Exercises for Over 50 and Out of Shape – Introduction
What are the best exercises for over 50 and out of shape folks?
When you are over 50 or out of shape, you might think that there is no hope for you to ever get fit.
But, that thought is not true, so there is no reason for you to despair.
I speak from personal experience as a once 55-year-old man who believed that there was no way back to a normal weight and feeling comfortable in my body.
But there is, and it can happen much faster than you think possible.
The good news is that even after decades of inactivity and diets that do not deliver, you have woken up to the reality that if you don’t help yourself, no one else will.
Perhaps your doctor informed you that your blood pressure, A1C, or cholesterol is too high and you need medications.
Or your BMI (body mass index) puts you at risk for a host of adverse chronic health conditions, such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Overweight or Obesity
Or, you might be feeling more sluggish, a lack of mobility, and noticing that you can barely fit in many of your favorite clothing.
Last but not least, you think about your family and you know that a healthier you is a win-win, for them and you.
Whatever it is that stirred you to look for the best exercises for over 50 and out of shape, hold onto your reasons.
There is nothing more powerful than a burning reason to inspire you to change your lifestyle.
How do you start working out when you are really out of shape?
Develop Your Fitness System
Your goal is to get into shape, and the way to do that is by changing your lifestyle.
You are where you are today because of your lifestyle habits.
Think about the type of food you eat and the activities you engage in every day.
If most of the food you eat is processed and you sit most of the day, those are two important clues as to why you are overweight and out of shape today.
You need to change your current habits if you are to be successful in achieving your fitness goals.
I won’t softsoap it, if you want to improve your fitness level, if you want the best results, you have to change your lifestyle.
This article will reveal the best exercises for over 50 and out of shape upon which you can develop a fitness system that works for you.
Disclaimer: if you are starting exercise for the first time, please consult with your physician beforehand to ensure that exercise will not exacerbate any medical issues.
Take the PAR-Q
Before you do anything, you need the confidence that you are ready for physical activity.
To do that, your first step is to take a look at the PAR-Q questionnaire.
The purpose of the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q) is to identify individuals who require further medical evaluation before starting an exercise prescription, such as cardio workouts or weight training.
The PAR-Q serves as an excellent health care screening questionnaire and is required by NASM, ACE, and ACSM Certified Personal Trainers to begin training sessions.
You can download the PAR-Q or read more details in PAR-Q Form Questions to Participate in Physical Activity.
If you answer Yes to any of the questions, then you should speak to your physician before beginning an exercise program.
5 Best Exercises for Over 50 and Out of Shape
Step 1. Start Walking
When it comes to exercises for over 50 and out of shape, numerous fitness specialists suggest activities such as:
- Tai chi, or
These exercises range from too high impact, like jogging, or a low impact like Tai Chi, which requires a teacher, and to limited access activities, like swimming.
Also, tennis requires a tennis court and more mobility than you likely have when you’re out of shape, and dancing is even further from the mark if you lack self-confidence.
If you love any of the above activities and have access to them, then, by all means, go for it because the exercise you stick with will always be the best exercise routine for you.
However, my suggestion is to start walking.
Walking is an excellent activity with a vast array of benefits that is comfortable and accessible to most people.
Even if you don’t enjoy exercising, taking a walk for 20 to 30 minutes a day is a bare minimum if you want to get back into shape.
By walking every day for 30 minutes, rain or shine, outside or on a treadmill, you now have created a regular exercise routine, a solid foundation for your fitness system.
This habit will help you get to your goal of being lean and more muscular even though you are over 50 or out of shape today.
Think of all the advantages of walking:
- No special equipment needed (imagine if you took up scuba diving!)
- You don’t need any unique skill set – you learned it all as a baby.
- And you don’t need a gym or personal trainer.
- You can walk any time of the day.
- Low stress on your body and therefore a low risk of injury and joint pain
- Low enough intensity that you can walk every day
- One of the best ways to warm up or cool down, which helps prevent post-exercise Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Walking is such a solid foundation for overall health and fitness that the United States Physical Activity Guidelines is 30 minutes of walking at least five days a week.
Don’t look down on walking because walking alone can set you on the right path towards your fitness journey.
For example, after you take a brisk 30-minute walk in the morning, it is doubtful that you will ruin this excellent start of your day with a snickers bar or blueberry muffin.
No, instead, your body will feel refreshed and crave high-quality, nutritious food.
Step 2. How to Walk for Fitness
If you think walking is too easy, think again! Get the best results from your walks by walking with purpose and use high-intensity interval training principles.
What does a walking workout plan look like?
This 12-week walking workout routine will help you get conditioned for the strength training to come.
Walking is a full-body resistance exercise, and is therefore good for your bones as well as your heart.
Also, walking will help you reactivate muscles that have been dormant for many years. Waking up the largest muscles of your body can reverse insulin resistance.
Do not be surprised if you experience a significant weight loss through walking alone. Besides your physical shape, you might notice that your mood also improves. As such, walking is excellent for anyone battling the blues, and not only a great way to get back into shape.
This workout plan will increase in intensity as the weeks go by.
Start slow and pat yourself on the back for taking care of yourself!
Rate of Perceived Exertion
The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a technique developed by Dr. Gunnar Borg to evaluate how hard you feel you are working during exercise.
The RPE is a useful tool, especially in an aerobics workout like walking. Although Dr. Borg’s original scale uses a 6 – 20 scale, many exercisers use a 1 – 10 scale, such as:
- 0 – Reclining on the lazy boy – (Beware of the Danger of Sitting Disease!)
- 1 – 2: Comfortable and very light intensity – very easy stroll, searching the house for junk food (beware of Processed Food!)
- 3 – 4: Light intensity – easy stroll – barely increasing your heart rate
- 5 – 6: Moderate intensity – brisk walking – increases heart rate – but you’re not out of breath
- 7 – 8: Vigorous-intensity – more effort – you’re feeling out of breath but not your maximum
- 9 – 10: Maximum intensity – highest brief effort walking, as in a fast run, like a 40-yard dash
Here is a walking program that will work for you:
Just get outside or on your treadmill, bike, or elliptical three to five times a week, and do 30 minutes of walking at an RPE of 1 – 2.
Begin with a 5 minute warm-up at RPE of 1 – 2 and then 20 minutes of RPE 3 – 4 and end with a 5 minute cool down. Every workout going forward starts with a 5-minute warm-up and ends with a 5-minute cool-down.
You can use week four’s template for the rest of the 8 weeks left in this training cycle. If four rounds are too much or you don’t have time, then do three rounds or even two rounds. Of course, you can mix up your effort to vary between easiest and most difficult.
Once you can do four rounds, shoot for five, you will get a better workout than you think, just from this walking plan.
Did you ever watch a soccer game?
They walk, they jog, and they run all out with brief bursts, and you will likely be quite pleased if your physique resembles that of most players who are very toned and conditioned.
Step 3. Train your palate
You will likely be unhappy to hear this, but you need to – it is near impossible to out-train a bad diet. One more time, you can’t out-train a poor diet (unless you’re an athlete who trains 10 hours a day!)
Most likely, you are not an athlete (but would like to look like one) and have a sedentary job. Despite all the health benefits of exercise, if you are still raiding the pantry at night, it will be a difficult road to get back into shape.
Working out is much easier when you are not fighting the extra weight you carry on your body, especially for older adults.
What you can do is exercise discipline regarding the food you eat. I highly recommend that you combine your 12-week walking workout together with this free guide on How to Lose 20 Pounds in 3 Months Using 5 Simple Steps.
The synergy created by moving your body and using the following 5 simple steps of the Hashi Mashi Diet + Exercise plan will help you lean out faster than you ever thought possible.
Brief Summary of the Hashi Mashi Training plan:
Establish your baseline – Step on a body composition scale, identify your current weight, and record it today. Measure your weight loss progress daily.
Step 1. Establish a set routine meal pattern, three meals, and one snack a day, about 3 to 4 hours apart.
Step 2. Start a walking program as described above for at least 20 – 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic exercise, 5 – 6 times a week.
Step 3. Real Food (not processed) is your friend, even carbs. Stick to real food, such as vegetables, whole grains like kasha (buckwheat), quinoa, oats, and whole wheat if you’re not gluten-sensitive, legumes, lean protein, fruit, berries, nuts, and seeds
Step 4. ‘Crowd out’ junk food by focusing on real food.
Step 5. Eat to 2/3 the fill of your stomach. Overeating creates a state of overweight and is like poison to your body.
Step 5. Strength Training
You need to build muscle mass to change the shape of your body.
But perhaps even more important for older people is to prevent the loss of muscle.
While walking will benefit your bones and muscles, it will not stress the major muscle groups like compound strength training exercises.
Resistance training is an excellent way to transform your fitness level. Beyond physical health, your daily walking and strength training can do wonders for mental health as well.
Remember that muscle is your friend, and more important to you now more than ever as an older adult.
Can you build muscle mass after age 50?
The answer is yes as proven in the following study Influence of Resistance Exercise on Lean Body Mass in Aging Adults: A Meta-Analysis. The author’s Mark D. Peterson, Ph.D.,1 Ananda Sen, Ph.D.,1 and Paul M. Gordon, Ph.D. reached this conclusion:
“The results of the current meta-analysis suggest that RE elicits an approximate 1kg (2 pounds) increase in LBM among older adults. Although modest compared to the expected adaptation with healthy young adults, this increase is in contrast to the 0.18 kg (0.40 lbs) annual decline that may occur through sedentary lifestyles, beyond fifty years of age.
Moreover, the volume of training and age of participation are important determinants of effectiveness, suggesting that higher dosages result in greater adaptive response and that aging individuals should consider starting a regimen of resistance exercise as early as possible, to optimize results.
These findings expand upon current recommendations, which merely suggest an increase in training load, to accommodate fitness improvements.”
You set yourself up for a loss of functional mobility and independence without resistance training. But, building muscle will keep you mobile and independent. Is there a better reason to start strength training as soon as possible?
Strength Training Exercises for Over 50 and Out of Shape
If you are following the walking program and the guide to lose 20 pounds in 3 months, you will reach a point where you feel comfortable adding strength training.
The simplest strength training exercises that you can do at home without equipment are planks, pushups, and deadlifts. Squats are an added bonus once you improve your mobility.
Step 6. The Plank
How to Plank
- Get into a pushup position
- Squeeze your glutes and abs
- Hold your body in a straight line from head to toe
Put a watch beneath you and hold the plank position for 10 to 20 seconds. Once you hit 20 seconds, keep adding the time until you can plank for a minute.
The benefits of planks include:
- Increase your core strength
- Learn how to brace, which means maintain intra-abdominal pressure while still being able to breathe. Bracing is an important skill to master for more challenging exercises like barbell deadlifts and squats
- Engage multiple muscle groups at one time using one exercise in which you do not have to move – (but you will start shaking!)
- Improve your posture
- Potentially reduce or prevent lower back pain because of stronger back muscles
Plank against the wall, on a chair, or on the steps of a staircase if planks on a floor are too difficult.
Build up to 1 – 3 sets of 60-second planks two or three times a week.
Step 7. Pushups
Once you can plank on the floor for 60 seconds, you should be able to begin doing pushups. Even if you can only do one, it is time to get started!
As with walking, vary your workouts during the week.
You should begin your pushup journey by doing a pushup test. The pushup test is a standard fitness test, and it is even part of the US Army Combat Fitness assessments.
How to do a Pushup Test
A push-up test will measure the muscular endurance of your upper body.
- By now you are an expert at getting into the pushup position because of the Plank.
- As in the plank, keep your body tight and in a straight line from head to toe.
- Lower yourself to the floor and touch your chest, chin, or nose to the floor.
- There is no reason to overexert yourself at this point, so even if you only do pushups halfway down, it is okay.
- But progress at least to touch your nose to the floor.
- Press back up – think of pushing the floor away from you while keeping your body straight.
- Do as many repetitions with good form as you can for the pushup test.
- Once your form breaks or you pass 60 seconds, stop.
- Make a note of how many pushups you did.
- You can do a pushup test once a week or once a month, and jot down the result so you can see your progress.
How to Progress in Pushups
Let’s say you can do 10 pushups max on your first pushup test.
On a daily basis, do the following morning, noon, and in the evening:
- 5 pushups, 5 minutes rest, another 5 pushups
You do half of what you actually are able to do with maximum effort, in other words, at 50% intensity.
If this is too difficult, lower the number of pushups.
This technique is known as greasing the groove, letting your body and muscles adjust to exercise without exerting a maximum effort. It was introduced to the fitness world by Pavel Tsatsouline, the father of the Kettlebell in America.
As you get stronger, add one more pushup.
You will increase in strength if you stick with the program.
Even if you do 20 pushups, a 5-minute rest, and another 20 pushups, that will take you all of 10 minutes.
Step 8. Quadruped Opposite Arm/Leg Raise aka Bird Dog
The quadruped opposite arm/leg raise is also known as the bird dog exercise, as well as the Parsva Balasana pose in Yoga.
The bird dog is a low impact, simple and great way to:
- Strengthen and stabilize your core muscle groups. Your core includes all the muscles of your body, excluding your arms, legs, and head.
- Improve spinal stability thereby strengthening your lower back which is generally the most vulnerable area for back pain
- Better coordination between the right and left side of your body, try it, you’ll see!
- Improve your balance
- Activate and strengthen your lower back and glutes
- Practice and improve bracing which is an important skill to perform the deadlift and squat with proper form and minimize the risk of injury
How to do the bird dog
- Kneel on the floor and place your hands under your shoulders
- Keep a neutral spine and head position
- Tighten your abs and brace your core
- Raise and extend your right arm while extending your left leg and hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds
- Do NOT lift your arms or legs too high which may cause you to hyperextend (arch) your back
- Also, do NOT shift your hips from side to side. You will not be able to shift your hips if you brace correctly.
Professor Dr. Stuart McGill, a renowned expert in back pain and rehabilitation, and the author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance and Back Mechanics recommends 3 sets of descending reps (pyramid):
- 1st set – 8 reps
- 2nd set – 6 reps
- 3rd set – 4 reps
Progressively increase the hold time up to 10 seconds
The plank and the bird dog can help strengthen your back and avoid ever having to see a physical therapist. Whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced powerlifter, these are excellent exercises to stabilize your spine.
A more advanced variation is to touch your hand and knee as demonstrated in this video at the 5-minute mark:
3 Core Exercises You Should Do EVERY Day
Step 9. Floor Bridge
The supine floor bridge will help you activate muscles that are likely dormant in your body, especially if you have been inactive for a long time. Specifically, your gluteus maximus, the largest muscle of your body, and the most significant muscle group for lower body power.
Your likely inactive muscles are primarily located on the posterior chain, on the back half of your body, the ones that you cannot see in a mirror!
How to do the floor bridge:
- Lie on the floor face-up
- With your arms out at your sides
- Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground not too far away from your rear
- Lift your body while squeezing your glutes to a straight line from your knees to your head
- Return to the start position
- Maintain body tension, bracing, throughout the movement
Step 10. Resistance Band Deadlifts
Deadlifts are one of the best full-body exercises for building strength that you will ever do. If you only have time to do one strength training exercise, let it be the deadlift because it targets all of the main muscle groups of your body.
You might think that it primarily works the back, but that is not the case.
The deadlift works your upper and lower body.
While traditional deadlifts use a barbell or hexagon trap bar, you can begin with resistance bands.
The plus of deadlifting with bands is that you need no equipment other than your bands. And a great set of resistance bands will cost you under $30, whereas to set up a deadlift studio in your home will run two to three hundred dollars when you factor in:
The plank and bird dog you learned above will both greatly help you with the deadlift.
By using resistance bands, you eliminate some of the costs and risks of deadlifting using a barbell. Exercise resistance bands will allow you to focus on deadlifting with the proper form which is critical to avoid injury.
Watch this video to see how simple it is to do deadlifts with resistance bands.
How to Resistance Band Deadlift
Exercises for Over 50 and Out of Shape – Wrapping Up
Your body is composed of hundreds of muscles, and many of them are skeletal muscles, meaning muscles that move your skeleton from one place to the next.
Skeletal muscles are a big clue that you need to move your body, every single day.
If you want to get fit without getting off the couch, this post is not for you. Daily exercise is not only a good idea, it is critical if you want to achieve and maintain good health.
When you are over 50 or out of shape, you need to start slow. Walking is the best first step.
Of course, the best exercise is the one you stick with, so if you know how to swim and have access to a pool, then swim!
But, 30 minutes a day of moving is the bare minimum, and once you establish a routine and feel comfortable enough, you can introduce strength training.
This post is broken down into ten steps for you to take back your fitness, starting today.
It is never too late, and there is no reason for despair. Follow the steps and the suggested exercises and you will succeed.
When you are overweight and out of shape, you need to get control of your lifestyle, especially when it relates to food. Follow the 5 simple steps on How to Lose 20 Pounds in 3 Months while you are implementing the steps above.
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- 5 Best Core Structural Exercises for Fitness + Training Program