Senior Living: Fitness


Fitness tip of the month
Before working out, dynamic stretching–moving the muscles in patterns similar to what you will be doing in the workout–is best to help loosen muscle tissue and prepare joints for the coming workout. Static, sustained, holding stretches are best placed at the end of the workout when tissue is most lithe and can most benefit from the stretches.

I am now in my 50s and have been working in the fitness industry for over 30 years. In the 1980s, baby boomer women would pour into my then very popular exercise studio, right after work at 5 pm, and do an hour or more of group exercise classes to help burn body fat and look slim, trim and attractive. Guys were totally into the weight lifting scene at the time, pumping big iron in the various gyms around the Capital District.
Fast-forward to now and both genders participate in hot yoga and Soul Cycle/spinning programs (at all hours of the day) and are into Cross Fit and T25 and related functional training DVD programs. Everything old is new again but the newer generations are doing a better job of mixing aerobic, strength and flexibility activities than we boomers did. Generally, baby boomer women focused on aerobic type exercise in our 20s through 50s and men focused on muscle development and strength.  As we age, we need to reverse our focus.
As baby boomer women age, we are more at risk of complications related to low bone density and muscle loss, whereas men are more prone to depreciation of cardiovascular health and heart, stroke and stress illnesses. In my personal training practice I help more age 50+ women increase and maintain lean muscle to keep their weight down and their bones and joints healthy.  And I help more men establish some type of consistent aerobic program to help them decrease body fat and reverse high cholesterol and blood pressure numbers.
What we most need to do is what we least like to do. It is very challenging for the women to fit in strength workouts and it is just as hard for men to consistently practice some type of heart pumping activity. So here are my easiest, simplest and hopefully, most doable, programming suggestions for 50+ baby boomer men and women.

Walking programming for men
A walking program that possibly leads into a jogging program is the easiest and most accessible aerobic activity for a 50+ male still in the work force. Find a route in your neighborhood that hopefully has one hill, and that you can walk in a loop. Measure out a one mile loop with your car.  Start by committing to walk that one mile three times per week. Walk only as fast as you can sustain for the entire mile because pace is less important at first than actually going out and getting your heart rate higher than it goes in everyday life. Holding your heart rate at 10-20 beats higher than the normal rate for 20 minutes is more important than trying to do high intensity intervals when you are first starting out.  This is mostly because you will get injured by intensity much more easily than you will from endurance.
Advance to one and a half miles for two more weeks at the same pace by walking the whole loop and then one quarter and back (for a total of one and a half miles).  Then, every two weeks, increase until you get to two complete loops.  After you are doing two miles three times per week consistently for four weeks, start to increase to jog intensity for 60 seconds with three minutes of brisk walking in-between harder efforts. Continue to increase the length of the intervals of jogging and decrease the walk intervals every two weeks.
If you are a male who has not consistently done some type of cardiovascular exercise in years, take the time to progressively increase the minutes you perform the walking and then focus on doing jog intervals. Your heart, lungs muscles and joints will thank you and you are more likely to still be doing your aerobic routine for years to come.

Women and weight training
Women over 50 need to perform resistance training using weights that are more than what you may be lifting in everyday life (think grandchildren and gardening mulch bags).  As we age we lose lean muscle, so to keep the belly fat from exponentially multiplying on our waist lines, strength workouts two to three times per week are important. The biggest mistake that I see for 50+ women is not using enough weight to reverse the loss of lean mass OR trying to do high intensity interval type workouts that don’t target lean muscle development. Do sets of 8-10 reps at a weight that starts out heavy and, by the end, is almost too heavy to lift. The fear of women becoming big and muscular by doing this heavier lifting is basically unfounded.
Be progressive.  Start with one exercise for each major muscle group: front upper body, back upper body, front lower body and back lower body. Do one set for each and start out with machines in a gym (that way your form is least at risk) and do eight reps each. After two weeks do two sets of each.  After two more weeks, do three sets of each. The next progression is to add more weight on the middle set.
Build in “active recovery” for strength training. Once you establish your program, perform aggressively for three weeks; then every fourth week, take a moderate or lighter lifting week and use light weights. This way, your body repairs and is ready for the cycles of heavier work.
We can stay healthy and fit as we age. Do the type of fitness activities that are most needed and not what we like best. Both males and females need more flexibility and joint mobility exercises as we age.  Stay tuned for a future article on this very important topic.
Judy Torel is a USAT certified coach, has a Master’s degree as a psychotherapist/life coach, is a certified metabolic nutrition coach, 200 RYT yoga instructor, and ACSM certified fitness specialist. She is an ultra-distance runner and 6–time Ironman competitor. She can be reached at or 469.0815 and her office is located at 116 Everett Road, Albany.


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