If you’re over the age of 50 and training regularly, you’re in an elite class! Many people your age have already stopped. The truth is you need exercise even more after transitioning into the second half of life. During and after menopause is when you store more body fat and lose muscle at a faster rate.
It’s not surprising that sarcopenia, age-related loss of muscle mass, is at epidemic proportions. Think of sarcopenia as the muscle equivalent of osteoporosis. You lose muscle mass to the point that you become less functional. Plus, your risk of health problems, including osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease go up. Exercise is your best weapon against these problems.
If you exercise consistently before your 50s, you’re likely in far better shape than your sedentary counterparts and you feel capable of doing things that the younger set does. That’s great! Yet, it’s important to listen to your body. You may be in great shape but now’s the time to make sure you stay fit without losing workout time due to injury. Here are five ways your workout should change after the age of 50.
After the Age of 50: Never Skip a Warm-up
Muscles become less flexible with age and tight muscles increase your risk of injury. When you were younger, you probably skipped the warm-up, when you were crunched for time, but don’t do it now. You recover more slowly from an injury when you’re older. Spend 5 to 10 minutes before your workout doing a dynamic warm-up to increase your core body temperature and make your muscles more flexible.
Now is also a good time to add a foam roller to your home exercise equipment. Using it before or after a workout boosts circulation to your muscles and makes them suppler – and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy showed only 5 to 10 seconds of foam rolling of the hamstrings muscles increased range-of-motion scores on the sit and reach test. Although you can get results in less time, aim for a minute for each muscle.
After the Age of 50: Focus More on Power Training
It’s a given that you want to preserve strength, but don’t forget about power training. You lose strength as you age, especially if you don’t train. Just as concerning is the loss of power. Power is the ability to generate force quickly. It’s power that helps you push out of a chair and react quickly to catch yourself should you start to fall. Have you ever seen an elderly person who can’t get out of a chair without help? They lack strength, but just as importantly, they lack power. We actually lose power more quickly than strength as we age. Power-oriented exercises help preserve this important component of fitness and functionality.
How do you train for power development? Change the tempo of your weight-training sets. Include sets where you move a weight at a high-speed. Plyometric moves, like jump squats, are another form of training that focuses on speed of force production. Kettlebell swing and medicine ball slams also help you develop power. Make sure you’re doing some of these things.
After the Age of 50: Get Enough Protein
As you age, it becomes harder to build muscle, partially due to a phenomenon called anabolic resistance. When you’re young, it’s easier to build muscle strength than during the second half of life. That’s because your muscles become less responsive to anabolic signals that tell them to grow. In other words, your muscle cells respond less readily to certain hormones, including insulin, and to amino acids from protein in your diet that ramp up the synthesis of muscle proteins. One amino acid, in particular, is important for turning on muscle protein synthesis, the amino acid leucine.
One way to fight anabolic resistance is to consume leucine-rich protein sources throughout the day, especially right after a workout. Cheese, beef, chicken, and pork are all rich in leucine, but soybeans, beans, and seeds are too. If you eat a vegan diet, pea protein offers substantial quantities of leucine. Nutrition is even MORE important after the age of 50.
After the Age of 50: Get Enough Omega-3s
Omega-3s are heart-healthy fats that come in two main forms: long-chain omega-3s and short-chain ones. Of the two, long-chain omega-3s have been researched the most. Not only do these fats, abundant in fatty fish and fish oil, have anti-inflammatory benefits, they also help turn on protein synthesis in older muscles.
Remember how we talked about anabolic resistance? Long-chain omega-3s seem to help with this age-related problem that makes it harder to build muscle. According to some research, omega-3s help activate anabolic signaling pathways in older muscles, making it easier to build muscle. In fact, long-chain omega-3s may have other health and fitness benefits. For example, some research shows they help with muscle recovery. Plus, their anti-inflammatory activity may even reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. Make sure you’re getting enough of these healthy fats by eating fatty fish twice a week or by taking a fish oil supplement.
After the Age of 50: Have More Recovery Days
Working out with intensity is a time-efficient way to get the health benefits of exercise, but your body may recover a bit slower in the second half of life. Balance out those high-intensity days with recovery days to give your muscles and joints a rest. Vary your exercises. Don’t do the same movements over and over. Doing so places too much repetitive stress on your joints and muscles.
If you’re not doing it already, add a weekly yoga workout to your routine. Yoga helps elongate muscles and improve flexibility while helping your body recover from higher intensity sessions. Yoga is also a good stress reliever if you do it regularly. There’s even some evidence that yoga improves menopausal symptoms, like anxiety, hot flashes, and sleep problems. Keeping your workouts balanced and giving your body enough time to recover is even more important now that you’re older.
The Bottom Line
Keep training! Hopefully, you’re so impressed with the health benefits of exercise that you’ll make it a lifelong habit. But be kind to your body. Feed it well, give it enough protein, get your omega-3s, and give your body enough time to recover from intense workouts.
Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Jun; 8(3): 228–236.
Harvard Health Publications. “Power training provides special benefits for muscles and function”
Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2014 Mar;17(2):145-50. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000032.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2011. 93(2) p. 402-412. 10.3945/ajcn.110.005611.
Menopause. April 2014 – Volume 21 – Issue 4.
Clin J Sport Med. 2009 Mar;19(2):115-9. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e31819b51b3.
J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015; 12: 3. Published online 2015 Jan 21. doi: 10.1186/s12970-014-0064-5.
Related Articles By Cathe: