As an orthopedist, I see a lot of injuries to bones and joints simply from “weekend warrior” type of exercise that jams too much exercise into a small space of time. Many of my over-50 patients are still working and spend time at sedentary jobs during the week. They try to make up for it by overdoing their exercise efforts.
As a result, joints start hurting, neck and back discs can pinch nerves, knees may be injured…but there’s a better way! Let me tell you the best exercise routine for over-50 people that will both prevent injuries and still help you get/stay fit.
Prevent Injuries and Get Fit with Focused Age-Specific Exercise
First of all, let me say that regular exercise 3-4 times a week, in your age group, is far more effective – and safer – than “marathon” exercising. Even if you’re working 10 hour days during the week – taking an extra half-hour to 45 minutes, at least every other day, will be of greater benefit to your physical health than trying to cram-exercise. It will:
1. Decrease stress – working long hours can make you tense and out of sorts.
2. Get your blood circulating again – sitting too long can put you at risk for blood clots.
3. Help you sleep – even a brisk walk after dinner will help you sleep better during the week.
In the over-50 age group, you have specific exercise concerns that require greater focus. They can help you live longer and stronger. Here they are:
Studies show that people over 60 live longer if their heart/lung functions are good even if they’re somewhat overweight. So, working on your cardiorespiratory fitness is important. Good cardio-building exercise includes anything in which your entire body is moving.
This can include moderate-paced dancing like Zumba or World Dance, or brisk paced walking, swimming laps, biking, doing aerobics in a class or to your own exercise videos, kettlebell routines, TRX, jogging outdoors or on a treadmill, stair stepper or elliptical machine, playing basketball, soccer, anything where your body is moving steadily for at least 30 minutes at a time.
You might find that doing 3, 10 minute, bursts of exercise during your day can help you stay more alert and energized. Running in place to music, jumping on a rebounder, doing jumping jacks, jogging/walking briskly up and down a few flights of stairs at your office, are all good.
As you get older, your core (abdominal/torso) muscles can get weak if you don’t use them enough. This can cause your posture to suffer and even your lung capacity to diminish. But you don’t have to get on the floor and do 100 crunches to build your core muscles.
Get a soccer ball, or a 5-10 lb weight (depending on your fitness level); hold it in front of you, swing/lift the ball/weight upward over your head, then down to the floor. Then, swing it back up over your head. Repeat for 3 sets of 12. Whenever your arms are lifted over your head, your core muscles are engaged. This is also aerobic action that helps rev up your metabolism as well.
Next, holding your soccer ball, or exercise ball, or weight held outstretched in front of you, stand with your legs about 1 foot apart, feet firmly planted on the ground, swing the ball to one side, then back to the middle, then to the other side, without bending your arms. Repeat 12 times for 2-3 sets. This works all the core muscles in the front and sides.
If you don’t exercise much, your balance can really suffer. Poor balance puts you at higher risk for falls, dangerous wrist and hip fractures and even cracked discs in your neck and back – all which can mean pain and immobility.
Stretching type exercise routines – like yoga or Pilates – can really be great flexibility – as well as muscle strength – builders. But, please, take a class in these exercises first, or buy instruction on a DVD, to be sure you’re doing the moves correctly. A very simple stretching exercise can be done everyday when you get out of the shower. You’ll need a larger towel to do this. Holding onto each end of your towel, extend your arms out in front of you, keeping the towel taut, stretched out through each move. Lift your arms overhead several times, then twist to each side several times, then do a few “windmill” stretches – bending at your waist and dipping toward the floor on each side.
Swimming is also an excellent whole-body exercise that builds flexibility, balance, muscle strength, and is very non-impact joint and disc friendly. Keep in mind that stretching well should be done before beginning any exercise routine. It warms up your muscles, tendons and ligaments and prevents “boomeritis” type pulls, strains, aches and pains. It also revs up your heart to get your blood circulating.
Just remember, despite what anyone at the gym may tell you, pain is your body telling you it’s had too much – don’t try to “power through it” like some young weight lifter at the gym might tell you. In your age group, you want to focus on pain-free strength, balance and longevity building to stay fit and active long into your older years.
Mark Bromson, M.D.