Health & Wellness | January 19, 2022 |

How to Maintain Fitness As You Age

11 minute read
How to Maintain Fitness As You Age

Physical fitness improves our self confidence, protects us from injury, and helps us live longer, healthier lives. Exercise at any age is incredibly important for our mental health and physical well-being. It’s also one of the easiest ways to improve your overall quality of life as you get older. That said, the way we approach fitness inevitably changes as we age. 

Tight shoulders, creaky joints, and less flexibility may mean your fitness routine needs some modifications. If you played football in your 20s, you might not be ready for a tackle at 85, but you can build a healthy, active lifestyle at any age with the right fitness plan. Exercise can empower you at every stage of life and make you feel confident, healthy, and at home in your body. Use this article as a comprehensive guide on how to maintain fitness as you get older and keep your mind and body in top shape.

Why is exercise so important for older people?

Being healthy feels great. When your body is strong, your mind is sharp and everyday household activities like lifting, moving, and sweeping feel comfortable and seamless. Exercise for seniors has many of the same benefits it had in your 30s and 40s: great circulation, cognitive clarity, cardiovascular and heart health, weight loss, muscle strength, confidence, flexibility, and balance. 

As we age, exercise also carries a special set of benefits. Keeping our mobility, flexibility, and strength as we head into older age can help prevent injury by reducing falls or fractures. Strength training could make it easier to pick up a grandchild, carry your own groceries, cultivate a garden, or lift a heavy pan while cooking a meal for those you love. Staying healthy preserves independence and well being.

Physical fitness can dramatically improve the quality  of your life and reduce your risk of mortality. Regular exercise can help prevent a myriad of health conditions including heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, obesity, cancer, hypertension, and more. Combined with a healthy diet, regular exercise is a great way to maintain holistic health in older age. 

An older woman practicing low impact exercise on a mat

Exercise protects aging bones

Bone density declines in our 30s and 40s, but regular exercise strengthens muscles and protects bones to help maintain independence in everyday activities. Healthy muscle mass can act as a protective cushion for bones, reinforcing strength and stability. Low-impact exercise can help build up bone strength with a low risk of injury. Activities like yoga, tai chi, stretching, and pilates can build muscles and help support healthy bones as bone density declines with age.

Decide on your fitness goals

Perhaps you’ve read inspiring stories of mature people who started running later in life and went on to complete marathons, or have seen someone in your yoga class fold elegantly into a pretzel at 75. But the way you exercise should suit your own strengths, interests, and limitations. Comparison can lead to discouragement and injury, so remember to run your own race. 

Take a moment to consider why you want to exercise and what you’re hoping to get out of physical activity. When we’re eager to get into a healthy routine, sometimes we make big resolutions we can’t keep. This makes it even more discouraging when we break a resolution and end up back at square one. 

Perhaps you can keep up daily running or complicated gym workouts for a few days, but why not create habits and goals that you can keep for life? Knowing why you’re working out will also help you keep your resolve. Perhaps you want to reinforce strength to avoid falls, improve cardiovascular health, live a long full life so you can spend time with grandkids, or to be able to bike again to meet friends. Whatever your motivation for staying fit and being active, remembering your goals will help motivate you to keep up a healthy routine.

A senior woman using an Apple Watch on her run to track her fitness goals

How to start exercising again after 50

Perhaps it’s been a while since you had a workout regimen you loved, or felt good after sweating it out at the gym. Our relationships with our bodies go through many evolutions, from pregnancy and menopause in women, to the natural musculature changes everyone experiences. You may also be entering this phase of life with health issues or past injuries that rule out some types of exercise. But don’t be discouraged by these changes; there are many great fitness opportunities for older people that can reinforce physical health, mental wellness, and confidence.

Acknowledge how your body is changing

Your body likely feels different than it did at 40, so the way your exercise should be different, too. As we age, our bodies synthesize protein more slowly and it may take more time to build muscle or to recover from exercise. Choosing a consistent, low-impact exercise paired with a healthy diet is key for great physical health. For those of us who previously engaged in high-intensity or impact activities, it can be difficult to transition into a new form of exercise. But it’s important not to judge yourself. Pursue activities that are kind to your body and build strength or mobility in a way that feels good. 

An older couple jogging on a street

Get moving with a fitness plan

The most important thing is to create a fitness plan that’s right for you. This should be a regular exercise routine you can realistically stick to and enjoy. Begin with clear, simple goals and notice what activities you enjoy the most. Here are some tips for forming a fitness plan that works for you:

  • Start with a simple goal like a daily walk at the same time every day, signing up for a home fitness class, or a 20-minute stretching routine to a calming soundtrack before bed. Once you make a fitness routine a habit, you’ll be able to add to it and notice growth as you go along.
  • Take note of what you enjoy, because it’s easier to keep habits when they’re ones you are naturally drawn to. If you enjoy being in nature, it’s easier to maintain a regular hiking schedule. If you hate running, don’t make a daily jog your goal. Maybe you dislike long walks, but you love golfing and walking along the course. Try to find connections to activities you already enjoy to engage in movement regularly.
  • Light housework or gardening can be a great way to get your body moving in a way that’s meditative, easy on your body, and good for your mental and physical health. Making the bed, watering the plants, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, vacuuming, or dusting are all great light activities to get your body moving in a way that’s gentle and supportive. Try spacing these activities throughout the day.
  • Purchase the right fitness aids, like blocks to modify yoga poses, supportive shoes for walking, a great mat for pilates or stretching, loose-fitting fitness clothes to aid circulation, and a protective hat for sunny days exercising outside.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time. Set an alarm every hour as a reminder to get up and move around the house or to spend some time outside. 
  • Make your fitness plan holistic for maximum health benefits. The best workout plans enhance flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular health. You can combine walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, or other cardiovascular activities with muscle-building activities like pilates, yoga, or gentle weight lifting. Add 15 minutes of stretching or other flexibility exercises for a well-rounded routine.
  • Celebrate your wins! Give yourself rewards along the way, and recognize that achieving your fitness goals is a process. Give yourself credit for every habit you form, and each goal you keep.
  • Make exercising fun. Watch a show you love while you’re on a stationary bike, listen to an audiobook on your walk, or join an online wellness class with friends remotely to remind yourself that moving your body can be enjoyable.
  • Try involving friends and commit to a set amount of exercise every day to help keep your resolve and celebrate together as you get stronger. Share your goals with a friend or loved one; it’s easier to keep a promise to yourself if someone else asks you about it. 
  • Commit to taking a class together every week, check in with each other to see how it’s going, and provide reinforcement on discouraging days. 

Consider modifications

Don’t be afraid to modify an activity so you can engage in it comfortably. Many yoga or pilates classes provide opportunities to modify poses to suit your personal level of comfort, skill, ability, and mobility. This can include blocks that aid in flexibility or reach, mobility bands to help reach your feet for a deep stretch, thicker mats to provide comfort for sensitive backs, or lumbar support pillows for meditation or stretching practices. 

An older woman practicing chair yoga in a class

If you love walking long distances, you can get your stride assessed to see if your instep slopes inward or if your arches are flat. Variations in foot shape can benefit from special shoes or inserts that give you extra support from impact. Modifying your footwear isn’t just about your feet, since the wrong shoes can cause back problems or knee pain. There is a wealth of modified exercises and classes for older people that still give you all the benefits of the activity, like chair yoga or modified pilates classes with props.

What is chair yoga?

Chair yoga is a modified form of traditional yoga in which you move through yoga poses with the assistance of a chair or wheelchair. In a similar fashion to regular yoga classes, chair yoga increases strength and mobility, eases stress and improves flexibility. This kind of exercise is suitable for all levels of experience and open to those with limited mobility. Chair pilates uses similar modifications to bring low-impact cardio, stability, and core strength building to those with limited mobility. 

Tip: Check out our upcoming online chair fitness classes to get started.

A senior woman practicing yoga poses at home

What are the best exercises for older people?

Staying fit and healthy in older age can be enjoyable once you find an exercise regimen  you take pleasure in. The best exercises for older people combine aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, flexibility or stretching, and strength or resistance training. Try a variety of activities to find what works for you.

  • Walking is an easy way to stay active with low risk of injury. Try parking the car a bit further away from your friend’s house, enjoy exploring a forest trail, or create a daily walking route around your neighbourhood. Use walking sticks to make it a full body workout and engage your arms and your core. Buy a fitness device for extra motivation or check your phone after your walk to see how many steps you take each day. This is a great way to set simple goals.
  • Tai chi uses gentle martial arts movements in combination with mindful breathing and movement to align mind, body, and spirit. This is a healthy way to introduce movement, improve circulation, and connect with your body. Tai chi is great for those with limited mobility and can help reduce your risk of falls or injury.
  • Yoga combines mindful meditation, movement, and breathing to improve strength, flexibility, and mindfulness. Yoga classes are low impact and modifications mean there’s a class for every skill level, ability, and body type. There are many health benefits from yoga for seniors, it can help with digestion, chronic pain, posture, stability, flexibility, mental health, emotional processing, and more. It is also a great way to keep your spine healthy as you age, improving mobility and easing muscle tension.
  • Pilates offers another form of exercise to improve strength and flexibility with low-impact movement. Pilates classes are often recommended for rehabilitation and can be useful for both agile folks and those recovering and rebuilding strength after an injury. The movements used in Pilates classes build muscle, strengthen your core, and have been shown to help improve cognition and mental functioning.
  • Cycling can be a great way to get moving without the impact that other cardiovascular activities (like running, climbing, or crossfit classes) can have on your joints. Consider purchasing a stationary bike or exploring a new bicycle route in your neighbourhood. Remember to wear a helmet!
  • Swimming or water aerobics are great ways to move your body with minimal impact. Water can be a great source of resistance and strength training that is easy on joints, bones, and muscles. If you’re recovering from an injury, aquatic programs are a great resource to build up strength without strain. 
  • Dancing can release tension, reduce stress, increase mobility and balance, and build core strength. The way you use dance to exercise is up to you! Take an online dance class, put on a song that makes you want to move, or plan a date or fun night with friends where you all learn how to line dance. If you associate exercise with stress or have high expectations for your performance, dancing can be a great way to laugh as you remember how good it feels to move your body without expectations.
  • Resistance band workouts are a great way to build muscle using your own body’s tension to gently build up strength. Resistance bands are inexpensive and lightweight. Activities like bicep curls and chest pulls allow for safe muscle building that you can do anywhere. Choose a band with handles for easy manoeuvring.

An aging couple practicing movement exercises in an online class

How to prevent injury when exercising after 50

The way we exercise can benefit from some modifications as we get older and our bodies change. Experiencing an injury or a fracture while exercising can limit our mobility in the following months or years. By being proactive and exercising intentionally, you can prevent injuries and work out with confidence. Consider these tips to protect your body and lower the risks associated with exercise: 

  • Know your body and listen to what it’s telling you. Our bodies all have different capabilities, and some seniors continue running marathons well into their 80s while others notice limitations as bone density decreases after 30. Don’t compare your fitness level or ability to your peers, and listen to what your body–– and your doctor!––tell you about your limitations. For some of us, the muscles we built playing sports or exercising in our younger years can help protect our bones as we age. If you regularly played tennis in your 30s, you likely have a skill set and some musculature that will make playing tennis in your 60s less risky than it would be for a new player who hasn’t practiced the sport or built those same muscles. That said, notice how your body responds to the same physical activities you used to do, and make sure you’re taking a step back if your body can’t take the same strain it used to.
  • Switch it up. By trying different activities, you give different muscle groups a chance to relax. Similarly, alternating the days that you engage in more high-intensity exercise or any workout with impact will give your muscles a chance to recover. A balanced routine can help prevent muscle strains from repetitive action.
  • Warm up and cool down. Preparing your body for exercise and helping it transition after a workout is especially important for older bodies. Muscles are tighter and you’ll prevent injuries by starting slow and stretching often. If you’re engaging in cardiovascular exercise several times a week, keep flexibility exercises as part of your routine to maintain balance and reduce strains.
  • Trust a professional. Take an online class or listen to an instructor if you’re starting a new activity rather than doing it without guidance. Some forms of exercise can cause injury if you’re not holding a pose properly or engaging the right muscle group to support the position you’re in. Something as simple as a sit up can strain your neck if you’re not properly engaging your core or aligning your hips. Video classes are a great tool because the instructor will often provide guidance on each pose or position, along with warnings or instruction for anything that could pull a muscle. Take time to learn, and you’ll be able to do it on your own once you’ve mastered the basics.
  • Use a weight machine. If you’re used to using weights in the gym, consider using a weight machine instead of free weights. These can help avoid injury and keep you in the right position as you lift. Ask for a spotter or for professional guidance to make sure you’re not lifting more than your muscles can handle. Consider using resistance bands or balls as an alternative to traditional weights.
  • Be considerate when choosing sports. Some athletes are able to perform at a high level well into older age and can continue engaging in more high-impact activities or sports. But for most of us, changing bodies require rethinking the impact of exercise on our bodies. Listen to your coach, doctor, or wellness expert if they tell you you’re pushing yourself too hard. You might discover a new activity with lower risks you love even more.

A group of older women going to a yoga class together

How much exercise do you really need over 50? 

In general, a minimum of regular exercise two to three times a week for 30 minutes or more is recommended for people over 65. If you’re in good health, you can aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise or movement (walking, swimming, cycling, or dancing) every day, and include activities that reinforce stability, balance, or flexibility (yoga, stretching, barre), several days a week. Does this feel intimidating? Start with 10 minutes of exercise spread throughout the day rather than trying to do all 30 minutes at once. 

  • Introduce simple strength exercises like sit-ups, lunges, or modified push ups every day. Begin with a small number like five or ten so it doesn’t feel intimidating, and once you’ve made it a habit try to do more every week. 
  • One way to notice how hard your body is working is to notice your heart rate. To estimate your highest maximum age-related heart rate, you can subtract your current age from 220. For example, someone who is 70 could calculate their maximum age-related heart rate to be 220 – 70 years = 150 beats per minute (bpm). You can take your heart rate with a fitness watch, or with your fingers on your wrist or your neck. Count the number of beats within 60 seconds and notice how different kinds of exercise affect your heart rate. 
  • Before you build a fitness plan, ask your family doctor about what kind of physical activity is right for you. Health considerations like heart issues, Type 2 Diabetes, medication side effects, weight loss, body type, mobility concerns, and injuries can all impact the kind of exercise that benefits you and what your body is ready for. 

Exercise trends for seniors

It’s great to have healthy habits you keep for life, but exercise trends can inspire a new kind of workout. Liven up your exercise routine by trying something new. Wearable technology like smart watches, heart rate monitors, and other gadgets can be great motivators when you’re trying to get moving. Set goals for yourself and enjoy encouraging words from a virtual coach as you exercise. 

Holistic fitness as a movement is also gaining traction. This is the general awareness that a healthy lifestyle doesn’t only come from what you eat or how often you exercise, but is about the overall balance and health of your lifestyle. How can you integrate holistic wellness? Consider cutting down screen time, scheduling time to meditate, and connecting with the great outdoors to integrate your physical and mental health. Online and virtual fitness classes are another huge trend continuing into 2022, and Boomerang offers a world of discovery when it comes to new classes, workshops, and ideas. 

An older woman practicing yoga at home online

Enhance flexibility with movement

It’s normal for stiffness and joint discomfort to appear more regularly as we get older. As we age, our bodies naturally lose flexibility and the elasticity in our muscles declines for a lower range of motion. Noticing a decrease in flexibility may make it harder to enjoy some forms of exercise you previously enjoyed, or make everyday activities like picking up something you dropped or reaching for the top shelf more difficult. Losing flexibility with age can be disheartening, especially for simple tasks like getting dressed. Upper body flexibility can help with this. Improving flexibility to maintain your range of movement can be as simple as introducing daily stretches. 

Many people assume that stretching only needs to be done after a workout, but daily stretches have a myriad of health benefits and can help lengthen muscles and ease tension. Stretching just once a day can improve your physical and mental health. Tight muscles can cause chronic pain and tension and daily stretching is a great way to help your muscles relax.

Tips for effective stretching

  • Start by stretching at the same time every day, for three days every week. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, breathing deeply and slowly as you actively relax the muscle you are stretching.
  • Stretching shouldn’t hurt! You should notice the gentle pull of a stretch, but don’t over exert the way your muscle naturally extends. With regular stretches, you’ll notice a natural growth in how far you can bend or stretch, but don’t force a stretch that doesn’t feel good.
  • Stretch your whole body. Move your way through muscle groups and make sure you’re stretching every part of your body: legs, arms, back muscles, abdominal muscles, and buttocks as well. 
  • Try classes that improve balance and flexibility, like osteofit or barre classes to keep your routine interesting.

How else can I stay healthy as an older adult?

A great exercise routine is only one part of holistic health. Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and make sure you consume enough protein to get the full benefits of your workout and to help keep your bones and muscles strong. This should include a healthy intake of calcium and Vitamin D. If you’re a smoker, quitting can lengthen your life and help prevent a variety of health issues. Make sure you stay hydrated, drinking water, clear soup, or tea regularly to help improve circulation and reduce inflammation. Don’t forget your mental health goes hand in hand with physical health. Managing stress, building a community, and ensuring you have a social network will help you lead a rich, balanced life.

A senior couple hiking in the winter near the mountains

How can I stay active in the winter?

New fitness routines are  always a challenge, but winter conditions can provide a special set of obstacles. You’ll want to be especially careful when sidewalks are icy or snow is falling. If you plan on walking in a winter wonderland, it’s worth investing in shoes with a good tread that you can walk in warmly and comfortably. If you live in a rural location that gets large amounts of snow, snowshoes could be a great solution. Some winter sports can be more challenging for older adults; if you’re not a great ice-skater, skating on a slippery rink may not be the best idea. But hiking through a snowy forest can be inspiring, cross country skiing is a great cardiovascular workout, and online classes provide a way to stay warm and try something new without heading into the frigid outdoors. 

Looking for a way to switch it up? Try going to an indoor mall and window shopping as you walk laps around the shopping centre, or research indoor walking spaces in your city — like the PATH in Toronto — where you can move around without feeling the winter chill.

A grandmother practicing yoga exercises in her living room

The benefits of at-home exercises

One of the hardest things about introducing a workout routine at any age is getting to the gym and sticking to the exercise plans you’ve made. Exercising from home can be a great way to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Online exercise classes can be a useful tool to commit to a class, join others, and learn new fitness skills in the comfort of your home. Once you find a class you love, it’ll be easier to exercise regularly and you may even start looking forward to your workout. Here are some of the benefits of at-home exercise:

  • Save money. Online classes are usually cheaper than gym memberships or fitness classes, and Boomerang lets you explore a variety of classes at affordable costs, with free online classes available, too!  
  • Save time and enjoy a flexible schedule. Many of us lead busy lives after retirement, and online fitness classes or at-home exercise regimens let you make your own schedule. You can transition from working at home or cooking to attending a class with the click of a button. Attend a class early in the morning, on your lunch break, or right before bed.
  • No fancy equipment is needed. At-home exercise doesn’t need to be expensive. Some people may choose to invest in a flashy stationary bicycle or to renovate an old guest room into a fitness studio, but at-home workouts usually require tools you already have or can easily gain access to, like a yoga mat, kitchen chair, athletic wear, and supportive footwear.
  • Variety and choice of classes. When you sign up for a gym membership, you’re often committing to whatever classes one facility offers. Online exercise classes let you access a range of classes from your own home without a commute or a commitment. If you live in a more rural locale, you also might not have a local tai chi centre, barre class, or a boot camp tailored to older adults. But online classes let you try it all to see what sparks joy for you.
  • Comfort. It can be intimidating to join a dance class or to try a Zumba class for the first time. At-home exercise classes offer a chance to engage in a new kind of exercise in a space that feels comfortable for you, and to build community with other people across the country who are trying something new, too.

Enjoy exercise with Boomerang

Growing older doesn’t mean you stop setting goals. With Boomerang, older adults can register for a variety of wellness classes each month. Passionate instructors are here to guide you on your way to living your best life. Explore new workouts, sign up for classes, and get into a healthy mindset with Boomerang.

Sign up for Boomerang.

Looking to kick-start your physical wellness journey? Explore all of Boomerang’s classes today.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.

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