THE BLOG

Fitness After 50: Tips for Starting Your Path to Healthy Aging

01/31/2014 10:13 am ET | Updated Apr 02, 2014
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We don't stop moving because we grow old, we grow old because we stop moving.

Many people assume that they're too out-of-shape, or sick, or tired, or just plain old to exercise, so they avoid it completely. Others believe they should lower the intensity of their exercise due to compromised balance, coordination and strength that come with age.

They're wrong. The real danger to your health is not exercising at all.

At any age, you can increase muscle strength, preserve bone density, improve balance and improve your overall health. However, only a combination of regular exercise and sensible eating can help you achieve this, so don't let your age scare you away from the gym.

Before you join a health club, know what to look for and ask about. Here are some helpful tips for starting and/or maintaining your path to healthy aging:

Add strength-training to your workout routine
Most folks hit the gym and head straight for the treadmill. And while cardio exercise is vital to long-lasting health, it's the strength-training that helps you maintain and regain strength and improve metabolism so that you burn calories for much longer after workouts. (Adults over 50 can lose around a half a pound of muscle mass every year). Before joining a gym, ask how the staff will help you get into a routine. Give preference to clubs that help create a workout program based on your goals.

Don't overlook stretching and balance
As we get into our 50s and beyond, it's even more important to include stretching and balance exercises in our routine. As age increases, bodies don't start up or wind down as quickly. Prior to a full workout, adults over 50 need to warm-up for at least five minutes in order to increase blood flow to muscles and loosen tendons. Your club should show you how to include stretching and balance exercises as part of your workout program.

Get help learning to eat healthy
It's easy to say eat more spinach and less cookies, but the fact is most people don't know where to start when it comes to devising a healthy diet - or how to sustain healthy eating habits beyond a couple of weeks. That's why you should give serious thought to working with a registered dietitian who can not only put you on a nutrition and meal plan that speaks to your needs and goals, but can provide ongoing counseling to keep you motivated, accountable and on the path to success. Some clubs offer this service, though most charge extra. Ask before you join.

Recruit a workout buddy
You're more likely to stick with an exercise program if you work out regularly with a friend. This helps keep each of you accountable and motivated - you're likely to look forward to hitting the gym on a regular basis. That's why it's important to ask a health club about its guest policies. You'll want to introduce potential partners to your gym -- but some of them will charge you a guest fee and many won't put your guests through sample workouts; they'll be on their own. The easier a club makes it for guests to "sample" your club, the more likely the two of you will start and stick to a routine together.

Keep learning and connecting
How do you learn to exercise more effectively, eat right, get more and better sleep, keep your brain sharp and so on? Some health clubs put on a regular series of wellness seminars and workshops to address topics like these and provide information that can help you live healthier. Social events too may be offered, helping you connect with others and get more enjoyment from your membership. When evaluating health clubs, ask if these types of workshops and social events are part of your membership.