Exercise is a key part of staying healthy, especially as we get older. But staying fit after 50 is not the same as staying fit in your 20s. Remember your body injures more easily and is slower to recover.
So, if you’re thinking about a doing a half-marathon or bike ride or adopting a new sport, go in with a plan to stay fit and healthy and prevent injury.
“As we age, the most important aspect is foundational fitness, which establishes a strong baseline on which to build your fitness and health,” says Christopher Cutter, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Vista. “Gearing up for an event without training for it may result in injuries, from minor to severe, that will put you on the sidelines.”
Regular exercise can improve your physical and mental health. It can help manage your weight, reduce your risk of disease and strengthen your bones.
Federal guidelines recommend adults get 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity and two days a week of muscle strengthening activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says aim for the recommended activity level but be as active as you are able.
Injuries that could put a stop to your fitness fun include damage to the rotator cuff, Achilles’ tendon, quadriceps, knees or hamstrings. The risk of these injuries increases without foundational fitness, whether you are training for an event or enjoying a spirited game with family on the weekends.
“The challenge is the time required to train,” says Dr. Cutter. “If you’re only doing your sport once a week, you need to do something three other days a week to maintain muscle and tendon health.”
Foundational fitness is a good starting point to staying healthy and injury free. But each workout, whether it is a short run or a long run, requires a specific regimen to warm and stretch muscles and connective tissue. Warm up and start slowly to help prevent injuries.
Dr. Cutter recommends a five- to 10-minute warm-up that loosens the body and includes dynamic stretches and foam rolling for tight areas. Focus on the muscle groups you will be taxing during the workout.
One of the toughest decisions when it comes to staying fit after 50 is when to take part in an activity and when to pass.
“When you’re young, you can work through fatigue,” says Dr. Cutter. “But as you get older, pushing forward with your workout despite fatigue can increase your chances of injury. Sometimes you have to listen to your body and say: ‘Maybe today’s not the day.’ It’s a difficult decision because we derive a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment from participation.”
The other side of staying fit after 50 is what to do if you feel discomfort while exercising. Dr. Cutter notes that if the pain is severe, you should stop your workout immediately.
Most important, you need to gauge how you feel the following day. If you’re still feeling the strain, you may have to modify your program or suspend it temporarily. If you are experiencing extreme pain, or having trouble with your daily activities, see a physician. Knee pain is a common reason for medical visits.
If you’re over 50 and just starting to work out, proceed carefully. Check in with your primary care physician if you have questions on what is appropriate for someone of your fitness level and health condition and what to do to reduce the risk of getting hurt.
Consider starting out with low-impact activities, such as walking cycling, swimming, yoga or the elliptical trainer. Gear up slowly and make sure you are warmed up and stretched.
“Most importantly, choose an activity you enjoy and have fun,” says Dr. Cutter “Exercise boosts your mood, as well as your physical fitness.”