Try as we might, we cannot stop time from passing and our bodies from aging. As women get older, natural shifts in hormones and body composition can lead to overall changes in health and fitness. Even as early as age 30, women’s lean body mass begins to decrease. Workouts for women over 50 keep these changes in mind, while remaining challenging enough to build strength and endurance.
With that comes a decrease in metabolic rate and often weight gain. Joints become stiffer, flexibility is reduced, and the body can become more prone to injuries.
But just because these natural changes occur does not mean that there aren’t ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle well into the 50’s and beyond.
Developing a safe and effective workout plan can allow you to maintain strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and inevitably independence, for years to come.
What Makes a Good Workout?
When many women think of exercise and physical activity, the first thing that comes to mind is cardio workouts- things like running, biking, swimming, or using the elliptical at the gym.
While these activities are excellent for strengthening the cardiovascular system, one area that is often overlooked in older women is the importance of strength training.
This doesn’t mean you have to be pumping iron and bodybuilding. What is does mean is using resistance training-whether it be with free weights, bands, or simply your own body weight-to build stronger muscles and increase lean body mass.
An increase in lean body mass will increase your metabolic rate and allow you to burn more calories throughout the day. Additionally, stronger muscles will allow you perform everyday activities with ease and confidence.
Going up and down stairs, lifting boxes, carrying groceries, or doing yard work are all activities that require strength and endurance.
In addition, research has shown that higher lean body mass is associated with improved bone density, making it a target in reducing osteoporosis.
By putting together a strength and conditioning plan that fits your goals you can maintain the life you love, build a healthier body, and even strive for new goals in your pursuit of fitness.
Where to Start?
For many women that are getting back into exercise, finding the motivation to start can be the hardest part.
The key is to make sure that you choose exercises that you enjoy and that also fit your current level of fitness.
It’s much better to start slowly and work your way up than to overdo things and end up injured and unable to workout at all.
Starting out with just 20-30 minutes a day with some basic stretching and resistance work is a perfect way to set you on the path to continued health and fitness.
For example, here is a 30 minute full body workout, specifically designed for women over 50 that are just getting back into a fitness program.
Warm Up for the Workout
Start out with 2-3 minutes of light cardio to get your heart rate slightly elevated. This could be walking or jogging on the treadmill, using a rowing machine, exercise bike, elliptical, or even just jogging in place.
Bring your arms up and straight out to the sides. Make small circles in the air by gently rotating your shoulders forward for 15 seconds, then backwards for 15 seconds.
Then make larger circles, forward for 15 seconds, then again backwards for 15 seconds. This will get your rotator cuff muscles around your shoulder warmed up and ready for upper body exercises.
Strength Training Workouts for Women Over 50
For each move, aim for at least two sets as you are first starting, and then try to increase this to three sets as you develop more strength and fitness.
This exercise, using only your body weight, will work your large leg muscles.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Slowly bend your knees and squat down.
Try to come down until your butt is parallel to the floor, however only go down as far as is comfortable. Push your heels into the ground and stand back up. Repeat this 10-12 times.
Kneeling Push Up
This exercise will target your chest and triceps.
Kneel down on a mat in the push up position, with your hands below your shoulders.
Bend your elbows and bring your chest down as close to the ground as possible. Try to avoid your back dipping. Straighten your elbows and push back up.
Repeat this 10-12 times.
You can use either a chair or workout bench for this great tricep exercise.
Sit on the edge of the bench with your legs straight out in front of you. Your heels should touch the ground and toes should be pointing up.
Place your hands six inches apart from your body and firmly grip the edges of the bench.
Placing your weight on your hands, slide your butt just off the front of the bench.
Bend your elbows and lower your body until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Push back up for one rep.
Repeat this 10-12 times.
Seated Overhead Shoulder Press
For this shoulder move, start on a bench with an upright back for added support.
Hold a light dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your palms facing away from you. Keep your core engaged and look straight forward throughout the move.
Press the weights directly upwards until your arms are straight and the weights touch above your head. Slowly lower the weights back to the start position, pause, then start the next rep.
Repeat 10-12 times.
Standing Bicep Curls
Stand with feet about shoulder width apart with a dumbbell in each hand.
Curl the right arm up and then back down to the starting position, then follow with curling the left arm up.
Repeat for 10-12 times on each side.
The ultimate core strengthening move.
Start out laying on a mat with your forearms flat on the ground, elbows under your shoulders.
Engage your core and raise your body up off the floor, keeping your forearms on the floor and your body in a straight line from head to feet.
Keep your abdominals engaged and try not to let your hips rise or drop.
Start out by just trying to hold this position for ten seconds. Gradually add on time, holding for as long as possible while maintaining good form.
After any workout, it’s important to end with an easy cool down and stretch.
Stand with your left arm holding a chair for balance and support.
Next, bend your right knee and hold your right foot in your right hand.
Hold for 20-30 seconds then switch to the left leg and hold for 20-30 seconds.
Stand with your hands in front of you and touch a wall.
Place the right foot behind you with the toe pointing forward. Lean forward to stretch the leg muscle, and hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds.
Next, switch legs. This stretch will help loosen your calf muscles.
Overhead Triceps Stretch
Raise your left arm to the ceiling, then bend the elbow and bring down the hand until it touches the middle of your back.
Raise your right arm to the ceiling, then bend the elbow until the right hand is touching the left elbow.
Pull lightly on the left elbow to stretch the muscles in the arms.
Hold for 20 seconds then switch sides.
This above workout is just one example of a way to put together a quick full body exercise plan that is low in impact, but great for building muscle and increasing lean body mass.
Try incorporating it into your weekly plan as you start on the road to improved health and fitness.
Fat Burning Workouts for Women Over 50
While strength training has been shown to be great for improving bone density and lean body mass in older women, there are numerous other exercises that are important for cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and balance.
Incorporating aspects in each area of fitness will allow you to form a complete exercise program. You can also break down your exercises based on your fitness goals.
While it’s great to incorporate activities from each area of fitness-strength, cardio, and flexibility-you may have specific goals that you are looking to address.
For instance, you may be focused more on fat burning rather than muscle building.
In this case, combining slightly more cardio and compound exercises may help you achieve these goals more quickly.
By building muscle and increasing lean body mass, you will be burning more calories at rest as well. Therefore, fat loss and muscle building are never mutually exclusive.
Any cardiovascular activity that get the heart pumping is going to allow you to burn calories both during and after exercise. As women get older, lower impact exercises are a great way to maintain joint health and minimize injury.
Swimming or Water Aerobics
This is an excellent exercise that will work the heart and lungs while giving your lower body joints a rest. This is a whole body workout that will work the legs, arms, shoulders, back, and core as well.
Cycling: Either outdoors, at the gym on your own, or during a spin class, you can burn some major calories on the bike. This is great in improving endurance and working the legs while minimizing stress on the knees.
Even as we age it is still important to continue with weight bearing exercises as this will also help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
If you have knee or ankle issues, walking may be a better option.
But there is no reason to not jog or run later in life if you don’t have disabling joint issues.
As long as you have the proper shoes and form, running is a safe physical activity at any age.
Additional Strength Training/Muscle Building Exercises
The above cardiovascular workouts are great for improving overall health and burning calories.
As mentioned previously, improving lean body mass with strength training is one of the best ways to increase metabolic rate, burn calories and fat, and ensure lifelong fitness.
Additionally, studies have shown that higher lean body mass is strongly associated with higher bone density in postmenopausal women.
I have listed the following under strength training/muscle building exercises, but these will also burn fat as well.
- Push Ups
- Overhead Shoulder Press
- Air Squats
- Dumbbell Squats
- Tricep Kickbacks
- Chair Dips
- Bicep Curls
Flexibility is another area of fitness that may sometimes go overlooked, but is just as important as improving body composition.
Maintaining healthy joints, tendons, and ligaments improves overall health and will allow you to perform everyday activities to their highest level.
Yoga is one great way to improve flexibility. Some other basic stretching exercises you can do at home include:
- Seated hamstring stretch
- Standing quadricep pulls
- Standing Calf Stretch
- Overhead Triceps Stretch
- Standing Hamstring Stretch
- Cross Leg Glute Stretch
Finally, balance training is something that especially comes into play as women age.
Having good balance will help prevent falls and maintain confidence in everyday activities. Some good balance exercises to start off with include:
Single Leg Balance: Stand on one leg and try to hold this for 10-15 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Each week try to increase the amount of time you are able to hold this position.
Heel to Toe Walks: Walk heel to toe for 20 steps forward. Then walk toe to heel for 20 steps back.
Foot Taps: Stand in front of a low step with feet shoulder width apart. Bring your right foot up to the step then back down. Repeat 15-20 times on the right, then switch and repeat 15-20 times on the left.
Standing Marches: Stand and bring your right leg up, keeping your knee bent as if marching, and touch your right hand. Bring the leg back down and switch to the left knee and left hand. Continue alternating marches for 15-20 reps on each side.
Exercise at any age is essential, but it becomes especially important as women age.
Use these workouts for women over 50 to build lean body mass, improving cardiovascular endurance, and maintaining balance and flexibility.
You'll look and feel better than ever before.
In addition, you will be able to live life independently and continue doing many of the everyday activities you had done at a young age.
Research has shown that physical activity has countless benefits in older women, including decreased risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease.
Not to mention it can even decrease the risk of depression and enhance memory and decision making in older adults. I have included links to some of these summaries of research studies for further reading.
This just goes to show you that age is just a number and optimal fitness can be achieved at any age. There is no better time to start than today to improve your health for years to come!
Holly Smith is a board certified physician specializing in internal medicine and nephrology with a bachelor's degree in dietetics.
A strong interest and passion for health and wellness, Holly is also a NASM certified personal trainer with a performance enhancement specialization.
Holly enjoys long distance running, competing in Ironman triathlons.
Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. Morning exercise can improve decision-making across the day in older adults: Study shows how simple changes to your daily routine is key to good brain health. ScienceDaily.29 April 2019 Retrieved May 18, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190429154529.htm
European Society of Cardiology. “Ability to lift weights quickly can mean a longer life: Not all weight lifting produces the same benefit.” ScienceDaily, 12 April 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190412085247.htm.