We all know that an active body is a healthy body. This is particularly true the you reach your 40s and 50s because that is when inactivity really starts to have a negative effect on your health and fitness.
The key to staying active is to make sure the activity you participate in is one that suits your lifestyle, available time, capabilities and you find fun to do.
So what are best exercises for people over 50? What types of activity are going to keep you trim and fit? Here are 10 options that we love and you should consider.
#1 – Walking
No, not walking from your house to your car or from your desk to the photocopier – Walking as an intentional activity. Walking is so easy and so accessible, it seems incredible that it’s so good for you.
Walking as an exercise improves cardiovascular fitness, strengthens your bones, tones your muscles, increases energy levels, balance and coordination – The benefits from such a basic activity are amazing!
Including active walking in your routine is fairly easy. You don’t need to go the gym and you don’t really need any special equipment. You do need to make a little bit of time and perhaps modify some habits, such as taking the car to the store.
Typically around 30 minutes of purposeful walking each day should be enough to give you the benefits. You can use a pedometer, smartwatch or even your smartphone to measure your steps, which is a good way to track your progress.
#2 – Yoga
Yoga is a hugely popular activity with people of all ages, and with very good reason. However, if you are in your 50s, it might well be the ideal activity to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
In addition to the psychological benefits such as general relaxation, increased mental clarity and a reduction in stress levels, you can expect to get from a range of physical benefits. Improved flexibility, an increase in energy and better respiratory function seem obvious, but add to that an increase in muscle and bone strength, protect from injury and improved cardio vascular function.
Again, building this into your routine is easy. There are seemingly limitless resources available to practice yoga in the convenience of your own home, but you can also join groups who practice, which allows you the additional benefit of some social interaction.
#3 – Swimming
Often called the best and most complete fitness activity, swimming is considered to be a full body workout exercise.
In common with many other exercise classes, swimming tones and strengthens muscle, improved respiratory and cardiovascular performance and helps control or reduce weight.
However, the big advantage of swimming over many other activities is the relatively low impact it has on your joints and bones. This is particularly important if you are returning to exercise in your 40s and 50s and trying to avoid injury.
If you are lucky enough to have a pool at hope, adding swimming to your routine should be easy! Having to go to a local pool can be a little off-putting at first, but the thing with activity is, the more it becomes habitual the lower the effort required to sustain it.
#4 – Cycling
You never forget how to ride a bike! Cycling is an activity that ranges from a simple leisurely fair-weather ride to a serious sport for road-racers or mountain bike enthusiasts. While I am firmly in the first category, of all the activities in this list, this is the one that suits me the best.
Clearly cycling does a great deal to increase your overall fitness and strength. However, It has variability in terms of the level of strain the body is under (up hill) and built in rest periods (flats/down hill), which is the perfect recipe for cardiovascular training.
For me at least, the combination of being outdoors, the opportunity to go biking with friends and the variety of scenery and physical challenge mean that I barely recognise it as exercise.
Granted, it is a little harder to build seamlessly into a busy schedule, so I recommend using it as supplementary form of activity, perhaps one best reserved for the weekend.
#5 – Dancing
If you just imagined a group of fragile looking grey haired people slowly swaying in a brightly lite ballroom, well yes, it could be that. But it could also be a group of active energetic people just like you taking a salsa class.
The spectrum is pretty broad and different genres will suit different people with differing physical ability. The point to make here is that dancing is a great example of exercising without exercising. It has all of the physical benefits of other activities, with a social component turned up to max!
Engaging in this activity most likely requires that you find, sign up for and actually attend a dance class or organised event. If that idea doesn’t fill you with dread, dancing could be for you!
#6 – Strength training
Strength training is a fantastic activity to manage weight and improve your fitness level. It offers a whole host of benefits and is something that both men and women are more and more comfortable with. It is also perhaps the key activity to include in your exercise program if you are a man in your 50s who wants to retain strength later in life.
Strength training is not limited to workouts in the gym – Sure, that is an option, but not everyone like that particular environment. Strength training for people in their 50s can include exercise with free weights, exercise with machines or bodyweight exercises.
My personal preference and the option that helped me attain my goals was Calisthenics. It’s a set of exercises that primarily uses body-weight and slow movements to put load on targeted muscle groups.
As well as requiring almost no equipment, calisthenics allows for progression modifications to the exercises (beginner to advanced). I practiced at home for several months before venturing out to an outdoor calisthenics gym.
#7 – Pilates
Pilates consists of a set of mind-body exercises and is widely practiced around the world. It is similar to yoga in some ways, but focuses on strengthening the body’s core.
Pilates offers many of the benefits that can be obtained from regular yoga practice. However, it is not as intensive as some typical “cardio” exercises like walking, or swimming and as such is perhaps not as effective as a program for weight management. Nevertheless, it is likely to be a good starting point if you have been inactive for a while are looking to kick-start your journey.
Making it part of your activity plan is fairly easy. There are many pilates groups who meet regularly so finding one local to you should be straightforward.
#8 – Tai Chi
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that is renown for its physical and mental health benefits. It is perhaps most often recognised as an activity that requires the practitioner perform a choreographed series of movement in a specific routine.
In terms of the health benefits, the practice of Tai Chi is believed to reduce blood pressure, improve strength and flexibility and have a positive effect on balance and cardiovascular fitness. Perhaps equally important is the psychological benefits with practitioners reporting improved mood and a reduction in stress.
Tai Chi is a great option for people who already have some physical constraints, either due to older age of as a result of disease of recover from injury.
While it can be learned at home and incorporated into a regular routine, as you progress it can become more challenging, and in fact is perhaps more intense that yoga due in part to its origin as a form of self defence.
#9 – Group fitness classes
Fitness classes are the classic way to combine some form of exercise with an amount of social mixing. There are a fairly broad range of classes from the ones mentioned like yoga or pilates to aerobics or spinning classes.
Joining a class can help meet your goals by increasing the likelihood that you’ll make the activity a part of your routine and go back again and again. It’s worth reiterating that consistency over a period of time is the key.
They are not for everyone, but if you are more of a social animal, it might be the thing you need, with the increase in activity and resulting health benefits becoming a secondary, but welcome benefit.
#10 – Golf
The list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of golf! It is somehow synonymous with men and women of a certain age who have some free time and a passion for some civilised sporting endeavours.
Any why not! The benefits are extensive and include an improvement in general well-being, the promotion of weight loss, an increase in mental clarity and focus and much more. With a round of 18 holes stretch between 3 and 5 miles, the walking alone offers really positive health benefits.
Golf clubs can also be great places to socialise, which has been shown to provide protective effects for the the body and mind.
Working a game of golf into your routine, can be more difficult requiring some scheduling, travel and organisation, but the equipment required need not be prohibitively expensive.
The best exercises for people over 50 are many and varied. The question of whether you need to include your activities in a busy schedule or want to ensure its something you can do at home is for you to answer.
As mentioned already, the benefits come with regular and consistent activity over time and its often best to start slowly and build up your activity levels, particularly if you have been inactive for any period of time.
In order to be consistent, it’s important to choose an activity that suits you and your goals – Something you will be happy to do rather than something you will enjoy only when its over. In that respect, it’s perhaps best to pursue more than one active pursuit to provide some variety that maintains your interest.
Whatever you choose, you need to make a start. The benefits are too good to miss out on.