Was your New Year’s Resolution to finally get in shape? If so, good for you. Even if you’re over 50, you can absolutely still improve your fitness and finally get in shape. And even a tiny improvement in your fitness is extremely helpful. In fact, the benefits of exercise are so extensive, it can actually be considered a preventative medication. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly have fewer occurrences of all kinds of diseases, from cancer to heart disease to arthritis. Exercise can even literally reverse aging.
But if it’s been many years since you’ve exercised and if you’re overweight and out of shape, starting an exercise program when you’re over 50 and out of shape can seem intimidating and fitness activities like jogging, strength training, yoga or even walking long distances can seem scary and just too hard.
But don’t worry! You can still get in shape after 50. Even if you haven’t exercised in year. Other people have done it and you can too. Here are 10 tips to help you get started.
Before beginning any exercise program, particularly after 50, you should always consult your healthcare professional and have a physical examination.
Start Out by First Picking One Area of Fitness on Which to Focus
The ideal exercise program should contain elements to improve your strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health. And if you’re older, you really should be working on your balance as well. Are you already exhausted? Then just pick one area of fitness to focus on at first.
Chances are, there’s a reason you’ve decided to pick up the exercise habit. Was it because you get winded walking to your car after work now? You probably want to start with improving your aerobic fitness. Are your muscles sore after you bring in the groceries? Sounds like strength training is what you want to focus on.
No matter what you choose to focus on when you’re first starting an exercise program to get in shape after 50, you’re really working on one main thing: to make daily exercise a regular habit.
Make Exercise a Daily Habit
If you haven’t exercised in years or if you have never followed an exercise program, the first thing you want to do is to focus on incorporating some form of movement into your routine daily. The goal here is to turn exercise into a habit as ingrained in your psyche as brushing your teeth.
Pick a time that works for you and put it on your calendar. I find that morning works best for me, but some people don’t feel genuinely awake until lunchtime and other people like winding down with a bit of exercise after work.
Whatever time you choose, treat that time as sacred, particularly in the beginning. You might begin with committing to exercising every day for 30 days and rewarding yourself with a treat (some new workout gear?) when you reach your goal.
Remember, at this beginning, you’re really just focusing on creating the habit of exercising! If you haven’t exercised in years, you need to start very slowly, especially if you’ve put on a few pounds over the years. So, before you start training for that 5K, you might want to start walking for 30 minutes every morning until that becomes a habit so ingrained in your schedule that the day feels off when you miss it.
If your goal is to improve your strength, you might want to start working out at home with an easy YouTube video before you decide to join a gym. This Yoga video is an easy way to get started.
Wear a Heart Rate Monitor
Even if you’re starting out with gentle walking, a heart rate monitor is an excellent tool. Find out what your target heart rate should be. (You can calculate it here.) And then use your heart rate monitor to make sure you don’t go over it.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, you may be surprised to find that you reach your target heart rate much quicker than you would imagine. You might think that a reasonable pace to set on the treadmill is 5mph, but if you’re reaching your target heart rate at 3mph, then that’s the right pace for you.
Working out at an intensity that’s too high is one reason why people burn out on exercise and quit. Does this sound familiar? You start out by following an at-home video that says it’s perfect for all fitness levels and try to follow along with the fit instructor. Before the warmup is over, you want to quit, but you gamely try to continue until you finally give up, red-faced, panting, sweaty, and demoralized.
If you had had a heart rate monitor, I guarantee you that you would have seen that your heart rate had risen to dangerous levels almost immediately. When you exercise with a heart rate monitor, you’ll know when to slow down. If you hit your target heart rate purely marching in place, awesome! That’s what you need to be doing.
A heart rate monitor doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get one that works with your smartphone that you wear just during exercise or you can purchase an activity tracker.
Heart Rate Monitors
Be Kind to Yourself
I’ve had multiple injuries that have required me to stop exercising for a time. I’ve also just been lazy and unfocused more times than I can count. So I’ve got more experience than I’d like with starting over or even starting from scratch with an exercise program. It’s disheartening.
However, it turns out that there’s strong science that suggests that self-compassion – the ability to look at our shortcomings with love and understanding – might be the true key to success.
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When you’re just starting out, it’s all too easy to focus on what you can’t do – I can’t even walk around the block, I can’t even do one push-up.
Instead, try focusing on what you are doing: I’m out here walking every. I worked out three days this week.
By focusing on what you are doing, you’ll be focusing on successes that you can continue to build upon.
Have a Plan B
You’re going to get up every morning at 7:00a.m. and walk for 30 minutes around the block. And so you do. Until the fifth day when you wake up and it’s raining.
You’ve been meeting a friend at the gym every evening after work, but she can’t go today and you know it’s silly, but you don’t want to go by yourself.
Something like this will happen to you. It’s inevitable. How will you handle it? You handle it with a Plan B: a plan you’ve created in advance for when life gets in the way of your workout.
Your plan B could be an exercise video that you’ve tried before that you’ll do at home. Or walking around the mall for an hour instead of at the gym. Checking the schedule at the gym to see alternate times for the class you like so much.
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Whatever your Plan B is, you need to have one. Life inevitably gets in the way. With your Plan B, you can just scoot around life and stay on track.
Find Something that Excites You
Once you’re used to the habit of exercising, try to find a goal or program that’s exciting to you. Truly fit people generally have something they really love to do, such as biking, running, swimming, or other sports that keep them enthused and excited.
If you want to focus on improving your cardiovascular health, consider looking into the Couch to 5K Program (or None to Run which is even more beginner-friendly) or check out some of the classes at your gym or in your area (there are so many fun and cool classes to choose from these days)
If you’re interested in starting out with strength training, a few sessions with a personal trainer may be helpful, or you can try some of the many apps and online workouts available these days, such as Fitbod or the Seven Minute Workout.
Remember You’re the Expert on Your Body
When we’re exercising, there’s a tendency to believe that the person leading the class or the person walking you through the exercise is the expert, and we should do everything we are told. But be careful of blindly following instructions if something doesn’t feel right.
I once had a spin class instructor continue to call me out for not standing up on the bike. But every time I tried to stand up, I felt a sharp pain in the arch of my foot. I literally could not stand.
At the end of the class, the truth was revealed. This was my first spin class, and I had worn the wrong shoes. My thin-soled cute sneakers were no match for the bike pedals, and the instructor should have seen this before class. I limped out, muttering a wave of expletives under my breath and wishing I’d had the guts to walk out during the class.
Don’t be like me. If something feels wrong, it is.
Keep a Training Diary
One way to keep focusing on what you are doing and to see just how far you are coming in your training is to keep a training diary.
There are a variety of apps you can use to track your strength training workouts. And if you use an app like MapMyRun, you can go back and view your past runs.
I still like to go old school and track my workouts in the monthly view of my planner so I can see at a glance how much I’ve worked out that month and what type of workouts I’ve done.
If you’re a bullet journal enthusiast, I know you’re rubbing your hands together in delight now just thinking of the beautiful pages you can create to track your workouts.
Just don’t make your tracking system so complicated that you forget how to use it or don’t use it. I’m speaking to myself here. In the end, I find that the simple entry of date/time, what I did, mileage (or time) works best for me.
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The week I did this spread, I color coded my days to see where my time went and check if I was following my “Ideal Summer Day” schedule • Every week, I have a color theme, but I color code using that theme. Usually it goes lighter -> darker (lighter being more work related and darker for relaxing). It’s a system I’m really liking as it’s both practical and visually appealing! • And in case you’re wondering, I did tape my work out tracker onto the right side. You can get this printable on the @passionplanner site! I taped it in over my week, and wrote my exercise and work reflections on the back. It was a good way to keep myself accountable 👍 • Also if you saw my story last night, you’d know that I was bombarding you with my concert vids 😅 we saw Mastodon at the Greek (and left before the headliner :x not fans of Coheed, sorry) and had a blast
Mix Things Up
Once you’ve made exercise a daily habit and found something that really excites you, it’s time to look at your full fitness routine. I learned the hard way that you can’t go out and run 5 days a week without doing any other exercise. Make sure you’re including all the elements: cardiovascular training, resistance training, and flexibility training.
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