Getting in Shape After 50: The Benefits of Physical Fitness

Lisa Campbell*, a 53-year-old teacher, thinks everyone should be getting in shape after the age of 50. She embraces physical fitness and works out to ward off dementia.

“All the women in my family had Alzheimer’s disease. I’m trying to do as much as I can to guard against cognitive decline.”

Campbell also worries about controlling her weight, as well as maintaining her mobility following an injury that left her with permanent knee damage.

“The physiotherapist has said I’ve got to exercise to keep my knees strong. Either I let my body go into decay and I can’t move when I’m older, or I try my best to keep moving.”

If you’re past the mature age of 50, you may recognize the importance of achieving a healthy, active lifestyle when we’re downsizing in retirement. But as we get older, our body and mind are not what they used to be. That begs the question: how realistic is it to stay in shape?

older females exercising

Can You Transform Your Body After 50?

black senior man on treadmill

Anson Sobers of Hamilton, Ontario, is a personal trainer and the founder of kFIT, an online seller of fitness equipment. He’s a big believer in exercising later in life, saying it prevents disease, lowers the risk of falls by improving our balance, and elevates our psychological well-being. Scientific studies have also linked physical activity to a reduced risk of cognitive decline.

And exercise keeps us able-bodied. “As you get older,” said Sobers, “mobility becomes a serious challenge.” He learned that the hard way when his aging mother had surgery and didn’t receive the rehabilitative care she needed to regain all her abilities.

Physical limitations, such as loss of strength or arthritis, can interfere with daily living. “Your muscles get weaker, and your joints get stiff,” said Sobers. But we can slow the decline with exercise. For older people, he said, fitness often boils down to one big goal: “It all ties in to independent living—being able to maintain the lifestyle you’ve enjoyed for as long as possible.”

Live Independently for Longer

According to Statistics Canada, only 33% of 60- to 79-year-olds get the recommended amount of exercise. When Sobers asks active older adults about their fitness ambitions, it often comes down to the basics. “They want to maintain their flexibility so they can bend in case something drops.” He said exercisers over 50 want to preserve their balance, remain fit enough to keep doing their own grocery shopping, and stay strong.

Indeed, our goals for getting in shape after 50 may differ wildly from younger people’s fitness goals. Maintaining the stamina to travel, do housework, play with grandchildren, or simply prepare a meal—these are the abilities we fight to hold onto when we move our bodies. By preventing disability, we enhance our quality of life and give ourselves the option to live in place in our own homes.

Tips for Getting in Shape after 50

Burn calories while you clean.

Throw in a load of laundry, wash the dishes, or do some gardening. By moving your body while being productive, you’ll feel twice as good.

Prioritize strength training.

Research (such as this study) ties muscle-building workouts with lower risks of cancer death, cardiac death, and all-cause mortality. “We’re not talking about going to the gym and pushing 100 pounds or 50 pounds,” said Sobers, “because you don’t want to risk injury.” He advocates the use of portable lightweight equipment—such as resistance bands, dumbbells, or kettlebells—for safe at-home strength training.

Modify if you need to.

If you have mobility challenges, use a chair or a mat. Many exercises normally done standing can also be done sitting or lying down. Sobers named bodyweight leg extensions, ankle or arm rotations, and hip flexor exercises as examples.

Get outdoors.

Walk, run, or ride your bike. Bring bands or dumbbells to the park while your grandchildren enjoy the swings. Exercise is more fun when you do it with family or friends.

We can’t stop our bodies from growing older, but we can control the way we use them. The fitter we are in our third age, the healthier and more active we can be. Campbell would agree. “In retirement,” she said, “I want to be out walking. I want to be seeing beautiful countryside and going to the seaside. I want to be active.”

* We have changed Lisa’s last name so she would feel more comfortable sharing her personal story.

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