Trying to get back in shape is frustrating at any age; but it can be even more discouraging when you're older and wondering whether it's even possible. Rest assured, getting fit after 50 is absolutely possible. It may not be as easy as it was when you were 20, but the rewards will be just as great — if not more so — in your later years.
Read on to learn about the top tips that will help you gain fitness and improve your wellbeing as you age.
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What Is the Secret to Getting or Staying Fit After 50?
No matter if you've been sedentary for two or 20 years, you're never too old to get back in shape. And, if you've been diligent about your workout routine for ages, you may notice that it's harder to get — or stay — fit after 50.
While there's no "secret" that makes getting fit easy, regular exercise can help you reach your fitness goals. The key is to make a plan and stick to it (more on that below).
If you have certain health conditions, physical limitations or are recovering from illness, you can still exercise to improve your fitness, but your program might look a little different. In this case, check in with your doctor about starting or resuming a workout program. They can give you the "all clear" or help you devise a program that meets your individual needs.
With all that in mind, follow these fit tips for life.
Choose the Right Foods
Your diet plays the starring role in getting back in shape. You can increase your activity level, but if you're eating too many unhealthy foods, you won't lose weight if that's your goal. So before you lace up your gym shoes, take a look in your refrigerator.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, it's not about having willpower or limiting certain type of foods — like carbs — it's about the overall quality of your diet. Low-fat or low-carb diets miss the point and, in the long run, don't work better than simply eating a diet including fresh, high-quality foods.
If you've been eating a lot of processed foods that are low in protein and fiber and high in fat and sugar, just making one simple change to non-processed foods can make getting fit after 50 so much easier. While reducing your overall calorie intake below your calorie expenditure is the goal, you probably don't need to sit around counting calories. Just be sure that your diet is high in lean protein and dietary fiber.
These two nutrients are highly satiating and they affect appetite so you can feel satisfied without overeating. In fact, an October 2018 study in the journal Nutrition found that when adults increased their protein and fiber intakes they were able to lose fat even without restricting calories. Set a goal to get at least 35 grams of fiber from vegetables, fruit and whole grains and 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight from lean meat, fish, beans, eggs and tofu each day.
A Note About Weight Loss
Having overweight or obesity in middle age increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, kidney disease and osteoarthritis, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. It can even increase your brain age by a decade, according to a November 2016 study in Neurobiology of Aging.
Lots of factors contribute to weight gain. Some of them, like the natural slowing of metabolism hat occurs with age, are beyond your control, according to Piedmont Healthcare. But the most common cause of weight gain is not making healthy food choices and not exercising enough. To begin to lose fat, you have to turn those tables around so the calories you burn each day are greater than the ones you consume.
An important note: Reducing food and physical activity to nothing more than calories can lead to disordered eating and exercising behaviors. You can be sure you're making the best choices for your health when you do workouts you enjoy and eat nutrient-dense foods.
Become More Active
Regular physical activity is crucial for getting fit after 50. Exercise helps you burn calories and fat and helps you build lean muscle mass. Adults who exercise regularly reduce their risk of chronic diseases, improve their sleep and emotional well-being and boost their cognitive function, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
When you're physically active, performing everyday tasks becomes easier and you have more energy to achieve your fitness goals. Plus, a January 2019 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that, when people were more physically active, they naturally made healthier food choices.
A combination of aerobic exercise and strength training will go a long way in getting in shape after 50.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise each week. Moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, recreational swimming, biking at a pace of less than 10 miles per hour on level terrain, playing doubles tennis and doing active forms of yoga, such as power or vinyasa yoga.
If you choose, you can do more intense cardio exercise but for half the time and get the same exercise benefits. Intense activities include jogging or running, swimming laps, bicycling faster than 10 miles per hour, jumping rope and hiking uphill.
To get even greater benefits, you can gradually increase your cardio activity to at least 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 150 minutes of vigorous activity each week. Continuing to increase the amount and intensity of your exercise will help you burn more fat and become fitter more quickly.
Muscle loss is a natural part of aging. According to Harvard Health Publishing, people may lose 3 to 5 percent of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. That's why continuing to strength train throughout your life is so important.
Gaining lean muscle mass will also help you lose or maintain your weight because your body has to burn calories for energy to build new muscle mass and maintain existing muscle mass. According to the University of New Mexico, muscle accounts for as much as 20 percent of an adult's total daily energy expenditure. Having more lean muscle mass is especially helpful to combat the age-related slowing of metabolism.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults strength train all the major muscle groups twice a week. Either at home or at the gym, do at least one exercise each for your arms, shoulders, back, chest, abdominals, glutes, thighs and calves. Do enough reps or lift enough weight that you fatigue the muscles. Start out slowly and gradually build the intensity as you get stronger.
Does Your Body Shape Change After 50?
It's completely normal for your body to change shape as you age, according to Mount Sinai Health System. While lifestyle choices — like diet, exercise and alcohol and tobacco use — do play a role, many body changes are out of your control. As you age, you may notice an increase in body fat, muscle and bone loss and stiff joints.
- Neurobiology of Aging: Obesity Associated With Increased Brain Age From Midlife
- Piedmont Healthcare: Why Metabolism Slows as You Age
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Food and Diet
- Dr. John Rusin: Why Low-Carb Diets Don't Work for Long-Term Goals
- Nutrition: A Nonrestrictive, Weight-Loss Diet Focused on Fiber and Lean Protein Increase
- Health.gov: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition: Chapter 4. Active Adults
- International Journal of Obesity: The Influence of 15-Week Exercise Training on Dietary Patterns Among Young Adults
- Harvard Health Publishing: Preserve Your Muscle Mass
- University of New Mexico: Controversies in Metabolism
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease: "Health Risks of Overweight & Obesity"
- Mount Sinai Health System: "Aging changes in body shape"