Myth: People over 50 years of age should not exercise anymore.


People over 50 years should exercise.

Elderly Walking
Elderly Walking

Regardless of age, exercise is a key part of maintaining and improving your fitness and health.  A 50- or 60-year-old body isn’t the same as a 20-year-old, but exercise can benefit everyone.  Exercise is key to lowering stress, improving sleep, improving memory, and reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.  Exercise helps stop, delay, and sometimes improve serious chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, depression, diabetes type 2, heart disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and stroke (just to name a few).  Despite this, you should take a little extra care and start slow when adding exercise if you are over 50 in order to avoid possible injury.  I recommend that you consult a medical provider before starting an exercise program.

Bone density and muscle mass drop rapidly after 50 so you will lose bone density and muscle mass as you get older.  The loss of muscle mass will make you more feeble and lower your metabolism.  It is one of the reasons you gain fat as you age.   Exercise after 50 is truly a “use it or loses it” situation.  The best thing about exercise is that it can help you rebuild the muscle you have lost and reduce the bone loss through osteoporosis.  As you build more, the added muscle will burn additional calories that fat would not.  This effect occurs even when you are not actively using them.  The gained muscle can help offset your age-related slowing metabolism.   

No matter how active you are, if you are making a change to increase your exercise, start slow.  Starting slow is essential if you haven’t been exercising for a while or when you’re starting some new activity that your body isn’t accustomed to.   Young or old, everyone needs different kinds of exercise to maintain fitness.  The types of exercise include aerobic exercise, resistance to weight training, flexibility or stretching, and balance training.  All are important, but the importance of flexibility and balance training increase with age.  They will help you prevent injury.  

I recommend lower-impact exercises.  Lower-impact exercises have less jumping and pounding and have less “impact” on your joints.  As we age, our joints naturally begin to break down, and there is no reason to increase that wear and tear with increased impact.  I suggest a mixture of biking, rowing, swimming, and walking over running or jogging for this very reason.  Pick exercises you enjoy, and this will help keep you motivated.  

Warming up before a workout increases circulation and lowers your risk of injury.  I usually like to start and end with a few minutes of stretching.  I recommend you slowly work up to at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity a week, spread over 3-5 days, and a little stretching every day.  Stretching can help prevent injury.  If you perform a weight-bearing exercise, it will increase your balance also.  Add 2-30 minutes of resistance training 2-3 days a week.  Usually, the more you exercise, the more benefit you get, and some exercise is better than no exercise, but you need to listen to your body.  More is not always better, so if you have balance problems, breathing problemschest pain, dizziness, fainting during exercise, lightheadedness, nausea, and palpitations,  stop exercising and discuss these symptoms with a medical professional.  

The bottom line: Exercise is simple and effective.  People above 50 can easily exercise.  Exercise can mean walking, biking, or swimming.  It can help your level of fitness and health by building your stamina, strengthening lower body muscles, and helping fight against bone diseases like osteoporosis. Start today and build a new path to a better and healthier you.  

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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