Fitness Over 50: 5 Steps to Getting Back In Shape
If you’re over 50 and noticeably out of shape, heading out to the gym to start lifting weights, running on the treadmill or using an elliptical may not be the best idea – in fact it could have horrible, even fatal consequences. Instead, follow this 5-stage plan to getting back in shape in a safe.
Stage 1: Assessment
You already know you’re out of shape, but you probably don’t know HOW out of shape you are unless you’ve had a recent physical and had your blood work done. Don’t take foolish chances – start by getting check out by your family doctor. While there, discuss your decision to get back in shape and ask whether you have any issues that need to be dealt with first. Also, are there any existing conditions you need to be aware of or find workarounds for?
Stage 2: Building Healthy Habits
Once you have the green light from your doctor it’s time to lay the foundation for your new healthy lifestyle. And that’s just what you want to create – your new healthy lifestyle that works for you and keeps you in good shape for the rest of your life. To do that, you need to establish healthier habits in your daily life…
The first of these is proper nutrition – don’t expect to get back in shape and stay in shape eating like you have been. Remember that your current diet and activity level got you where you are today, so both need to improve to get you out of this mess, right? It’s not as hard as you might think – make it a rule to eat at home whenever possible and stick to healthy choices when you shop. You won’t be pigging out on chips and soda if they’re not available in the house, so don’t bring home unhealthy choices.
The second healthy habit you need to adopt is daily exercise. Block out an hour to 90 minutes a day that will be used to get yourself back in shape, and to start with go for a walk for that time each day. It doesn’t have to be a long walk or even a fast walk – but you DO have to go EVERY DAY, no matter what. If you can’t walk for that long yet, split it into 2 or 3 sessions through the day until you can do it all at once, making sure you get at least an hour of walking each day. This will program your body for daily activity, help your cardiovascular system get stronger and get YOU into the habit of exercising every day without exception.
Don’t go on to Stage 3 until you’ve been practicing healthy nutrition and getting your walks in everyday for at least 3 weeks straight. If you miss a day on either, simply start again – it may take a few attempts, but you WILL get there!
Stage 3: Body-weight Exercises
Now it’s time to add in some exercise in place of some of your walking. Take any 3 non-consecutive days each week and do bodyweight exercises in place of walking, and just do your walks the other 4 days. Bodyweight exercises are just those you can do without additional weights – squats, sit-ups, crunches, push-ups, etc. There are a lot more exercises you can do than you are likely to think of off-hand, so do a bit of research to find a good variety for yourself. Start off simply with just a few exercises for a few reps each, then increase both as you go along. Try to find the right mix to give you a good workout without leaving yourself sore the next day.
Stay with just body-weight exercises for 1 – 3 months – you’ll be pleased with the changes you’ll see even though you haven’t been lifting weights yet. At this point building muscle is just one of the benefits you’re striving for; you’re also looking to improve your flexibility, loosen up your joints and get your ligaments and tendons stretched enough to allow full range-of-motion for each part of your anatomy.
Stage 4: Dumbbell Workouts
At this point it’s time to either start equipping your new home gym or join one of the commercial gyms in your neighborhood. Where you train is a matter of personal preference, so make your choice based on which you’re most likely to stick with. There is no right or wrong – some people prefer working out at home while others do best within the gym environment.
Replace your 3 days per week of body-weight exercises with full-body dumbbell workouts. Because you spent years or even decades not working out with weights, you most likely have imbalances in your muscles. For example, if you’re right-handed your right arm and the grip in your right hand are probably stronger than your left arm and grip. By starting with dumbbells, each arm works independently, forcing the weaker side to catch up and match your dominant side. For legs, use a single leg for your leg extensions and leg curls and do lunges instead of squats or deadlifts for now.
On every exercise you want to use as much weight as you can while still keeping your form correct, so try not to go too light or too heavy at any point. As any given exercise gets easier for your weaker side, up the weights for your next workout, always keeping the same weight for both arms and both legs. Once you find your entire left and right sides are equally strong, move on to the final stage.
Stage 5: Full Workouts
Congratulations on making it to this point! You’re eating a healthy diet, working out, walking a lot and it’s all become your habit – your new fitness lifestyle! By now you’re seeing lower body fat levels, more strength and a LOT more energy – feels good, doesn’t it? Whether it took you a few months or a couple of years to get to this point, it should be a real confidence boost for you as well, considering all you’ve accomplished so far!
Now it’s time to move to full-blown weightlifting workouts. Add in squats or deadlifts and other barbell compound exercises along with dips, pull-downs and/or pull-ups, etc. You’re now in condition to do just about any style of workout, as long as you continue to practice perfect form and keep the weights appropriate for your strength level – don’t let ego push you past that point.
Keep your sets in the 5 – 8 rep range – there’s no need to worry about building muscle size, it’s strength you’re after. Plus, strength training helps with bone density and helps to moderate or prevent osteoporosis. Make sure your workouts are still taxing your muscles each session, but don’t push it to exhaustion on any set or exercise – you don’t need extreme measures. Simply increase the weights for any given exercise when your current weights seem to be using too little of your available strength and energy. Keep it trending up over time and you’ll not only be living your fitness lifestyle but you’ll surprise yourself with how good you look, how good you feel and how strong you become. Just because you’re in your 50’s, 60’s, 70’s or 80’s there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t become stronger than you’ve ever been before!
James Kelly is a certified personal trainer. We like to hear from you on our Facebook page.