A funny thing happens on the way to 50 and beyond: Your body doesn’t respond to exercise as it did earlier in your life. Fatigue, muscle and joint aches and increased injuries seem to happen with greater frequency. Testosterone levels drop, excess weight is piled on, particularly around the belly and chest.
The Mayo Clinic believes excess fat carried around the midriff increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers and type 2 diabetes. Any exercise program that helps improve health and reduces the risk of developing these diseases can be construed as the best exercise for men over 50.
Warming Up & Stretching
Warming up before a workout increases circulation, raises heart rate and body temperature, prepares muscles for exercise and increases joint range of motion.
Warm-ups are particularly beneficial after 50 to mediate some of the changes that occur with aging, mainly decreased tendon elasticity.
It’s best to warm up with a combination of light cardio and light stretching, although the specifics can vary. Although it’s best to warm up the specific muscles you’re about to use, a general lower body warm-up such as a light treadmill workout will benefit all muscles, including upper body.
Stretching is no longer an option after 50. Staying flexible becomes more important as you age, says Michele Olson, adjunct professor of exercise science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala.
“Flexibility, because it’s related to the collagenous tendons, which is a part of our lean body mass, starts to decrease,” she says. “Since our tendons connect our muscles to our bones, the perfect time to stretch is after your weight training sessions.”
Olson recommends a total body stretch, involving all major muscle groups, a minimum of two to three times a week. This would ideally be done after each workout when muscles are warm.
Do resistance training exercises two or three times per week. According to a study by the Laboratory of Sports Medicine, the Pennsylvania State University, reported in the February 1998 issue of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," intense resistance training that engages sufficient muscle mass can increase testosterone levels. Focus on exercise such as the bench press, military press, lat pull-downs, squats or leg presses, which work the larger muscle groups. Start with light weights for 15 to 20 reps. Increase your weights over time, and do 12 to 15 reps. Increased muscle mass will help elevate your metabolism and improve your body's ability to burn fat.
Lung capacity and heart strength diminish with age. Cardio exercise will strengthen your heart and lungs, burn calories, and metabolize fat as energy. If you have not been active, start with brisk walking or swimming. Do a brisk walk three or four times a week. Alternatively, swimming enables you to do a whole body exercise with minimal stress on your joints which may have lost some flexibility in your 50s. Another option is to use a treadmill, stationary bike or elliptical machine in a gym.
Core exercises to strengthen the stomach muscles and lower back should be part of an exercise plan for men over 50. Do three sets of a maximum number of crunches three times a week to strengthen your stomach muscles. Planks will strengthen your lower back and stomach muscles: Lie on your stomach, and raise your body with your weight resting on your forearms and toes. Keep your body in a straight line and do not let your butt stick up. Contract your stomach muscles and breathe normally. Hold position for a slow count of 20. Relax and repeat exercise for three to six sets.
Taking a day off in between workouts gives muscles time to recover, but you may need more recovery time after age 50, says Dr. David W. Kruse, a sports medicine specialist with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, Calif.
“You need to focus more on recovery after 50. Tissue recovery takes more time and more effort to support that recovery,” he says. “The exact amount of time depends on your baseline fitness level.”
How do you know when you’ve had enough rest? “Look at trends,” says Kruse. “If you find soreness isn’t going away and is impacting your next workout this may indicate early signs of injury or not enough recovery time.” Being unable to decrease your time or improve whatever markers you’re using to gauge progress may also indicate you need to allow more recovery time, says Kruse.
Remember you are not as young as you once were, so start your exercise program gently and only increase your workload and intensity as you get fitter and stronger. Seek the advice of your doctor before you start any exercise program. Get sufficient rest and allow your body enough recovery time between exercise sessions.