Exercise over 50; 5 stories of finding fitness over 50

exercise equipment for fitness after 50

You know it don’t you, you really must exercise, and that as you age, fitness and strength become ever more important. But life gets in the way, sometimes in the form of injuries and pain, sometimes due to boredom and general lack of motivation.

Hopefully the variety of stories below will provide you with some ideas and motivations to create an exercise plan that is individual as you are, and that works for you.

My path to fitness over 50 (I know, I know, over 60!)

I have definitely faced all the obstacles of poor motivation, downright laziness, pain and injury. I still do on a weekly basis, but I know that regular exercise for over 50’s (over 60’s in my case) is absolutely essential to my heart health, and indeed to my mental health.

As I write this post I have some damage to my right rotator cuff and I am also a life long sufferer of back pain due to a severe scoliosis. I am also naturally lazy and a love of exercise appears to be missing from my genetic makeup. But at 65 I know the benefits of exercise and I have learned to enjoy a mix of exercise designed to lower my blood pressure, increase my muscle mass, and protect me from the possibility of falling, prevent diabetes and breaking my bones.

My ‘over 50 workout plan’ looks like this:

  • Monday – 5 km walk. This is in no way power walking, it takes me around an hour and I usually sit for a few minutes half way through. That allows me to rest my back, and enjoy the fruits of my labour by watching life go by on the riverside. It is important to me that my walk is in an environment that I can enjoy and I am very fortunate to have canals and the river to wander along. I am a bit of a fair weather walker, but last week I actually convinced myself to walk despite the threat of rain. I ended up calling for a lift towards the end of the walk because I didn’t want my phone to get wet, but in the past I wouldn’t even have gone out, so I was rightly proud of myself. My next step is to find my drysac so I can carry my phone in it. I wear a Fitbit as well and find that the 5 km runs out to around 6,500 – 7,000 steps, such that with a bit of incidental walking at the shops, around the house etc., I often hit 10,000 steps without really trying too hard. But, and this is the key for me, if I don’t hit that target I don’t worry.
  • Tuesday – 1 hour small group Reformer Pilates class. This is my favourite exercise of all. Not only is it the perfect exercise for my back and for core strength, I enjoy the laughs with my fellow classmates and our trainer. I only do one class per week because it is expensive, but I might in the future look to add an additional less expensive floor pilates/yoga combination class.
  • Wednesday – a visit to the gym. We spend about an hour here and I do a combination of strength training, foam rolling, warm up cardiovascular and some theraband stretches focussed on my rotator cuff injury. I have a program that is in need of updating and that is on my radar for sometime in the next few weeks. Curiously, for one who is so lacking in love for exercise, I do enjoy the challenge of weights work and seeing my reps and weights go up over time.
  • Thursday – 5 km walk again. To date we have followed the same route since moving to Noosaville and there is plenty of variety with dog walkers, runners, idling tourists, bird life and changes in the weather. As we become more settled we are looking to change that up a little with some walks in the National Park. That will mitigate against boredom over time. Some mornings my back is not keen to be up and walking but I have found that, as advised by my osteopath, a single Panadol Osteo relaxes me enough to push through without pain. Having said that, do not treat that as medical advice and do read the disclaimer at the foot of this post.
  • Friday – back to the gym for the same program as Wednesday
  • Saturday and Sunday – rest days with perhaps some incidental walking for pleasure.

You will note that nowhere in my program do I talk about weighing myself. I am conscious of my weight but I observe weight changes more in my clothes than on the scales, and make small adjustments to my eating and drinking in order to not let my weight ‘run away with me’.

Jan Wild walks for fitness over 50
At the halfway point of our walk

If I have a single tip for you to help with staying on track, it is “don’t beat yourself up when you miss a day”. Don’t let one missed day have you feeling like a failure. Just make sure you get up and back to your workout plan the next day. Of course if you are regularly avoiding doing your exercise you will need to determine why that is the case and deal with your mental blocks – only you can do that.

There are many ways to find and keep motivation and here are several other stories that may provide the inspiration you need. Each story is different with different exercise routines and different tricks for enjoyment of exercise.

Jane Adams jogs for her over 50 workout

When my elderly mum said she was worried I might develop type 2 diabetes I was shocked. I was nearly 50, and over 20 years I’d been working hard, bought and sold a house, paid the bills, got married, nursed my husband through cancer treatment, but I hadn’t been looking after myself. On that day, driving home in the car, I decided to change things – but I wasn’t sure how.

At a meeting with a charity client that very next week, we were talking about raising money for an important fundraiser. It was agreed that staff would run in a 10km race, and before I thought about what I was saying, I’d put my name down be one of the charity runners. I couldn’t run, but I had 3 months to get to the start line.

Jane Adams at a charity run being fit over 50
Jane at the beginning of her first 10 km run – image by Steve Davis

Luckily the race organisers had a 14-week beginners training plan – and I started following it religiously. I remember the first training session – it said, ‘walk 5 min, run 5 min, walk 5 min’. I think I probably ran no more than a minute before stopping for a rest, but after completing those 15 minutes (sweaty, tired and aching) I was elated. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was determined.

Having something to aim for and doing something for a charity I loved, had given me the kick up the backside I needed. I had bad training days, but I never regretted a run.

I now run purely for pleasure, with friends or as my selfish me-time.

Jan Robinson’s Over 50 workout

Like most of us I suffered aerobics classes back in the nineties. I loved my lycra outfits and the music, but that was about it. It was far too energetic for my liking.

In my mid fifties, I found and fell in love with Body Balance. This hour long class can be done at most gyms and combines Tai Chi, Pilates and Yoga in specific routines choreographed to music.

What I find motivating about Body Balance is the music. I lose myself in it and love that it is slow and purposeful. A Tai Chi warm up is followed by Pilates then Yoga stretching and balance before a return to the original Tai Chi.

My current Gym, which I love, has two classes each week but I would do more.

The second part of my regime is a 4km walk each day with my husband. I really need accountability and companionship or the excuses creep in. Luckily we live by the ocean and have beautiful views for inspiration.

Jan Robinson walks as part of her over 50 workout
Jan does a beach walk as part of her over 50 workout

When we travel I enjoy taking Bicycle Tours, but at home cycling is firmly in the occasional basket and always involves exploration.

[Follow Jan on her blog Budget Travel Talk]

Susan Gan’s tips for being fit over 50

I feel very comfortable and happy with my exercise routine and that is what makes it achievable.

When I was younger I was so lucky, my metabolism worked overtime, I could eat whatever I wanted and never do any exercise. 

Now, in my 50’s, my metabolism has stalled and the weight has started creeping on. Unfortunately years of lazy habits can be hard to break and I’ve had to force myself to exercise.

Luckily, I have managed to find a few tricks that (most of the time) help keep me motivated:

  • Wear your exercise clothes at home – If you are lazing around in your PJ’s you are never going to exercise. I find that if I’m dressed in my sports gear when the enthusiasm strikes, I actually feel more motivated.
  • Start small – Set achievable goals that are easy to meet. Don’t overdo it, you’ll just end up with sore muscles and give up.
  • Keep an exercise diary – It can be really motivating to track your exercise and then look back at how much you have improved. Try to push yourself a little harder each day. 
  • Make it social.  Instead of catching up with friends for dinner, organize to meet them for a walk.

We enjoy meeting friends for evening walks, going on bush walks in the local forest or trying out the local bike trails. We also plan holidays involving our favourite activities.

Susan Gan at Oamaru her exercise includes cycling
Susan cycles for exercise

Find an activity you enjoy and get your friends to join you. You’ll be so busy having fun that you won’t notice you’re exercising.

[Read more about Susan]

Andrew nails exercise over 50

[This written by Andrew’s wife Olivia]

To start, an admission: I’m still a decade away from 50. But as I’m about to head into my forties, I have a  fantastic role model for maintaining your health through exercise. At almost 52, my husband Andrew is in better shape than he has been in ages, and that despite a major hip operation three years ago.

How does he do it? He heads to Crossfit workouts 3-4 times per week during his lunch break. It’s pretty impressive to hear him report the minutiae of the demanding workouts, and he gets oohs and aaahs from me when he’s broken yet another personal record or has perfected a new skill (rope climbing! handstand pushups!). The great thing is that the trainers make sure everyone is scaling the weights and repetitions to their current abilities and keep a close eye on technique, so participants come in all sizes and ages. Andrew says: “With age comes wisdom, and wisdom whispers that it’s competitive but not a race. Or else I’ll get hurt.”

His injuries so far have been pretty minor, such as ripped callouses and rope burn on his hands, a strained elbow tendon, and a slightly pulled back (fixed in a session with a chiropractor). When they occur, he sometimes takes a few workouts off, but is happy to return as soon as his body is ready. “Once you’ve gotten into good shape, your body craves the workout,” he says. “The only time it’s a little harder to get excited is right after a long vacation.”

Plank with grandchild on his back
Andrew adds some extra weight to his plank

As a result of his hard work, Andrew has dropped 15 pounds (6.8 kilos) that had slowly snuck onto his body over the decades. I sometimes envy the energy he has for keeping up with our toddler and preschooler. And he’s not planning on getting complacent: “My only goal is to keep death and all the ailments that precede it at bay for as long as possible.”

More from Olivia and Andrew

Top tips for maintaining an exercise routine

When I read all the stories above there are several themes which continue through each of them:

  1. Find a form or forms of exercise that you enjoy
  2. Create habits that work for you, time of day, what you wear etc.
  3. Know when to rest and when to push through – you will need to be honest with yourself about that!
  4. Have good resources for pain management if needed
  5. Consider an exercise partner to keep you honest, but don’t let them influence you on days they don’t feel like exercise, do your own thing
  6. Find a gym or exercise class with an instructor who works to your specific needs or goals
  7. Have your exercise gear ready the night before
  8. Get clear on your motivations and remind yourself of those as you need

[Disclaimer: We are not qualified to provide fitness advice. Please seek personalised medical and exercise advice prior to starting any fitness program]

Do you have an exercise program that works for you? If not, what are your blocks to exercising?

Older and Wiser