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Being in your 50s is not like it used to be—just look at super-fit celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry and Jennifer Aniston. These women didn’t get fit by phoning it in with their exercise routines.
Experts stress that it’s crucial for all women, including those over 50, to exercise regularly. “It should not be understated that all women over 50 most definitely need to exercise,” Dr. Beth Froese, a sports medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, tells Yahoo Life. “Major body changes are happening as a woman ventures into menopause and beyond.”
But, while turning a certain age doesn’t mean you have to dramatically alter your workout routine, there are some considerations to keep in mind with exercise if you’re over 50. “Cardiovascular exercises like walking or cycling are important to maintain a healthy heart and lungs as we age, and women over 50 should also strive to incorporate muscle-building strength-training activities,” Dr. Natasha Trentacosta, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, tells Yahoo Life.
Strength training helps build muscle mass and strength, along with increasing bone density, which is important as you age, says Trentacosta. “This helps keep women stronger and prevents injury,” she adds.
In general, women over 50 should strive to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week, per the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. “I would recommend three days a week of resistance training, as well as aerobic exercise,” Dr. Jessalynn Adam, MD, an orthopedist with Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. Adding in a few days of yoga and tai chi for stretching, strengthening and balance can also be helpful, she says.
Overall, though, it’s important to have a lot of different types of exercise in the mix, Alexa Rohach, a physical therapist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s Performance Therapy in Santa Monica, California, tells Yahoo Life. “Resistance training, aerobic exercise and exercises that work on balance are all important,” she says. “But resistance training can give you the most bang for your buck—it helps with endurance and increases muscle strength.”
Of course, every woman is different and individual preferences come into play when choosing a workout routine. But, in general, experts say there are a few exercises that are best for women who are 50 and up. Try these, and snag a few items to help elevate your at-home workouts.
Planks help strengthen your core, which is important for good posture and reducing your risk of developing back issues, says Adam. A Bosu ball can improve your core stability, she says. You can hold onto the ball, either round- or flat-side down while you plank.
A thick yoga mat is great while you plank (or do any kind of floor exercise), Froese says. “A thick yoga mat is an essential tool for floor exercise in women of most ages, but especially above 50,” she says. “This allows for more comfortable exercise, which helps keep it up.”
Lunges work the muscles in your lower body, like your quads, glutes and hamstrings, and adding a medicine ball to the mix can help with strength and balance, Trentacosta says. “Simply holding the added weight of the ball can provide similar benefits to handheld weights,” she says. “Incorporating a trunk twist can work on toning the abdominal and upper extremity muscles, and also the stabilizing muscles as you create an unsteady environment during the movement.”
Walking on its own is a fantastic form of exercise, but adding ankle weights helps ramp things up a bit. “Ankle weights allow for increased resistive forces while walking,” Froese says. “This is an easy way to burn more calories and increase strengthening in the lower extremities.” Walking with ankle weights may even help build up bone density, Froese says.
Yoga is ideal for general movement, stretching and building up strength, Rohach says. The tools you’ll want depend on your individual needs, but Trentacosta says that foam blocks can be helpful. “Foam blocks make certain movements and poses more comfortable for the aging body,” she says. “Using them for support around the hips and knees during certain knee flexion routines can help relieve stress across the knee joint. Leaning on a block for support during unsteady movements lets you maintain poses for longer in order to reap the full benefits of yoga.” The modifications that a foam block allows can “help make yoga less intimidating and more accessible,” Trentacosta says.
Doing resistance training with low-weight dumbbells “gives you a lot of options with resistance training,” Rohach says. “You don’t need anything over 10 pounds,” she adds. She recommends using them for squats, upper body presses and bicep curls. “Any weight-bearing, resistance-type workout will help to strengthen the bones,” Adam says. “Bearing the load is going to help prevent a loss of bone density as you age.”
Stretching is often an afterthought, but Froese says it shouldn’t be. “Stretching translates to better flexibility, which can impact life quality,” she says. “As we age, flexibility and agility must be ‘earned.’” She recommends stretching all parts of your body, including large muscle groups. One tool that can help, per Adam, is a stretching strap—it’s especially great for working hard-to-reach areas, like hamstrings.
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