The secret to fitness for women after 50 may not be what you think. Fitness professionals say as we age it’s important to adapt the high-intensity, Jane Fonda-esque workouts we might have enjoyed in our 20s and 30s. While staying in shape is critical to warding off diseases like heart disease, responsible for 1 in 4 deaths in the United States, workouts we relied on to do that might not be good long term. Instead, many new workouts have evolved into a mix of aerobic and strength training that allow you to work out for many more years to come. 

Advice for Women’s Fitness After 50 

We talked to two of our regular contributors who are fitness professional and have lived through the era dominated by pure high-intensity aerobic classes. We asked them why and how they’re changing their approach to fitness. 

Andrea Metcalf, a  certified personal trainer, TV personality and  author, who runs Studios Fuse in Chicago, explains how the aging process has affected her personally and professionally. “The body is so complex even though we all have the same number of bones and muscles,” she says. “It’s different working out when you’re in your twenties and thirties versus forties, fifties and sixties. Balance, core control and stabilization become more and more important when you age due to changes in hormones. In your twenties and thirties, you still have hormones that help your body stay fit like HgH (Human Growth hormone). But as you age these hormones decrease, testosterone and progesterone decrease as well making it harder to keep lean muscle without a change in diet and movement.”

Andrea Metcalf: As we age a lack of hormones makes it “harder to keep lean muscle without a change in diet and movement.”

Good diet early on can help 

Maintaining a good diet early on can help you maintain your strength and physical fitness later in life, Metcalf says. “What’s important is that when you are younger, you eat healthy so that you have good stores and habits for taking in the minerals and antioxidants your body needs to slow the aging process. That good diet coupled with movement can keep you looking, living and feeling your best.”

Yes, a steady diet of wholesome foods throughout your life can help your overall fitness after 50.

Yoga and Pilates to the rescue

Exercises such as yoga or Pilates are both slower moving exercises that focus on breath and alignment. Although there’s nothing like a good cardio sweat for most people, slowing down and working on balancing out muscle groups to improve flexibility feels good and helps with daily activities, Metcalf says. “Yoga and Pilates are not just ‘fancy stretching’ — They help build strength, focus and stamina as well. For me personally, I love the connection to “feel” the movements and tune into listening to my body. Metcalf has written about many stories for Smart Lifebites about the importance of stretching and regular workouts. 

Not just fancy stretching. Exercises such as planks are powerful exercises that strengthen your core muscles.

Mixing in “recovery” workouts with high-intensity

Minneapolis-based Chris Freytag is a certified personal trainer, TV personality, author and motivational speaker, as well as founder of Get Healthy U. She says the message is definitely not to discard cardio (her favorite at the moment is kickboxing) but to change the ratio of cardio to strength and recovery. “Being in my 50s, I’m definitely more aware of recovery,” she told Smart Lifebites when we interviewed her earlier this year.  “I still love high-impact workouts, but I’m aware of adding in more low impact. My workouts have changed from 20 years ago when there wasn’t cardio and strength  together.  Now group classes are very strength-oriented. For instance, 20 years ago at LifeTime, there were only 5 lbs and 8 lbs. weights in classes, now there’s 15 lbs.,  and more in classes.”

Chris Freytag: The Secret to lifelong health: “It’s about Consistency.”

Make it a habit 

Freytag stresses that people striving for perfection in workout routines will only let themselves down.  “Allow yourself the grace to miss some workouts,” she said. “It’s about the consistency of working out over the course of a year and if you make it a habit, then falling off the horse is not going to be as overwhelming to get back into a routine.” 

Here are three areas to focus on:

Aerobic exercise: walking, jogging, swimming and cycling are all good sources of aerobic workout. Aim for 20 minutes or more per session for 3 or 4 days a week. 

Strength training: Want to avoid a future back injury? Get lifting Start with 5 lb. to 8 lb. hand weights and start with simple movements for 8 repetitions on each side. These simple lifting exercises can aid posture, maintain bone strength and ward off potential back injuries. 

Stretching: These simple exercises help one stay flexible and keep your range of motion and balance. They can also help minimize potential injuries. Yoga and Pilates are considered good forms of stretching exercise, which build your core body muscles. 

Track your steps:

If you are a competitive person, invest in an Apple watch, Fitbit or other app that tracks your progress everyday. The important thing to remember is that no matter what your age, you can benefit from this approach to fitness. Mix it up, treat your body well and hopefully you will be able to stay active for years to come.  

-Patty Yeager 

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