The Only 20-Minute Treadmill Workout You Need to Build Muscle and Cardio Fitness Over 50

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Older adult jogging on the treadmill at the gym
This 20-minute treadmill cardio workout increases your heart rate while strengthening your entire body.
Image Credit: yacobchuk/iStock/GettyImages

Prioritizing fitness as we age is important for promoting longevity, and exercising on the treadmill for just 20 minutes on most days of the week is an excellent way to help you maintain good health and reach your cardiovascular fitness goals.

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In fact, physical activity guidelines for Americans recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week.

And there's a good reason why: Your cognition declines with age, but keeping up with an exercise routine and engaging your mind with brain games can help you stay sharp. According to a July 2018 review in the ​International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity​, physical activity programs for older adults that incorporate cognitive exercises can help improve cognitive health, which declines with age.

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To help you keep up with your cardio, try this 20-minute treadmill cardio workout, which includes some inclines and upper-body exercises using dumbbells.

The inclines will activate your posterior chain (muscles in the back of your body) and strengthen your lower body, as well as increase your heart rate for your cardiovascular work. The dumbbell exercises mid-workout are unilateral (one-sided) to increase your upper-body strength and coordination.

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Remember to bring the treadmill to a complete stop before doing the floor exercises.

Check out more of our ​​20-minute workouts here​​ — we’ve got something for everyone.

20-Minute Treadmill Cardio and Strength Workout

  1. Start by warming up on the treadmill at 1 percent incline for 5 minutes at a brisk walk (around 3 mph for beginners and 4 mph for intermediate).
  2. For the next 2 minutes, take the incline up to 3 percent. If you're walking, increase the speed to anywhere between 3.5 to 4.5 mph. If you prefer to jog, increase the speed to anywhere between 4.5 to 5.5 mph. This should feel challenging.
  3. Stop the treadmill and safely get down to the floor. Do 10 reps of each of the five upper-body strength exercises below, then safely return to the treadmill.
  4. For the next 2 minutes, take the incline up to 4 percent. Return to the speed you used for the last round, or add a bit more speed if you want more of a challenge.
  5. Stop the treadmill and safely get down to the floor. Do 10 reps for each of the five upper-body strength exercises, then safely return to the treadmill.
  6. For the next 2 minutes, take the incline up to 5 percent. Return to the speed you used for the previous round, or increase your speed if you want more of a challenge.
  7. Slow down for the next three minutes, taking it back to your brisk walking speed at 1 percent incline.

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Tip

Use your arms to help propel you through the inclines as much as possible. Drive your elbows straight back at 90-degree angles. Hold onto the rails for support if you need it.

If you're holding onto the rails for support, lean forward slightly from your waist so you get the benefits from walking on an incline. Leaning backward will put your back into an upright position, decreasing the strength training that happens from adding the incline.

Always listen to your body with any cardio program. You want to feel challenged, but always in control. You can use a heart rate monitor or a scale like the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to help you determine your efforts.

20-Minute Treadmill Cardio and Strength Workout

1 percent incline at 3 to 4 mph

5 minutes

3 percent incline at 3.5 to 4.5 mph (walk) or 4.5 to 5.5 (jog)

2 minutes

Get off treadmill and do the floor exercises below

10 reps per move

4 percent incline at 3.5 to 4.5 mph (walk) or 4.5 to 5.5 (jog)

2 minutes

Get off treadmill and do the floor exercises below

10 reps per move

5 percent incline at 3.5 to 4.5 mph (walk) or 4.5 to 5.5 (jog)

2 minutes

1 percent incline at 3 to 4 mph

3 minutes

Source: Brittany Hammond

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5 Strength Exercises to Do Off the Treadmill Mid-Workout

As you age, it also becomes increasingly important to incorporate unilateral (one-sided) exercises into your fitness program. Working one side of your body at a time promotes core strength while working your balance and coordination.

Perform these exercises as part of steps 3 and 5 above.

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1. Alternating Biceps Curl

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 10
Body Part Arms
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Keeping your body still, bend your right elbow, bringing the dumbbell up to your right shoulder.
  3. Release your right arm back down to your side. This is 1 rep.
  4. Repeat with your left arm.
  5. Continue alternating until you complete 10 reps total.

Tip

Engage your core as you work. The weight imbalance with each alternating curl will challenge you to keep your body in a straight line. This is where stability and coordination come into play.

2. Chest Press

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 10
Body Part Chest
  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your chest with your elbows bent and touching the floor.
  3. Push your right arm up toward the ceiling.
  4. Bend your right elbow and bring your arm back to the starting position. This is 1 rep.
  5. Repeat with your left arm.
  6. Continue alternating until you complete 10 reps total.

Tip

Keep your elbows at about 45 degrees from your shoulders on the ground to avoid putting extra pressure on your shoulder joints. As you press the dumbbell above your chest, brace your core and push your back into the floor to help get the weight up.

3. Bird Dog

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Sets 2
Reps 10
Body Part Abs
  1. Start on all fours with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Your back should be flat.
  2. With control, simultaneously lift your right arm and your left leg until they are parallel to the floor.
  3. Return your hand and knee to the ground. This is 1 rep.
  4. Repeat with your left arm and your right leg.
  5. Continue alternating until you complete 10 reps total.

Tip

Your core engagement in this exercise comes from focusing on balancing on your supporting arm and leg.

4. Bent-Over Row

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 10
Body Part Back
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Slightly bend your knees and push your hips back, creating a hinge in your hips until your back is flat.
  3. With your arms straight and your palms facing each other, drive your right arm up by squeezing your shoulder blade.
  4. Return to the starting position. This is 1 rep
  5. Repeat with your left arm.
  6. Continue alternating until you have completed 10 reps total.

Tip

Brace your core as you drive your elbow back. Your body will naturally want to rotate, but keeping a tight core will help to prevent that.

5. Shoulder Press

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 2
Reps 10
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand at your shoulders, palms facing forward.
  2. Press your right arm overhead until your biceps are by your ears, then return to the starting position. This is 1 rep.
  3. Repeat on the left side.
  4. Continue alternating until you have completed 10 reps total.

Tip

Brace your core to prevent any pressure on your lower back and avoid leaning as you press the weight overhead.

Over 50? Here Are Some Other Workouts to Try

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