How Women Can Safely Start an Exercise Program Over 50

As the New Year approaches many people make New Year’s resolutions. One very popular resolution is to begin exercising. For women in particular, it can be difficult to battle weight gain with age due in part to hormonal imbalances and the prevalence of estrogen.

There are many reasons that women over 50 should exercise. 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 that are new to exercise can get overwhelmed easily by setting their goals too high, aggressive, and/or unrealistic. 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 benefitting your cardio vascular system. Work up to 20 mins 3-4 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 50’s now and not your 30’s anymore; changes have occurred in your flexibility, strength, bone density, and recovery time. Remember to stay hydrated and to dress for the weather.

Pamela A. Ziegenfus, PT is a physical therapist with OrthoCarolina Huntersville.

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