6 Best Exercises for Women Over 50
Keep your heart, bones and muscles strong—and have fun doing it.
No matter your age, exercise is the foundation for a healthy brain and body. When you're over 50 "the focus of exercise is on longevity," says Damien Joyner, JD, ACE-Certified personal trainer and founder of Incremental Fitness in San Diego, CA. And longevity doesn't just mean living longer, but living longer with a quality of life you want and enjoy, he says.
That's why the focus for over 50 folks is to reduce risks of conditions that are a threat to your well-being, such as low bone density, falls and heart disease, says Joyner. "A regular exercise routine that is well-rounded will improve and maintain muscular strength, cardiovascular health, agility, coordination, brain health, posture and flexibility," he adds.
So, what exercises will deliver those benefits—and more? "The best type of workouts for people over 50 are the ones that meet them at their current fitness level and challenge them enough to maintain or improve how they move and feel," says Joyner.
Here are five of the best exercises if you're over age 50.
1. A Fast-Paced Walk for General Health
Walking is frequently recommended as one of the best ways to workout. Not only do studies show that hoofing it after meals can lower your blood sugar response to that meal (therefore improving insulin function), it's an easy activity to make enjoyable by walking with a friend, listening to a podcast or enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. One snag: "Often people tell me that walking isn't as effective as it used to be or they're bored with it," says Joyner. He suggests boosting the intensity of your walk so that you are moving at a quick clip, like you're walking with purpose versus a leisurely stroll. Bonus: Brisk walking has been linked to a longer life expectancy, according to research in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Another way to increase intensity is to plan to walk a route that has a couple of hills, which will more effectively challenge your heart, lungs and muscles, he suggests. (Learn more about the health benefits of walking.)
2. Weight Bearing Exercises to Strengthen Bones
After about age 30, bone mass goes on the decline, notes the National Institutes of Health. Resistance exercises preserves skeletal muscle and loads (or stresses) bones, ultimately stimulating bone-forming cells, and research has shown that this type of workout is instrumental in helping postmenopausal women maintain bone mineral density, points out a study in Endocrinology and Metabolism. Any type of weight bearing activity that provides some impact will buoy bone health, too: "Hiking outside, playing sports like tennis, or dancing can be great ways to get 'extra credit' to maintain bone mass," Joyner says. Resistance exercises—think lifting weights—can also help your bones. (These dumbbells come in 2lbs all the way up to 15lbs to help you set up your home gym. Starting at $3.49 at Target.com)
3. Pool Workouts if You Have Joint Aches and Pains
If exercise is uncomfortable, you may be reluctant to do it, but it's still important to find ways to stay active. Joyner recommends moving in the water. "Aqua classes are a great way to increase strength and cardiovascular health," he says. Water provides a low-impact setting for movements and warmer water increases joint mobility, Joyner adds. What's more, these workouts may make everyday movements feel better. "As the saying goes, 'motion is lotion.' With patience and sometimes working with an experienced professional, you can come to appreciate and enjoy how exercise can help reduce your pain," he says. A pair of sporty goggles ($14.99, Target.com) or aqua fitness barbells ($24.99, Dick's Sporting Goods) can make your water workouts more fun and efficient.
4. Biking to Boost Your Brain
The combination of being outdoors and physical movement is tops for your cognitive capabilities. So suggests a study, published in PLOS ONE on 100 adults age 50-plus who were broken up into three groups: a cycling group, e-bike group (electric bikes, which are built with a motor), or a control group that didn't bike at all. Those assigned to the cycling or e-bike group were instructed to be on their bikes for 30 minutes three times per week for eight weeks. Biking—whether a pedal bike or e-bike—boosted participant's executive function, and well-being.
If traditional biking isn't your thing, try an e-bike. E-bikes are skyrocketing in popularity for a reason: They allow you to enjoy commuting, running errands, traveling longer distances, or biking with less effort (key if you have health limitations) but still keep you outside and active.
5. Resistance Exercise to Maintain Muscle
Sarcopenia muscle loss and weakness that occurs in some elderly people. Now is the time to exercise in a way that will maintain the muscle mass that is crucial in keeping you mobile and functional well into your later years. (And avoid devastating falls.) How? Pick up weights. Doing so challenges and strengthens muscles, and resistance training is the most effective way to counter this condition, according to a systematic umbrella review in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging in 2019. Based on their research, the authors suggest targeting large muscle groups throughout the entire body.
When Joyner coaches clients, he recommends focusing on functional movements, which mimic the way your body moves every day. For example, a resistance exercise to support your ability to pick things up is a deadlift. Doing push-ups (or modified push-ups, based on your ability) will help you with your ability to "push" in real life. And practicing squats is instrumental in rising from a seated position, something you do multiple times throughout the day, he says.
6. Yoga to Improve Balance and Flexibility
You don't have to be able to bend over and touch your toes to enjoy yoga. Research shows the mind-body practice improves physical balance and lower body flexibility and strength, as well as mental health and sleep compared to inactive folks, finds a systematic review and meta-analysis on 22 randomized, controlled trials published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. In other words: Yoga makes you feel better all around. What's more, additional research shows that yoga is safe as you age. How's that for a feel-good workout? (Try these yoga poses may help you sleep.)