On the one hand, moving into and past our 50s we feel more liberated, kids have grown up, we’re probably peaking in our earnings potential, maybe our pensions and investments are looking good. But slowly, almost imperceivably, our health may be deteriorating.
Getting fit after 50 can add another dimension to life. And staying fit after 60 can help in the quality of life in retirement.
What getting older means – the bad
Some bad news first ‘cos not everything is rosy especially with the natural process of getting older.
Bone density falls
Although there is a continual process of bone mass being created as well as being degenerated the balance of new material over decaying bones goes negative as you age.
Stress levels increase
Disruptive levels of estrogen make things worse for women but both sexes receive higher levels of cortisol in aging. Cortisol is not only associated with stress but also diminished cognitive ability including poorer memory.
Depression can creep in
Although it’s a word that’s used freely these days depression is actually a complex variety of conditions. It can depend on physiological or psychological changes that can be temporary due to circumstance or be more permanent.
Certain types of depression tend to be more common in mid-life years due in part to hormone changes specifically testosterone which affects the bodily systems, in particular, the sex drive.
Muscle loss started sometime in our 30s and can be as much as 8% every decade. After 60 it’s even worse.
There are many other consequences as well like loss of hearing, balance and libido.
Humans are an optimistic bunch
We are conditioned to ignore the obvious deterioration of mind and body and only take action when signs of something sinister become apparent.
Most of us over 50 know someone or someone’s family member who has had cancer or major heart disease.
Many however, seem to ignore the advice on regular exercise.
For many of us, by the time we’ve reached our 50th birthday life is good, everything under control and comfortable. Family, finance, future all sorted – well things can always be better but by and large life is good.
There’s probably a few extra pounds around the middle, energy levels a bit lower perhaps, skin and hair not as shiny and smooth, almost certainly less or no hair for the guys. But everything is great!
Now is the perfect time to revitalize the body and mind, bringing back the pizazz and that can be achieved by making minor life changes in our attitude to nourishment and physical activity.
Getting Fit After 50, Is It Too Late?
It’s never too late to start getting fit after 50. It may be frustrating, challenging, and sometimes difficult to do, but getting in shape at 50 is definitely possible.
According to a Swedish study, exercising later in life is much better than not getting started at all.
This study had 2,205 male participants aged 49 to 51, whom the researchers evaluated five times. The evaluation process required them to submit a detailed report about their drinking, exercise and smoking habits.
The researchers would then measure their blood pressure, body weight, height, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. After years of observation, the researchers found that participants who were physically active at 50 had a 13% lower death rate than the less-active participants. They also experienced a significant boost in health.
How to Get Fit After 50 – 13 Tips
Looking good is a bonus to getting fit after 50 and we’ve covered that in our article on regaining muscle tone after 50. So, now I’ve given you the boost to show it is possible, how do you go start getting fit if 40 is a distant memory?
There’s nothing more important than having the right mindset when you start a fitness journey. Your attitude is the backbone of your consistency. It takes more than sacrifice to get out of bed every morning and go for that morning jog.
When sacrifice and dedication fail to motivate you, the right attitude towards exercise will help motivate you and get the compound effect going.
And talking of mindset don’t forget brain health which we cover in our article on improving brain fitness.
Here are a few tips you can use to get the right mindset towards getting back into shape:
Set realistic expectations
Before you start working out, it’s crucial to set specific and realistic goals for yourself. For instance, what accomplishments do you expect by keeping fit? Is it weight loss, maintaining your shape or muscle toning?
Or do you just want to have tons more energy and feel great, be able to pick up the grandkids, swing a golf club, do a half marathon?
Once you decide on your specific goal, choose a timeframe and a workout routine. Also, stick to small physical goals, as this makes it easier to accomplish your overall goal. It also helps give you the right mindset about working out.
2. Have Fun
Your mental state plays a crucial role in how you view exercise. The best way to see it as a way to feel good rather than torturing yourself is by having fun.
For instance, if you love taking walks in the afternoon, use that to exercise. Many think they have to go all out and complete high-intensity exercise, but that’s not the case.
If you love yoga, then do that. Not only are you working your body, but you’re also connecting with yourself and focusing the mind and breathing.
Try new activities
At 50, there’s no perfect exercise or workout. Remember, your body is different, and how it used to respond to an activity you enjoyed once might not be the same today. Therefore, try various physical or exercise activities that you fancy like dancing, swimming, and cycling.
This will help you make exercise a habit and enjoy your workouts and you might also find something new that you love.
Just be mindful that whatever activity you do, do it purposefully, not half-assed. Get the blood flowing and the lungs tested.
3. Exercise Routine
Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings are the times I keep free for the more intensive exercise regimes – the times, after which I feel drained physically although elated mentally.
Although I’ll have an early night before and prepare myself for the pain to come it’ll be a flexible arrangement I have with myself and if something comes up I’ll switch things around as long as I feel satisfied in my mind that by the end of the week I’m done.
I’ll always try to do at least one session of some activity every day and apart from the cardio stuff that I enjoy like hiking and cycling it’ll normally be a fat burning session, a HIIT workout, strength training, yoga or Pilates or just stretching.
Or maybe a bit of each.
Everyone’s starting point for getting fit after 50 is different although it’s important not to rush into a fitness journey with too much enthusiasm – you might not have forgotten what you can do but your body may have.
Start off easy and increase the number of sessions or the intensity or both over time. Begin with low impact activities.
Mix the different workouts to cover all muscle groups for strength training workouts and different types of cardio over the week.
Keep a fitness diary
Let’s be honest, getting in shape after 50 isn’t a walk in the park, especially if you have no plan.
Keeping a fitness diary helps maximize your chances of getting results from your workout routine.
A fitness diary can be a useful tool to help you stay focused and organized on your goals and objectives.
Getting fit after 50 or at any age and staying in shape is an individual commitment. A fitness journal helps keep you accountable to your goals and fitness dreams.
4. Stay Motivated
Motivation is one key factor in helping you stay focused. It’s also a constant reminder of why you should get out of bed every day to continue getting back into shape.
It’s also a great way to document your daily progress—how do you know how well you’re doing if you can’t see it?
This then helps you maintain and create other goals.
Working out at home or the gym?
You can get fit from home as easily as trekking to a gym. I like to go but I must admit there is a social element for me. For some it can be a motivating factor for a workout with like-minded people, for others, it’s a pain in the glutes and can be expensive.
A personal trainer will benefit, especially early on, by working out a fitness program as well as showing the mechanics of movements. They will also act as a great motivator although at a price.
What’s as nice is to run, hike, cycle and workout outside with your buddies.
One way I stay motivated is to reward myself which normally means a late but huge (but healthy) breakfast after a morning session. For my Friday workout, I look forward to that extra glass of wine I feel I deserve in the evening. Getting back into shape after 50 – yep it can be great.
5. Facelift Your Diet
Your diet plays a vital role in helping you get in shape and will almost certainly mean losing weight (don’t forget the increased weight of muscle mass). To be successful at weight loss, there are a few changes to be made:
Check your calorie intake
To increase your vitamin D intake, go for foods like milk, cheese, egg yolk and fatty fish, but you need to keep your calories in check, too.
As your body ages, it requires fewer calories because you become less active. We may dispute this. I hear many people saying something like “since I stopped ‘working’ I’ve never been so busy”.
It may feel like that, what with demands of family life – grandparenting – and the new social and hobby calendar you’ve just committed to. And what about those 4 extra vacations you’ve penciled yourself in for – busy?
Your basal metabolic rate begins to drop as early as 25 and this causes loss of muscle mass gradually and insidiously year upon year.
The basal metabolic rate can be understood as the amount of converted energy needed to sustain you as a moving, breathing organism.
For you to maintain a level of fitness after 50 and achieve the weight loss you want, you need to keep an eye on the number and type of calories taken.
According to the National Institute on Aging, women and men over 50 should consume calories depending on their activity level.
Calorie Intake for Women Over 50
|Activity Level||Average Daily Calorie Intake|
|Active||2,000 to 2,200|
Calorie Intake for Men Over 50
|Activity Level||Average Daily Calorie Intake|
|None||2,000 to 2,200|
|Moderate||2,200 to 2,400|
|Active||2,400 to 2,800|
Factoring in fiber
You’ve probably heard of how important eating fiber is, especially for people above 50. So, what makes it an essential addition to your diet?
According to an article published in the Journal of Gerontology, there’s a direct relationship between aging healthily and your fiber intake.
According to the study, 15.5% of the research participants aged successfully. They also were 80% more likely to live healthier and longer lives.
Also, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommends that men above 50 should consume at least 30g of fiber every day. Women above 50 consume at least 21 grams per day.
So, if you aren’t eating enough fiber daily, here’s a choice of foods you should consume:
- Wholegrain products.
- Beans, chickpeas and other legumes.
- Seeds and nuts.
The process of processing processed food normally involves the addition of foodstuff that has been frozen which means that the fiber has been removed. For this reason and many more try to…
…avoid processed foods
Other reasons to eat whole foods is the ridiculous quantities of salt, additives, emulsifiers and especially sugar that goes in to ‘convenience’ foods. Convenient they may be but good for you they aren’t.
Although foods made with added HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) provide energy, they have no nutritional value, and besides, if the body needs fuel for energy it has evolved perfectly well to build its own turning glycogen into glucose from carbohydrates.
…especially Ultra Processed Food
NOVA is a recognized food classification used around the world to categorize the amount of industrial processing that a commercially available foodstuff has gone through.
Ultra Processed Food (UPF) is a recognized term that’s been used for the last 10 years. Recent research points to UPF being the cause of so many bad outcomes from obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and more recently possible detrimental adjustments to the way the brain functions pointing to potential problems with cognitive development in children.
Weight loss becomes almost impossible whilst consuming as much UPFs.
Over half (and growing) the calories eaten in the US is derived from Ultra Processed Food.
Increase your vitamin D and calcium intake
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, as it assists the body in absorbing calcium, which is vital for bone strength and health.
It also helps fight infection, regulates cell growth, helps the muscles move and carries messages through your nervous system.
Vitamin D deficiency plays a role in the loss of muscle, but by increasing your intake, you can reverse the deficiency and, ultimately, regain your muscle mass according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
UV sunlight is a direct source of Vitamin D so being an outdoorsy type means you are probably in good stead although as you age processing Vitamin D beclomes less efficient.
Food sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, shrimp, sardines, salmon etc. Other foods include fortified foods like packet cereals, milk, orange juice. And not to forget eggs.
Dairy is the source for calcium.
For calcium, include:
- Fortified cereals.
- Dark green vegetables.
- Canned fish with soft bones.
Recipe Interlude: Natural yogurt is sour – it’s sour milk but made with nice bacteria. A favorite breakfast of mine is fruit like banana, kiwi, mango with chopped dates all mixed with a dollop of natural yogurt finished with a trickle of runny honey.
Improve your vitamin B12 intake
One common body change most 50-year-olds experience is a decrease in energy levels.
Vitamin B12 deficiency may have something to do with your low energy levels Processing the vitamin can be the issue as we get older.
- Problems processing B12 can be due to low levels of stomach acid, through weak stomach lining, or because of medications that inhibit stomach acid.
- Excess alcohol can irritate the stomach lining. In fact, any problem that inhibits the absorption in the stomach or intestines like Crohn’s disease.
To get into shape at 50, it’ll help to make sure vitamin B12 levels are adequate for sustained energy during exercise.
Some foods rich in B12 are:
- Liver and kidneys.
- Fish—especially wild rainbow trout and salmon – not farmed.
- Nutritional yeast – good choice for vegans.
You can also talk to your doctor about including B12 supplements.
6. Regain Muscle Mass
Muscle loss is part of the natural aging process. As mentioned above, by the time we’re 50 around 20% of our muscle mass is lost to aging. Although this can be halted.
Getting fit after 50 means holding back the decline and encouraging the new growth of muscle mass. So tone those arms, say goodbye to those saggy bits with weights.
Strength training is what we’re talking about here. It’s not just for young bodybuilders.
One of the best ways to regain muscle mass is through weightlifting. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, adults should do resistance training (which includes weightlifting) twice a week, especially for mental fitness.
But more simple methods of strength training using your own bodyweight can be adopted making it easily accessable.
7. Work on One Area at a Time
Getting fit at 50, especially if you haven’t been exercising early in life, can be hard at first. By working on one area at a time, you also get to make exercising a habit. Remember, start slowly, as starting too fast can make working out look like a chore.
Start by making a list of goals before working out. If your major goal is to lose a few pounds, you can start walking for 20 minutes 3 times a week. Once that becomes a habit, you can slowly build up your fitness routine to a long walk duration. There is a load of benefits from walking.
After which move into a little strength training. You’ll be surprised how the two disciplines of cardio and strength compliment each other.
8. Wear a Heart Rate Monitor
Although not essential wearing a heart rate monitor will allow you to track your efforts. It should allow you to see improvements in your heart rate over time. It can be used as a training aid that will give the best program for your fitness level and ability.
The heart is simply a muscle and responsible for getting oxygenated blood around to wherever it’s required. The more efficient the heart is the less effort you will need to do any physical activity.
Regular cardio exercise makes the heart stronger.
That is: you’ll be fitter.
9. Challenge Yourself
There are many challenges to getting fit after 50 as we have seen. Once you make exercise a habit, your body starts adapting to the workouts you perform.
This is often a sign that your body is requesting you to increase your intensity, and by increasing your workout intensity, you get to challenge your body but as always take care not to overdo it.
A study found that 60 to 70-year-olds who undergo intense workouts have better benefits than those who don’t.
10. Exercise With Friends
We all need people who push us to be the best.
Taking your friends with you through the fitness journey makes any physical activity a social occasion.
Different studies have proved that having strong social networks can improve a person’s mood, manage stress, acquire better health and live longer.
You can participate in different community activities, sports clubs, get a pet and meet with friends and family a couple of times a week for some cardio or strength training.
Discover what you like doing and do it with like-minded people.
11. Be Kind to Yourself
You might not be there yet, but learn to celebrate your victories, no matter how small. Learn from your fitness failures and use them as a prop to help you get to where you want to go. Take care of your self.
12. Manage Stress
Stress can affect almost every physical process in your body, including the loss of muscle tone.
Developing a relaxing lifestyle and managing stress should be a priority for anyone, let alone those age 50 and above.
Failure to manage stress can have devastating effects, including:
- Weight gain.
- Memory problems.
Some excellent ways to manage stress are through finding an appropriate community and meditation.
To reduce stress through meditation, use positive affirmations. Focus on what’s good and stimulate that reality with a positive, powerful thought that can be helpful in support especially when times seem tough.
A research study conducted by the University of California found that using positive self-affirmations can help create a powerful buffer against emotional and environmental stress.
13. Cut Down on Alcohol
Getting in shape at 50 can be challenging enough without involving alcohol.
It affects your body differently compared to when you’re younger. One of the most noticeable effects of alcohol on your body is weight gain and muscle deterioration.
A good deal of research studies has proved that the consumption of alcohol leads to weight gain.
The University of Navarra conducted one such review whereby the researchers investigated major studies to establish the relationship between body weight and alcohol consumption.
Out of the 31 studies, they found 16 that showed the relationship between weight gain and alcohol consumption.
Alcohol also affects your nutrition, sleep and physical performance. With these three factors impaired, maintaining fitness after 50 can be difficult.
Cutting back on alcohol can help you with weight loss, reclaim more energy, and generally feel better.
Getting fit after 50 sounds like an uphill struggle, but if you take it step by step and use the above tips, you’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll look and feel.
Feeling 30 again doesn’t have to be a dream. So, get off the couch and start getting the stamina, strength and body you went to spend the rest of your days with.