50 Ways to Stay Fit After 50
These simple strategies will keep you on top of your game for years to come.
It's never too late to start focusing on yourself. In fact, your 50s are the perfect time to prioritize your fitness. Because now that you're older, working out isn't just about looking better—it's about feeling better and being able to maintain your mobility and health for decades to come. Herein, we've rounded up 50 expert-approved everyday changes that will get—and keep—you fit now and for years down the line.
Rethink your idea of exercise.
Trying to stay fit after 50 can be intimidating if your idea of exercise is only those heart-pounding, high-energy workouts. According to Harvard Medical School, there are many different activities that count as exercise that you probably haven't even thought of. Things like moderate housework (like sweeping and vacuuming), gardening, ballroom dancing, and canoeing also help get your heart rate up and bring on the health benefits.
Go to group fitness classes.
One of the best ways to encourage yourself to work out is to sign up for a group fitness class. Many studios even offer free or discounted trial periods, making it easy to figure out where you feel most comfortable and which types of workouts you enjoy. After you start attending classes regularly, you'll get into a routine—and maybe even make some new friends along the way.
Eat more plant-based meals.
Staying fit means filling your body with wholesome foods that improve your health and wellbeing—and evidence suggests that plant-based sources might be best. One 2019 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that sticking to a plant-based diet can decrease your heart failure risk by more than 40 percent. Another study published in 2019 in The Journal of Nutrition found vegans tend to be healthier than those who follow other diets. So ditch the processed meat and sugar and fill your plate high with fruit, veggies, whole grains, and plant-based protein instead.
Chat with your doctor about your fitness.
Regular doctors appointments benefit your health during every stage of your life, but it's especially important to keep up with them in your 50s. "Be sure to talk about heart health and exercise with your doctor," says Michael James, a trainer at the boxing gym EverybodyFights. "They'll let you know exactly what you can and cannot do based on your current health and any medications you may be on."
Track your steps.
One of the easiest ways to stay fit after 50 is to simply make sure you're moving around enough during the day. Invest in a fitness tracker that tracks your steps and then make it your mission every day to hit your goal. One 2008 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found women over 50 should be walking 10,000 steps a day and men over 50 should be walking 11,000 in order to control their weight and be healthier overall.
Cut back on salt.
It's hard to resist super-salty snacks, but it's time to start practicing a little more self-control. According to the Cleveland Clinic, as you get older, you're more likely to develop high blood pressure due to your changing blood vessels. That puts you at higher risk for everything from a stroke and heart attack to kidney disease and death. To lower your risk of high blood pressure, cut down on salt—especially the high amounts of sodium in processed foods—so you can stay fit and healthy for years to come.
Don't forget to warm up.
Your warm-up is just as important as your workout. According to the National Institute on Aging, it's important to do one before every workout to get your blood flowing and raise your heart rate. This can be as simple as walking on the treadmill, doing some jumping jacks, or going on a quick jog around the block—whatever helps your body loosen up and prepare for exercise.
Don't limit yourself to cardio.
If you hate cardio, that's not the only way to stay fit—not by a long shot. "A majority of my clients who are in their 50s believed that cardio was the only thing they needed to be doing to stay in shape or improve their health," says James. "It wasn't until we added strength training that they truly started to see and feel the benefits of the time they spent in the gym."
According to James, resistance training can help improve your balance, control blood sugar, build bone density, increase your metabolism, and even prevent sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss.
Drink enough water.
Think of water as your body's fuel. If you're not getting enough, how is it supposed to run correctly? The Mayo Clinic says water helps your body control temperature, protect sensitive tissues, lubricate and cushion your joints, and aid in digestion—all things you might need extra help with as you age. For men, that means getting at least 3.7 liters of fluids a day, and for women that means 2.7 liters of fluids a day—more so if you're exercising, since you need to replace lost fluids.
Always focus on form.
As long as you get the exercise done, you're benefiting your health, right? Well, according to the National Federation of Professional Trainers, you're not going to do any good without proper form. If you don't perform exercises correctly, you could be putting yourself at risk of injury that's only going to slow you down. If that means ditching heavy dumbbells for lighter ones so you can perform the movements correctly, that's what needs to be done. You'll build and tone your muscles and be safer in the process.
Start an exercise program.
If you don't already have a solid workout routine, it might be a good idea to kick things off with a structured exercise program—something that will give you a plan of action and outline what to do every day and for how long. That way, you'll stay motivated and have something to push you. By the time the program is over, exercise will become a habit. There are plenty of different online options you can choose from based on your workout of choice, whether that's bodyweight training, dance, yoga, or a variety so you'll never get bored.
Keep a food journal.
Your stomach can't always handle what it used to in your youth. That's why it's important to keep track of what you're eating—at least for awhile. By keeping a food journal, you'll be able to find out which foods make you feel your best, which hurt your stomach, and even how they affect your mood and energy levels. When you have a better idea of what to put on your plate—and what to avoid!—it can improve your workouts, how you feel during the day, and your overall wellbeing.
Have a "why" in mind.
It's hard to stick with anything if your heart isn't in it. Before you begin your journey of staying fit, be sure you know your "why." Maybe it's being around long enough to see your grandkids grow up, or maybe it's wanting to be healthy enough to travel the world after retirement. Whatever the case may be, having a reason behind what you're doing will help you stick with that commitment and keep it a top priority in your life.
Don't push yourself too hard.
If you're still a newbie in the fitness world, don't push yourself too hard too fast. Instead of jumping into an intense routine full-force, start slow and ease your way into an exercise program that works for you. By doing so, you won't just help prevent injuries and burnout, you'll also make exercise something you look forward to—not something you dread.
Don't be afraid to make changes.
If something isn't working in your fitness routine, don't be afraid to make some adjustments. It can be hard to switch things up once you get into a routine, but if it's not helping you reach your goals or you're not enjoying it, changing things up could be the solution to finding what's best for you and your body (yes, even if it means canceling your gym membership and joining a yoga studio instead).
Utilize online workout videos.
While many online fitness programs and subscription services cost money, you can get fit at no cost at all simply by going onto YouTube. There's an endless amount of workout videos that allow you to exercise right in the comfort of your own home, including yoga flows for all levels, high-intensity training sessions, low-impact mat-based workouts, mood-boosting Zumba classes, and more! Basically anything you're interested in, you can find.
Focus on low-impact exercise.
When you're in your 50s, you don't want to do anything that's going to cause injuries or pain. That's why James is a big fan of low-impact exercises. According to Harvard Medical School, they're a great way to ease into an exercise routine—especially if you haven't previously been keeping up with one. Activities like cycling, dancing, Pilates, and tai chi are all great options.
Become a yogi.
Aside from being a gentle way to improve your physical fitness, Harvard Medical School also says it's a great way to improve your sleep, help you lose weight, and improve your mood and happiness levels. The best part is all you need to do it is your body and a mat—no special equipment necessary!
One of the best low-impact exercises to add to your workout routine is Pilates. Despite being a challenging workout, it's also something that's gentle enough to help you recover from injuries, as well as prevent them, says the Cleveland Clinic. Aside from strengthening your muscles, taking classes or doing videos online with proper form can help improve your posture, reduce pain, improve your coordination and balance, and increase your mobility.
Make it enjoyable.
If you hate your workouts, you're not going to stick with them. That's why Kelli Fierras, head trainer at EverybodyFights, says your number one mission should be finding something you really enjoy doing. Your best friends might love running or lifting weights, but if that's not you, switch things up. When you discover something that boosts your endorphins and makes you feel happy, you'll be able to stick with it long-term.
Go for a dip.
One of the most beneficial workouts you can do in your 50s is swimming. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it works your entire body and protects your joints from stress and strain because of how low-impact it is. One 2017 study from national swimming association Swim England also found that swimmers have a 28 percent lower risk of early death. Plus, being in and around the water can help you release built-up stress and tension that can take a toll on your mental health.
Get a workout planner.
It might feel silly having a separate planner just for your workouts, but it could be the key in helping you stay in good shape throughout your life. Every Sunday, jot down exactly how you're going to stay active every day of the week, whether that's following along with an online video, heading to your favorite Pilates class, or going on a hike at a nearby trail. This will help you keep track of what you're doing and make sure you're not skipping out on your routine.
Walk as much as you can.
As you get older, it's easy to get lazier. Instead of walking those two blocks to the store, you decide it's a better idea just to drive. Well, put down those car keys. Every day, make it one of your top priorities to be more active in any way you can. One of the easiest is making sure you're walking whenever possible. Extra bonus: You'll reach your daily step goals in the process.
Connect with nature.
There's no fun in being cooped up in a dreary gym all day. If it's nice out, take time to exercise in the great outdoors a couple of days a week—whether it's going on a walk around your neighborhood or hiking some trails in the woods.
One 2013 study published in the journal Extreme Physiology & Medicine found exercising outdoors can provide a wide range of health benefits, including reducing stress, boosting mood and self-esteem, and better physical fitness. It's a winner all-around.
Use a vibration plate.
If you haven't utilized the vibration plate at your local gym yet, you'll want to start now. According to the Mayo Clinic, this workout-enhancing machine transmits energy to your body as it vibrates, which in turn makes your muscles contract and relax multiple times per second. As little as 15 minutes of body-weight exercises on the plate a day can provide serious benefits.
"It has been shown to increase bone and muscular development in older people," says Dr. Neil Paulvin, D.O., an integrated medicine physician in New York City. In addition, it could also help with weight loss, burning fat, and improving flexibility.
Do weight-bearing exercises
You don't have to go crazy with the weights to work your muscles. All you really need is a pair of small dumbbells and a little dedication. "Engage in weight-bearing exercise at least three times per week," says Paulvin. "This can simply be using some light weights to help maintain muscle and bone."
Try Tai chi.
Tai chi is one of the gentlest forms of exercise you can do, making it a top choice for all ages and fitness levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, the gentle, flowing movements don't just help better your body physically by increasing your muscle strength and definition, flexibility, and balance—it also improves your energy levels and mood, as well as decreases stress, anxiety, and depression.
Improve your gut health.
The muscles and nerves in your digestive tract might not function as well as they used to in your 50s, leading to issues like constipation and diarrhea. To keep feeling your best, start giving your gut what it needs to thrive: probiotic supplements or fermented foods. According to the Mayo Clinic, options like sauerkraut and kombucha can increase the number of good bacteria in your gut, bettering your microbiome overall. You'll have more energy, feel happier, and can push through your workouts and to-do list like a champ.
Stretch your muscles regularly.
Stretching is never at the top of anyone's list of priorities, but it's just as important as working out. "As we age, our flexibility decreases and tight or short muscles make you susceptible to injury and pain (especially with your knees and lower back), so take the time to stretch after any workout," says James. "Any basic static stretch—like a hamstring stretch, for example—should last about 30 seconds."
Work out with a friend.
There's no better motivation than having a fitness friend who keeps you accountable. "Don't make exercise a chore. Find a buddy to make it more enjoyable," Fierras says. Maybe it's someone you met in one of your group fitness classes, a co-worker, or family friend. Whoever it may be, regularly schedule in walks, yoga sessions, or whatever you both enjoy. It's the ultimate double-whammy: time with someone you enjoy being around and getting your sweat on.
Get your protein fix.
Since you naturally lose muscle as you age, getting adequate protein through nutrition is crucial to your health and wellbeing. In addition to exercising regularly, a 2014 study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found getting enough protein every day can help reverse muscle loss. Choose heart-healthy options like lentils and legumes, nuts, quinoa, wild rice, tempeh, and tofu.
Do a weight-loss challenge.
If one of your primary reasons for becoming fit in your 50s is losing weight, Fierras recommends doing a weight-loss challenge so you have something to strive for. There are even ways you can make it more fun, like using DietBet, which lets you win money when you shed pounds. You can also put your goal weight on a dry-erase board and cross off the pounds until you hit it.
Allow time for recovery.
As you get older, exercise can take more of a toll on your body. To make sure you're ready for your workouts, James always recommends taking the time to recover—even if you don't feel like you need to. According to the Mayo Clinic, recovery time is very important in taking full advantage of all the healthy changes that occur in your body after a workout. That means staying hydrated, skipping alcohol, adding carbs and protein to your meals, and getting enough sleep so you can heal and feel your best.
Focus on your sleep.
Sleep isn't just important in recovery—it's important in everything. You might experience more sleep problems as you age—like insomnia or snoring, says the National Sleep Foundation—but getting quality rest is so crucial to your health and staying fit. Try to get between seven and nine hours a night to keep your immune system working properly, help grow muscle and repair tissues, and synthesize your hormones. If you're cutting yourself short in the sleep department, you'll feel it in more ways than one.
Balance heavy workouts with light ones.
Another part of the recovery process is making sure you're balancing intense, sweat-dripping workouts with lighter ones. Instead of constantly doing high-energy workouts that leave you exhausted and sore, the Mayo Clinic says it's best to add some low-impact workouts—like light yoga, a jog, or stretching-based sessions—into your routine as well. You'll feel better physically, have better blood flow, and will help loosen up any muscle tightness you're experiencing.
Find a personal trainer.
If you think you'd do better being guided through your workouts by an expert, try a personal trainer. "It helps you see where your muscle imbalances are and how to correct them," Fierras says. It also ensures you're doing every exercise correctly and developing good form that can strengthen your body.
Work on your posture.
If you've been slacking on good posture over the years, now's the time to start paying more attention to your body alignment. According to the Mayo Clinic, standing up straight helps fight off pain by preventing strain on your joints, muscles, and spine. It can also boost your mood, decrease your risk of injury, and help better your workouts and your ability to strengthen your muscles.
Use resistance bands.
While small dumbbells are a great way to stay fit, Paulvin also recommends doing resistance band-based workouts. "They can help you maintain muscle and bone," he says. It's a gentle way to work every muscle group in your body—especially because the bands come in different strengths, based on your current fitness level. And when you travel, they're easy to pack and take along on your trips.
Take in some vitamin D.
Vitamin D plays a big role in your health, particularly with your bones. The Cleveland Clinic says you might need to increase the amount you're getting as you age to help prevent osteoporosis, breaks, and fractures. While supplements can help keep your levels healthy, doctors also recommend staying active. Since the sun is such a great source, Harvard Medical School says 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms and legs a few times a week can also help keep you healthy.
Start resistance training.
If you haven't added resistance training into your routine—which involves working against your own body weight or using dumbbells and exercise machines—start now. "It will help with balance, muscle loss, and your overall health," Fierras says. Even starting small with a couple of sessions a week will make you feel a difference.
Make time for meditation.
When it comes to staying fit in your 50s, taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body. According to Harvard Medical School, meditating regularly can help decrease anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as help to reduce pain, improve your quality of life, reduce inflammation, and increase your immune response. Basically, it's something that betters you from head to toe that you should be doing every day—even just for 10 minutes.
Don't do anything that hurts.
While some exercises will feel great, others might not. "If what you're doing hurts, stop immediately," James says—even if you're in a class surrounded by other people. Instead of sticking with something painful just because you feel like you have to, always go with the exercises that make your body feel good. Otherwise, that could result in an injury that sets you back from reaching your goals.
Improve your mobility.
Speaking of injuries, one way Fierras recommends staying ahead of them is working on improving your mobility—meaning your ability to move freely and easily. "This will not only help your flexibility but also your neurological strength to do a movement correctly, which creates a strong body," she explains. There are plenty of different ways you can do so, like through hip openers and neck half circles. It all depends on which areas you need to work on.
Limit your alcohol intake.
You might like having a drink every now and then, but don't make it a regular occurrence. As you get older, your body's tolerance for alcohol lowers. According to the National Institutes of Health, that makes you feel its effects more quickly and puts you at a greater risk for accidents and injuries. Drinking can also cause increased health problems. To make sure you're feeling your best throughout your 50s and beyond, stick to mostly water, tea, and other healthy fluids instead.
Zone in on your back muscles.
As you age, it's important to keep your back strong. The Mayo Clinic recommends dedicating 15 minutes a day to a handful of exercises that can help prevent any issues from occurring in your back, including knee-to-chest stretches, bridges, and the cat stretch.
Focus on the small things.
Don't just focus on reaching those huge goals in your fitness journey. One way to enjoy the ride is to focus on the smaller achievements along the way, too. "No matter whether it's doing a 5K or doing 10 push-ups with no rest, give yourself something to work toward," James says. These accomplishments might feel tiny in the moment, but they're bettering your health in a big way.
Find a good playlist.
Working out in silence isn't fun for anyone. If you want to make every workout fly by—and enjoy every second you're sweating it out!—Fierras recommends focusing on your playlist. "Always listen to your favorite music while working out," she says. It makes a huge difference in your mood, and when you're feeling happy and positive, your workouts will go better, too.
Try cold laser therapy.
If you find that it takes you quite a while to recover from exercise, one thing that might help is using cold laser therapy, which Berkeley Wellness says uses low-level light energy to help with aches and pains. "People who exercise or continue to play sports in their 50s can maintain strength and stamina. The challenge is that it takes much longer for their bodies to recover," says Dr. Marsha Dirks Prada, D.C., a chiropractic specialist and co-owner of Denver Sports Recovery. "Whole-body cold laser therapy, such as Prism Light Pod, can help accelerate recovery four to 10 times faster."
Try red light therapy.
Red light therapy is known for helping with everything from clearer skin and less wrinkles to improved hair growth. One thing people don't realize is that it's also great for staying fit in your older years. "Red light therapy has been shown to stimulate bone growth, increase testosterone in men, and help maintain your thyroid," says Paulvin. "This should be done three to five times per week."
Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Staying fit can be intimidating—especially since there are so many types of workouts and exercises to choose from. That's why James says you should never be afraid to call back-up. "Find a fitness professional you trust. Trainers that specialize in corrective exercise and functional movement typically will have a lot of experience with 50-or-older clientele," he says. And for more ways to improve your health, check out the 50 Questions You Should Always Ask Your Doctor After 50.
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