New Exercising Guidelines for Those of Us Over 50

A question that often pops up in my own brain concerns flexibility vs cardio. I know both are important, but as I age, my concern seems to be more about staying flexible. This is a great article by Linda Melone, because it addresses this question and many other issues that may arise about senior exercise.

A funny thing happens on the way to 50 and beyond: Your body doesn’t respond to exercise as it did earlier in your life. Fatigue, muscle and joint aches and increased injuries seem to happen with greater frequency.

Unfortunately, it’s not your imagination. It happens to the best of us as a natural consequence of aging. In fact, some of the “standard” fitness rules no longer apply, at least not in the same way as they did in your 30s and even 40s. Here’s how the rules change after 50 and how to stay injury-free as you age.

Old rule: Stretch a few days a week

New rule: Stretch after every workout, and then some

Stretching is no longer an option after 50. Staying flexible becomes more important as you age, says Michele Olson, adjunct professor of exercise science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Flexibility, because it’s related to the collagenous tendons, which is a part of our lean body mass, starts to decrease,” she says. “Since our tendons connect our muscles to our bones, the perfect time to stretch is after your weight training sessions.”

Olson recommends a total body stretch, involving all major muscle groups, a minimum of two to three times a week. This would ideally be done after each workout when muscles are warm.

Old rule: Focus on cardio

New rule: Resistance training takes center stage

Bone density and muscle mass drops rapidly after 50, says Olson, making resistance training a crucial part of a complete exercise program. In addition to the link between muscle mass and metabolism — muscle burns more calories at rest than fat — increasing muscle and bone strength also prevents falls and fractures.

You still need cardio, of course, for reducing heart disease risk, which accelerates after 50, says Olson.

“And, as we increase lean mass — bones and muscle — the war against belly fat must also begin,” she says. Plus, a 2014 study shows a single 20-minute bout of weight training may enhance memory. Strive for eight to 12 repetitions per set, two to three times a week. If you can easily perform more than 12 reps, increase the resistance, says Olson.

Old rule: Slow and steady cardio works best

New rule: Use interval training to pump up the fat burn

Going for an easy stroll with a friend may be a good way to get fresh air, but it won’t do much for calorie burning, says Olson.

“Continue cardio for its heart health benefits, but focus on intervals since interval training for 30 minutes versus moderate, continuous exercise decreases belly fat,” she says. “Moderate, continuous cardio does not.”

Interval training involves alternate bouts of higher intensity cardio with “rest” or easier periods. Intervals create an “after burner” effect called EPOC, which stands for “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.” That’s a state in which your body continues to burn a higher rate of oxygen and calories after you’ve finished your workout. How many calories and for how long depends on the intensity of the intervals.

For more “Old” and “New” Rules from author Linda Melone, please click this link.

New rules for exercising if you’re over 50

Next Avenue contributor Linda Melone is a California-based freelance writer and certified personal trainer specializing in health, fitness and wellness for women over 50.

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