Our bodies begin to change drastically after fifty: a more rapid decline in bone density and a greater loss in coordination and motor control. Fortunately, in most cases, all of these things can be slowed or reversed with the implementation of a good fitness program. It’s great to have strength or weight loss goals at this age, but, most importantly, it is the goal to protect one’s physical independence.
A good fitness program should include exercises to challenge and improve balance. One of the leading causes of premature death in older populations is falling. Improving balance can help prevent these falls altogether. Here are some great exercises to improve balance:
Balance Training: Single-Leg Bodyweight Deadlifts
Start from a standing position. Shift all of your weight to one leg. From that one leg, bend at the hips to reach toward your toes while maintaining balance. You should maintain a soft bend in your knee throughout the exercise. Go as low as you feel comfortable maintaining your balance. You can perform this exercise next to a railing or other sturdy surface for added support. Your back should remain flat throughout the exercise. Repeat on both legs for the desired amount of time or number of repetitions.
Balance Training: Single Leg Step Ups with Balance
Using a low step or platform, step onto the platform using one leg. At the top, pause for a few seconds while trying to maintain your balance on one foot. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor and repeat on the other leg. This exercise can be performed near a pole, or another tall piece of equipment to provide something to hold onto. Increase the difficulty over time by choosing a taller platform and balancing on each leg for longer.
Balance Training: Single Leg Alternating Shoulder Press
Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height. Lift one leg. Maintain your balance on the other leg. While balancing, lift one of the dumbbells overhead. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position, and switch to lift the other dumbbell overhead. Alternate back and forth, lifting one dumbbell at a time, until completing the desired number of repetitions. Switch legs and repeat.
Aesthetic goals at this age are great, but there is still a benefit to lifting weights even for those not inclined toward such aesthetic transformations. To protect independence, an appropriate fitness program will focus on compound exercises that translate well to daily activities.
All of my over fifty plus clients’ programs include a hip hinge exercise to improve the ability to lift objects from below, carry variations to help improve bodily integrity when walking while carrying objects, and row variations to help combat rounding of the spine that can become more pronounced in these later years. Some great exercises to include:
Strength Training: Kettlebell Sumo Deadlifts
Stand over a kettlebell with a wide stance. Toes should be pointed outward at roughly a 45-degree angle. Bend at the hips and grab the kettlebell handle with both hands. Keeping your chest up and shoulders pulled back, stand up to an upright position while holding the weight in front of you. Your back should remain flat during the exercise. To return the kettlebell to the floor, start by pushing your hips backward and keeping your chest pushed out. Imagine touching the kettlebell on the imaginary line that runs from heel to heel. From the bottom, repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Strength Training: Farmer’s Carries
Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Maintain an upright, erect posture with shoulders pulled back and chest out. Walk with the weights for about 10 yards (or using whatever space you have), then turn around and come back. While walking, imagine balancing a book on your head and resist any temptation to swing the weights. Increase the difficulty over time by adding more weight or increasing the distance traveled. If necessary, place a box or bench at the end of your walk to provide a place to set the dumbbells down before walking back.
Strength Training: Suitcase Carries
Hold a dumbbell in one of your hands. Maintain an upright, erect posture with shoulders pulled back and chest out. Walk with the weight for about 10 yards (or using whatever space you have), then turn around and come back. While walking, imagine balancing a book on your head and resist any temptation to swing the weight. Resist the urge to lean excessively to either side. Increase the difficulty over time by adding more weight or increasing the distance traveled. If necessary, place a box or bench at the end of your walk to provide a place to set the dumbbell down before walking back. Repeat with the other hand.
Strength Training: Weighted Step-ups
Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides. Using a box or bench, step onto the raised platform until your leg is fully extended. Start with a low platform (like an aerobic step) and no hand weights, and work your way up to higher steps and heavier weights. You can use the other leg to help maintain balance at the top. Using the same leg you stepped on the box with, slowly lower yourself back to the floor. Avoid banging your other foot on the ground. Maintain an upright posture throughout the exercise. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, then switch sides.
Strength Training: Suspension Trainer Bodyweight Rows (TRX)
Grab the handles of a suspension trainer with a shoulder-width grip and palms facing toward each other. Bring your feet forward and lie back with your arms fully extended. Pull your body up with your chest coming towards the suspension trainer. Keep your body straight during the movement. Lower under control to the starting position with arms fully extended. Increase the difficulty by taking additional steps forward, decrease the difficulty by taking steps backward. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions or amount of time.
Strength Training: Resistance Band Reverse Flyes
Begin by holding a resistance band with hands about 12 to 16 inches apart. (More or less distance between hands to adjust the difficulty). Arms should be parallel to the floor out in front of you. Keeping your arms and wrists straight, pull the band apart until the band comes into contact with your chest. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Having a strong core becomes even more important to protect the integrity of the spine during this stage of life. Back injuries can increase as a result of lifting heavy objects improperly, some of which can be improved through regular strength training as mentioned above. Additionally, improving the strength of the core muscles can also help prevent back injuries and aid in improved balance. Some great core exercises include:
Core Training: Pallof Isometric Hold
Set a cable arm at chest height from a standing position. With arms fully extended in front of you, the cable should move in a straight line away from the machine. Grab the handle with both hands and bring it to your chest. From the center of the chest, extend your arms directly in front of you. Hold this position for the desired amount of time. Arms should remain extended and in line with your chest throughout the entire movement. Keep the elbows tucked, and shoulders pressed down. After reaching the desired amount of time, switch sides and repeat.
Core Training: Bird Dog
Start on all fours on the floor. Suck your belly button in toward your spine. Extend your right arm and left leg until they are as straight as you can make them. Pause for a few seconds at this position and focus on balancing your body. Slowly lower the limbs, and repeat using your left hand and right leg. Try to prevent tilting your hips forward as you extend your leg backward. Alternate sides and repeat for the desired amount of time or number of repetitions.
Core Training: Dead Bug (if lying on your back is contraindicated)
Lie flat on your back with knees tucked (feet flat on the ground). Press your lower back to the ground (eliminating the natural gap between your lower back and the floor). While keeping lower back pressed to the ground, lift the knees toward the chest and “crunch” with fingertips pointed toward the ceiling. Alternate extending opposite arm and leg until fully extended. Maintain the engagement in the core throughout the movement. Maintain a normal breathing pattern during the exercise.
Core Training: Cable or Resistance Band Rotations
Set a cable arm at chest height from a standing position. Start far enough away from the cable that the weight doesn’t bang. Start with your entire body behind the line from the cable arm. With your arms extended, the cable should follow a straight line from the origin. With arms extended at chest height in front of you, use your obliques to rotate your body 180 degrees (or as far as you can) in the opposite direction of the cable. Arms should remain extended and in line with your chest throughout the entire movement. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, then switch sides and repeat. If dizziness occurs, focus your eyes on a fixed point across from you during the exercise.
Core Training: Planks
Start on your forearms in a push-ups position with hands aligned with your eyes. Pull your belly button toward your spine, tilting your hips backward (or up, toward the ceiling). Squeeze your glutes and hold this position for the desired amount of time. Be sure you don’t lift your hips up toward the ceiling, nor let your hips fall toward the ground. Breath throughout the exercise. If needed, perform the exercise from your knees to decrease the difficulty.
Core Training: Prone Cobra Raises and Holds
Start by lying on your stomach. Place your arms at your sides, palms facing up. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift your chest off the floor. While holding chest off the floor, squeeze your glutes and lift your thighs off the ground as far as you can. You should be simultaneously lifting your chest and thighs off the ground–as if trying to fold yourself in half backward. Slowly lower yourself back to the floor, and repeat for the desired amount of time or number of repetitions. To complete an isometric hold, simply hold this top position for the desired amount of time before lowering yourself back to the floor.
The Key to Fitness Success After 50
The best thing to do if you are jumping back into training or starting exercise after 50 is to realize that you are doing the right thing and there is plenty of evidence to support your desire to be more active.
You may not recover as fast as you did when you were younger, you may not be as fast, as strong, or as flexible, but that won’t stop you from being fast, strong, and flexible. Don’t compare yourself to someone younger or someone who has been active for decades. You still need to be consistent, dedicated and committed to achieving your goals, at your pace.