Whether you’re looking to improve your strength, mobility or cardiovascular health in your 50s, these are the workouts to add to your fitness routine
They say age is just a number – and never more so when it comes to exercising and being physically active in midlife. In fact, entering your sixth decade might well be the period where you’re fitter than ever. "The days of 'over 50s workouts' are – or certainly should be – over," declares personal trainer Julia Buckley. "Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for people in their 50s to exceed the average 30-year-old in fitness, strength and mobility," she adds, citing greater self-awareness as the key. "[People over 50] have come to know themselves better, they know what they want and are more likely to stick to something – this can more than offset the challenge of physical results not coming as easily."
That said, certain concerns, such as tackling reduced muscle mass, which tends to decline with age, and avoiding injury are well worth addressing for peace of mind when it comes to creating your exercise regime. Cardiovascular health could also be a key focus. "With cardio, often people [over 50] notice they can’t do as much and get breathless more easily," says Julia, which is why integrating activities like brisk walking is key alongside other activities to keep cardiovascular health in check. Finally, this is a time to focus on mobility. "If you haven't been taking care of your mobility, you might well find this starts to catch up with you as you reach your 50s," says Julia.
How to get in shape in your 50s
"An all-round approach is best for any age," says Julia. The ideal fitness routine will integrate a mixture of different exercise forms, combining weight and resistance training to help build muscle, with aerobic exercise to address different physical concerns.
And Julia stresses two golden rules when it comes to getting in shape: "One, make sure your eating choices are in line with getting the body to use stored energy from fat. Two, do exercise that causes the body to use up a lot of energy. HIIT and strength training are good choices."
How many times a week should someone in their 50s work out?
"There is no prescriptive number of times you should exercise per week". says Julia. Instead, it’s about making sure you stay consistently physically active with a varied regime that takes in strength training, such as lifting weights and using resistance bands, and cardio, such as running and swimming.
Exercising during the menopause
Change is hard, and it can be difficult to maintain – or establish – an exercise routine while you and your body are adjusting to the menopause. "Be ready for some days to be more challenging than others and don’t beat yourself up over these natural waves," Julia advises. "It’s common to find progress, in terms of fitness and strength gains, is harder to earn with these hormonal changes, but we can still make great changes." The positive side is that the challenge of exercising through the menopause might encourage us to look at ourselves in a way we might not have before – by focusing on the physical, our awareness of what our bodies are capable of is heightened. "It’s a good time of life to reassess and get back in tune with our bodies," says Julia.
How to reduce likelihood of injury
While we’re at risk of injury at any age, underlying problems may flare up more as we get older, heightening the risk of something going wrong. "If a person has been moving poorly or has had poor posture throughout life, it can be the case that in their 50s, the body starts to feel the results of the extra wear and tear that can cause," says Julia.
Once again, acknowledging this challenge may put you in a better position to avoid problems. First off, always warm up by stretching. "For avoiding injury, be aware of posture and how you’re moving when exercising and make sure you know how to perform the exercise safely," advises Julia. "You might also want to invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer, in order to give you cues while you’re exercising. Try using a full-length mirror if you’re working alone to check that your posture and movements are correct."
The best exercises to try in your 50s
For cardio purposes and staying physically active, it’s whatever appeals to you that helps get your heart rate up, such as swimming, cycling, running or brisk walking. "Nothing is off limits," says Julia.
For strength training, Julia highly recommends "compound exercises that activate muscles across the whole body". Try press-ups, which work the arms, chest and core. You can do the full version – on the balls of your feet, legs extended straight, or, if you’re struggling, Julia suggests modifying it by doing this move with your knees down.
Other key moves include a combination of lunges and bicep curls, which work your legs, bum, core and arms. When it comes to lunges, "don’t let the front knee come further forward than your toes," advises Julia. "Make sure your body is moving up and down as you lunge, not forward and back, and try to avoid leaning forward. Ideally, your shoulders should be pointed upwards through the entire movement."
Upper arms & stomach
As for toning the upper arms, try bicep curls for the muscle on the front of the upper arm and tricep dips for the back of the upper arms. For the bicep curls, Julia advises that you don’t let your arms swing forward and back or flap out to the sides, and to keep the upper arms tucked in next to the sides of your rib cage and your elbows under your shoulders.
For dips, she recommends: "Do these either with knees bent (easier) and feet flat on the floor or legs extended straight on the backs of your heels (harder). Be careful not to hunch your shoulders and don’t dip any lower than the point where your shoulders are level with your elbows."
For stomach exercises, Julia recommends planks, hollow scissors, cross crunches and Russian twists. "The plank can be done on your palms or elbows, just make sure your wrists/elbows are directly below your shoulders, pull your belly in and squeeze your glutes [bum muscles] as you hold," she adds.
A word on free weights vs body weights…
While some might be tempted to load up with larger weights to counteract declining muscle mass, Julia says it’s dependent on the exercise. "For instance, bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and pistol squares are calisthenic (ie using bodyweight) exercises, which don’t require loading weight to make them effective," she says. However, one thing to bear in mind when weight training is to challenge yourself. "Go heavier once you’ve adapted – that’s how we make progress and get stronger." If you’re working out at home instead of the gym, try the Primal Strength Premium Home Dumbbell Pair, from £8.99, which comes in 1kg, 2kg and 3kg.
A final word on technique from Julia: "Always be mindful of proper form, including when lifting your weights off the floor to start the exercise and putting them down after. Keep your back straight, core muscles activated, bend your knees and press your hips back out behind you."
Feeling inspired? Try Julia’s Tyger #1 Strength Workout, which incorporates a range of weight training, squats and lifts to help build muscle and get your heart rate up.