to you and let that be your guiding motivation for staying active after 50.
To learn more about prioritizing fitness after 50, talk to a personal trainer at an acac club near you: