Fitness Over 50: 8 Tips From a Physical Therapist
Updated: Aug 9
Are you over 50? Just because you have achieved that milestone of breaching half a century doesn’t mean you can’t stay fit.
Fitness becomes more complicated as we get older for a variety of reasons. We are more prone to injury, our bodies feel different, our goals are different, and many people think they are too out of shape to start working out again.
The exercise routine that you formed in your 20s or 30s probably doesn’t make sense anymore, so let’s dive into some things you need to consider when it comes to getting fit and staying fit when you’re over 50.
Here are eight tips from a physical therapist, designed to help people over the age of 50 stay in shape safely. Fitness over 50? You've got this!
Improve Your Balance
Balance declines as we age which can lead to falls and injuries. If you don’t make a conscious effort to improve your balance as you get older, it will decline, and things you used to do easily will become dangerous.
Fight the decline with simple balance exercises:
Stand on one leg
Walk on your tiptoes
Hold one leg in tree pose while doing everyday activities like brushing your teeth or watching TV
These exercises take little effort and don’t require you to set aside a chunk of time, but they can make all the difference for your balance skills.
Read our other blog on dynamic balance exercises for more examples!
Perform Dynamic and Static Stretches
Dynamic and static stretches, aka warm-ups before a workout and cool-downs after, remain key to avoiding soreness and injury. Before a workout, you need to get your blood pumping and your body warm through dynamic stretches. A good warm-up loosens your joints which minimizes the stress on your joints and tendons. It also eases your cardiovascular system into higher-intensity movements by increasing the blood flow to your muscles which will help reduce soreness.
Stretching after a workout is essential for everyone, but it is especially important as we get older. Our range of movement deteriorates as we age, and stretching after a workout is a great way to boost your flexibility. Flexibility reduces your risk of muscle injury while working out and also improves posture and balance.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
This one is pretty obvious. Food is the fuel that enables your body to accomplish everything you do. Eating well can help you avoid specific health issues that could interrupt your fitness routine.
Most people have general knowledge of which foods are considered healthy and which ones are not. Still, there are a few healthy foods that you might want to double up on because of the specific benefits they offer.
Heart health is one major area of concern as we get older. Leafy greens such as spinach and kale, berries, whole grains, and fish are just a few examples of foods that promote heart health.
Joint pain is another health issue that holds people back from maintaining their physical fitness as they age. Adding fish that contains Omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, and seeds to your diet will help reduce inflammation. Garlic, ginger, and turmeric also combat inflammation and can be used to treat arthritis symptoms.
Lastly, it’s a good rule of thumb to build your diet around whole and natural foods and to avoid processed food (although a bit of junk food is fine in moderation). Processed foods are often high in salt and refined grains which lead to inflammation and joint pain.
Strengthen Your Core
A strong core is a good fitness goal at any age, but it is especially beneficial for people over 50. Chronic back pain and neck pain are more common in older people, and a strong core promotes good posture, which is often a solution for the pain.
A strong core also improves your balance which makes activities such as weight-lifting, yoga, and pilates that require stability much safer.
Just Get Moving!
The worst thing you can do is give up exercising altogether because you can’t perform as you did in your 20s. Your exercise routine probably might not be as high intensity, and you might not be in the same shape, but exercising is just as important if not more when you’re 50 and older.
Make an effort to do something every day because "You don’t get stiff because you get old, you get old because you get stiff." Whether you do an hour-long workout or go on a mile-long walk, the most important thing is that you are doing something. If you are thinking about trying to get back in shape after a long period of not exercising, just start. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Start small, let your body adjust, and gradually increase the difficulty of your routine. If you’re unsure where to begin or would like some help getting started, Rehab United has a fitness brand, Fit Societe, which is extremely beneficial for those transitioning out of physical therapy. Fit Societe utilizes the same principles of Applied Functional Science in workout programs to promote natural movements while reducing the risk of injury.
Focus on Building Muscle
The average man loses 3-5% of their muscle mass each decade after 30. Muscle loss negatively impacts balance, and muscle loss is a natural part of aging.
Still, you aren’t helpless. You can slow it down by committing to two things:
1) Lifting weights
2) Consuming enough protein
According to Harvard University, you should try to consume 7 grams of protein for every 20 lbs of body weight when you are trying to build muscle. High-protein foods include meat, fish, dairy, nuts, and beans.
Switch up your Cardio Routine
Cardiovascular exercise is so important for people over 50 because it supports heart health. It reduces the risk of heart disease and can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Fitness over 50 is about listening to your body and developing a sustainable workout routine; what worked for you in your 20s and 30s might no longer be an option.
Runners in particular often experience joint pain as they age, instead of pushing through the pain, just try something else. You don’t need to cut running out altogether if it’s something that you love, just substitute in some other types of cardio to give your joints a rest. Try low-impact exercises such as swimming or cycling. You will still get the health benefits of doing cardio without experiencing pain.
Seek The Help of A Professional
The final and most important tip that we can offer you is to seek the help of a professional. Practicing safe and effective fitness is more complicated for people over 50. A certified personal trainer can help guide you and ensure that you are making progress without putting yourself in danger. Additionally, it is crucial to address any pain you may have by consulting a physical therapist because fighting through pain could be putting you at risk for a much more severe injury.
As a physical therapist, I encourage you to put some time into your physical fitness routine, educate yourself, try new types of exercise, find out what you like, and don’t give up. Working out doesn’t have to be something you dread. It should be something you look forward to. It’s often difficult at the beginning or in times of change, but you will be grateful to yourself when you feel and see positive changes in your body.
I hope these tips and expert advice inspire you to reflect on where you are and start working towards a healthier future. Life doesn’t stop at 50 – you’re just getting started!
Have an Injury Holding You Back?
Don’t let that old injury phase you, either. If you need a helping hand to get back on your feet, or if your chronic pain has stopped you from enjoying an active lifestyle, then we can assist in reclaiming the life you deserve – free from pain, a dependency on painkillers, and chronic discomfort. Request a physical therapy evaluation today!
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Kelly Vanhove, PT, DPT, FAFS, ATC is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, and Director of the Seattle Rehab United Clinic. With over 14 years of experience in outpatient physical therapy as well as being a Fellow of Applied Functional Science, he possesses valuable knowledge of all functional techniques of assessment, rehabilitation, training and conditioning, performance, and prevention.