Refiguring 50: 10 Ways to Stay Young
As a personal trainer and a life-long fitness geek, I get asked a lot about the secrets to “fitness over 50”. While that answer could go on for days, here’s a boiled down version of the top seven factors:
1) Think young, be young
Our thoughts become our actions. Taken another step, the vision we have of who we are leads to what we will be. Think young thoughts. Be unafraid to take chances physically. No, don’t do anything stupid, but you can still challenge yourself to be on the edge physically. I recently read about an 87 year old San Antonio man who plays softball and competes in track events, and he’s going for the age-group pole vault world record. Do you supposed he thinks of himself as “too old”? He proves that we can continue pushing ourselves physically well past 50, and it has to start with thinking young.
2) Get ultra-lean:
Lose the body fat. And I don’t mean ridiculous stuff like “I want to lose 10 pounds”, or “gee, I’d like to be around 20% body fat”. No, get serious about it and get ultra-lean, 15% should be the absolute tops, but really more like 10% – 12%. Extra body fat does nothing but slow us down, restrict our movements, and hide all of that beautiful muscle that makes a great physique.
3) Diet discipline isn’t an option:
You could goof-off about your diet when you were younger; you can’t anymore. Our bodies need fewer calories after 50, but especially with vigorous exercise we need the right macro and micro nutrients more than ever. This means the only thing passing your lips has been scrutinized and passes the “clean eating”. specifically low-fat protein from fish and from chicken, complex, low-glycemic carbohydrates from vegetables and from fruits, and healthy fats from nuts and fish oil. It also means portion-control discipline and not exceeding daily calorie targets.
Mind over matter. We’ve developed significant mental focus and concentration abilities by age 50 that can be applied to exercise form. Mechanics and economy of motion can allow us to get the absolute most from workouts and physical activities. Study correct form and work with a qualified personal trainer when necessary, then visualize the proper movement and make it happen. This allows getting the most from each workout and each rep while minimizing the chance of injury.
5) Bend, don’t break:
It’s unfortunately true that as we age muscles and connective tissues can lose their flexibility, which can limit range of motion and potentially lead to injury. If you don’t know how to stretch, learn. If you do know how to stretch, put it into use. Seriously consider taking yoga classes, the benefits list is lengthy with injury prevention at the top of that list. Many existing physical ailments regarding joints and muscles can be corrected simply by stretching and by becoming more limber
6) Lift heavy:
If you want to make gains in lean muscle mass and to generally progress, lifting heavy on a regular basis becomes a requirement. And this is just as true for women as it is for men (no ladies, you absolutely will not end up “looking like that”). We begin losing muscle mass naturally well before 50, and working heavy lifting into the rotation is the best way to restore or even to improve our lean muscle mass composition. Try 4 sets of 8 reps with a load that forces failure about halfway through the final set. Except don’t settle for failure! Push your limits and achieve that extra 1-2 reps beyond what you thought was possible.
7) Mix it up:
It’s been said that familiarity breeds contempt. With workouts this is true for both our minds and for our bodies. Just about anything done repetitively can get stale and mentally we get bored with it. Additionally, our bodies have a way of getting comfortable with the routine and will stop improving. Shake it up! Change exercises, change order, changes reps and sets, change your lifting v. cardio mix for a week, do bootcamp for a month. It doesn’t matter much what you change, it matters a lot just that you change.
8) Train hard, rest harder:
Rest is important for anyone training or physically active, but it’s imperative for the over 50 set. Our bodies don’t improve while we train, our bodies improve after we train during rest. Maybe more important is that rest allows us to re-charge so we can go at the next workout harder than the last workout. Great workouts yielding the most benefit have a competitive intensity to them, rest up so you can give it all you’ve got. Everyone’s different, but after age 50 a typical week could be 4 days on and 3 days off with the mix determined by your personal needs and schedule.
9) Use your age to your advantage:
You’ve lived half a century and have considerable wisdom and maturity that comes along with all of that. Apply the skills, mental maturity, and disciplines you’ve acquired over the years to your advantage. Set fitness goals and apply your considerable tactical life skills toward getting them accomplished. Manage your workouts schedule and your diet the same way you’d apply professional discipline to anything in your life, it’s your biggest advantage v. the younger set!
10) Make it fun:
When my daughter was growing up she had a sign on her bedroom door for years that read “if it’s not fun, why do it?” Good advice. We’ve spent enough time in our lives doing things we don’t like to do, make fitness a fun hobby. Sure, work hard at it, but be playful at the same time. Workouts are your time to do with as you wish, it’s your blank slate – do it your way and make it enjoyable! And what could be more enjoyable than making your mind and body healthy through physical activity and a clean diet?