Busy lives, kids, grandchildren, work and other commitments often means we put ourselves last. Life’s chaos means that sometimes on our list of priorities, exercise is not top of mind, if it’s even there at all. But as we age, there are more reasons than ever to work out, and our lives can literally depend on it. By age 50, many of us are battling weight gain due in part to hormonal imbalances and declining levels of estrogen brought on by perimenopause and menopause.
Exercise is an anti-aging remedy. It will keep you fit and toned, and it improves mental health and improves mood. It can help with symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, sleeping problems, joint pain, and lowers your risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
People who are new to exercise can get overwhelmed easily by setting their goals too high, too aggressive, and/or unrealistic. To get started, you should set a goal that requires 20-30 minutes of your time three days a week. Types of exercise include strengthening, stretching, aerobics, and balance; you should incorporate these into activities that you enjoy. Exercise doesn’t always have to be rigorous; you may find delight in walking the dog, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away from the door at the store and walking briskly whenever you can.
Aerobic exercise: Some examples are walking, jogging, swimming, and dance. Aerobic exercise works on the larger muscle groups benefiting your cardiovascular system. Work up to 20 minutes three to four times a week. While doing aerobic exercise practice the “talk test”, working out at a pace where you can carry on a conversation.
Stretching: Stretching improves flexibility and helps avoid injures and muscle soreness, and aids in maintaining posture. Examples are yoga and Pilates.
Balance: Yoga and Pilates not only help strengthen your core muscles but also help improve balance. When your core muscles are strong your balance is improved, which is important to help decrease falls that can lead to other injuries.
Strength training: Lifting hand weights and exercises using your body weight will help improve your muscle strength, posture, maintain bone strength, reduce back injuries and tone your body.
Some notes on exercises for females over 50 to avoid:
- The leg extension machine, which targets your quadriceps muscles in the front of your thigh, but can put abnormal stress on the knee cap area and cause knee pain;
- Pull downs behind your head which target your back and biceps, but can put abnormal stresses on the front of your shoulder (a better position is to pull down to the front of your chest);
- Plyometric exercises or “jump training” with explosive movements such as box jumps and other Cross-Fit exercises. These can put too much stress on your joints and can be dangerous if not performed correctly;
- Avoid heavy weights. Use a weight that you can complete 7-10 reps with the last two reps being challenging.
Exercise needs to be part of your daily routine over the age of 50. It is important to exercise and remember to choose an activity that you like and something that you can keep up with comfortably; find activities that you enjoy so that you will stay committed. Keep at it consistently for 21 days to make it part of your daily routine. Remember, you are in your 50s now and not your 30s anymore; changes have occurred in your flexibility, strength, bone density, and recovery time.
And as always, remember to stay hydrated and to dress for the weather.
Pamela A. Ziegenfus, PT is a physical therapist with OrthoCarolina Huntersville.