A quick glance in the mirror is enough to confirm that your 50-year-old body is very different from its 20-year-old counterpart. Aging is associated with a lot of physical changes including muscle atrophy, a decreased number of muscle fibers and attachment sites and stiff muscles and tendons. You may tire more quickly when you exercise and, with a slowed metabolism, even a whiff of apple pie may make the numbers on the scale jump up (ref 1). Nevertheless, your 50s are the perfect time to tone up and get fit. Regular exercise will improve your quality of life and overall health.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise each week. If you're suffering from joint inflammation or arthritis, high-impact exercises such as running and jogging may not be a good idea. Water aerobics and swimming are the perfect activities for individuals over 50 because the water will support your body and take the stress off your joints. Walking is another good choice. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 to 60 minute workouts five days per week, but you can split exercise into smaller increments if you wish. For instance, you could take a 15 minute walk after every meal (ref 2).
Strength train all of the major muscle groups on two or three non-consecutive days of every week. Middle-aged or older individuals should aim two to four sets off 10 to 15 repetitions for each exercise, according to the ACSM. You can use equipment, such as dumbbells or resistance bands, or simply use your own body weight. Circuit training is an excellent way to tone your whole body. Do one set of exercises targeting each major muscle group, then repeat the circuit two more times.
Stretch after your workouts. Flexibility exercises are the best way to protect yourself from injury and prevent excessive soreness. The ACSM recommends stretching to the point of tension, not pain, and hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. (ref 2)
Incorporate fitness into your every day life. Most people don't retire until they are in their 60s, so you're probably still busy with work, family and social commitments. Consistency is key to toning up, so give regular exercise priority. Schedule workout appointments on the calendar and program reminder alerts into your phone. Squeeze short bursts of activity into your day, too. You could do five push-ups every hour to tone your arms.
It's important to keep your expectations realistic. Skin loosens with age, so even if you are extremely toned, your muscles may not look as defined as you wish. Focus on feeling good and don't obsess over appearances.
If you are overweight, consider slimming down by adopting a healthy diet. If you lose a layer of fat, your muscles will appear much more defined.
Consult your physician before beginning an exercise program, particularly if you a have a history of health problems or are new to exercise.