Can a Body Get Back in Shape At 50 Years Old?

Perhaps you were once a competitive runner, a heavy lifter, a football quarterback or a dancing queen. But as the demands of work, kids and life crept in during your 30s and 40s, fitness fell by the wayside. Colin Milner, founder of the International Council of Active Aging, told Experience Life that just one in four people over the age of 50 exercises. This takes a toll on health, weight and independence.

A mature couple work out together. (Image: amanaimagesRF/amana images/Getty Images)

However, your body is resilient and will adapt to the challenges you put on it. It's never too late to regain what you've lost. You may not run at the same pace or lift the same size weights you did as when you were 20, but you can get your body back into impressive shape at 50. Use this time, when your kids are more independent and you're more secure in your career, to spend some time working on you.

Barriers to 50-Year-Olds Getting Back in Shape

If you don't exercise, you're guaranteed to lose muscle mass, become more inflexible as muscles and connective tissues tighten, and experience an increased risk of osteoporosis or osteopenia. Men start to experience lower levels of testosterone while women are usually in some stage of menopause. These hormonal changes affect how quickly muscle grows and where fat accumulates. It takes longer to build muscle at age 50, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. Women may notice that fat accumulates more in the midsection, but you can mitigate that gain with dedicated exercise and smart dietary choices.

Although these complications loom large, your body isn't as much of a barrier to returning to fitness as your mind. Getting yourself back into shape requires some humility as you remember where you were and realize how far you let yourself go. If you've lost significant stamina and strength, you'll have to start slowly and moderately and build back up over time. The good news is that your ego will recover once you see your body start bouncing back.

First Steps to Getting Back in Shape

Before you embark on a new exercise program, consult with your doctor to make sure you don't have any conditions that will complicate your efforts and require specific precautions. Arthritis, menopause and heart disease can provide added challenges, but don't preclude exercise. Certain medications can also affect your exercise tolerance and stamina, too.

Schedule one or more sessions with a fitness professional to give you some direction when you've taken a long hiatus from exercise. Science changes, so the workouts you did in football practice 30 years ago have likely been improved upon, and a trainer can help enlighten you as to more current trends. A fitness professional can also help guide your form and discourage you from pushing too far and causing injury. At 50, your back, knees and other joints may not be as resilient as they once were. You'll also benefit from structured sessions that provide optimal recovery. Your need for recovery also increases at 50. This means you may need more time between workouts and commitment to a healthy amount of sleep.

Specific Workouts to Get in Shape at 50

Whether you're a man or a woman, lifting weights is essential to regaining your fitness at age 50. Strength training helps stimulate and regulate testosterone release. It also mitigates the natural loss of muscle that occurs with aging and curbs weight gain in the belly. Regular strength training strengthens the bones and helps offset osteopenia and osteoporosis. Aim for at least two sessions per week with at least 48 hours between training specific muscle groups. Include exercises in your regimen that target your core strength and balance, which diminish with age. For example, do biceps curls while standing on one foot.

Another important strategy to get back into shape at 50 is cardiovascular exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, weekly. Once you've mastered this level of exercise, gradually increase the duration and intensity of your exercise sessions to work towards the your final fitness goal. The CDC notes that 300 minutes or more of cardiovascular exercise per week elicits greater health benefits.

Nutrition to Get Back Into Shape

When you were younger, you may have neglected optimal nutrition and still saw performance improvements and aesthetic benefits from exercise. In your 50s, nutrition is paramount to getting those same results. A diet that consists primarily of whole, unprocessed foods fuels your body optimally and discourages the accumulation of belly fat. Include lots of colorful fruits and vegetables in your menu plan because they contain micronutrients, phytonutrients and antioxidants that assist in the reduction of inflammation and enhance recovery from workouts. Your daily metabolic rate usually reduces after your reach the age of 50, even if you exercise, so you may notice that you can't eat as much as you used to without gaining weight.

Nutritional deficiencies from an unhealthful diet may make you feel like you can't get back into shape. If you feel sluggish or experience frequent injuries and illness, it's not an inevitable result of aging. Be sure you're getting optimal levels of calcium and vitamins D and B-12. Make these nutrients a priority by consuming foods such as fortified milk, yogurt, and lean meats and fish. Dehydration can also make you feel sluggish and unable to perform at the gym. As you age, thirst sensors diminish so you'll consciously have to stay hydrated.

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