At age 76, Ernestine Shepard isn’t your typical senior.
Earning a spot in the Guinness World Records 3 years ago, Shepard is one of the oldest female bodybuilders ever to compete–giving her the body and health of a 30 year old.
And although she isn’t as big as Iris Kyle, Shepard boasts a benching record of 150lbs and runs several miles a day.
Better yet, she only started to exercise in her 50s.
“I was too prissy to exercise [before my 50s],” says Shepard. “I just didn’t want to have my hair messed up. Didn’t want my fingernails broken.”
Now experts too say that it’s important to exercise once you hit your 50s–and it matters how you exercise as well.
How to Exercise in Your 50s
Many things follow a late 50th birthday–stiffer joints, lower lean body mass, and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. But most of these things can be prevented by adopting an exercise routine designed to treat the symptoms of an aging body.
“We recommend approximately 20 to 30 minutes of resistance exercises two to three times a week,” says Dr. Wayne Westcott, co-author of the book Strength Training Past 50. “It’s more challenging with age but if you do strength training you can maintain your lean muscle to about age 70.”
In conjunction with other experts, including Dr. Barbara Bushman of the American College of Sports Medicine, Westcott makes the following recommendation for those over 50:
- Resistance training is a must. According to Westcott, the average woman loses 10 lbs of lean mass every 10 years, but this can be prevented by lifting weights regularly. The key to maintaining lean body mass? At least 20 minutes of resistance exercise three times a week, preferably with a set of dumbbells.
- Add in aerobic exercise too. Westcott recommends aiming for a balance between aerobic and resistance exercise, though he recommends doing it for at least four times per week. As for what’s best, exercises that are easy on the joint are ideal, such as walking or swimming, are your best bet. Other exercises, such as running, may be too stressful on the joints.
- Staying hydrated during exercise also matters. Exercise accelerates dehydration, and older people may not recognize the signs of it right away. Staying hydrated also improves endurance levels, so make it a priority. As for what’s the best hydration level for you, that’s something you’ll need to discuss with your personal trainer.
In addition, experts recommend avoiding high-impact exercises and sticking with endurance exercises more often, as strength and power naturally diminish as people age.
“As people age, they lose muscle fibers that produce quick powerful bursts before fibers that are engaged in endurance activities such as running or cycling,” says Shirley Archer, a fitness trainer and author of the book Fitness 9 to 5: Easy Exercises for the Working Week. “That is why older athletes, who cannot physically compete against younger athletes when it comes to strength and power, can remain competitive in endurance sports.”
The recommendation for you? If you’re past 50, now’s the time to make exercise a serious priority–and you should do so by commuting to an aerobic and resistance exercise routine.
Readers: What are your favorite exercises?