Trying to keep up the high-intensity, high-impact workout classes you did in your 30s can quickly turn into an unhappy situation when you’re over 50. Tight muscles, less resilient tendons, and the need for increased recovery time make injuries more likely for women and men.
Knowing what to look for in a fitness class can help keep you injury-free.
There’s no specific type of class that’s better or worse, says Irv Rubenstein, exercise physiologist and founder of S.T.E.P.S., a science-based fitness facility in Nashville, Tenn.
Yoga is perfect because as we get older we create muscular imbalances and we need to stretch those tight muscles.
— Casey Miller, personal trainer
“But you want to look for and avoid certain aspects,” he says. “You want a cardio element, some basic, functional strength, core work that’s not dependent on crunches or planks alone, for example.”
In addition, a proper warm-up and cool-down are more important than ever, as well as stretching and agility elements and maybe some balance drills, Rubenstein adds.
The fitness chain Nifty After Fifty, with 27 locations across Arizona, California, Nevada and Virginia, creates workouts for boomers with these parameters in mind. Trainers take into account special considerations of this age group in creating appropriate class exercises.
“Our most popular class is No Fall Volleyball,” says Mike Merino, president and CEO of Nifty After Fifty, in Garden Grove, Calif.
In the modified volleyball class, participants sit in chairs and hit a beach ball back and forth over a low net. It’s obvious from the laughter and cheers that fun is as much a part of the class as fitness. Exercisers gain greater flexibility, core strength and agility.
“Men are drawn to the class for the friendly competition, while women join for the fun,” says Merino, who notes the importance of remaining social as we age. “Social circles shrink as we age. In fact, patients often go to the doctor’s office for that human touch.”
He said members have told him their medical costs begin to drop when they join the program. Since physical benefits of exercise take a month or more to make a substantial difference, Merino credits this phenomenon to the increased interaction of the people, who often develop friendships within the group.
The focus on core strength and flexibility makes Pilates a popular and smart class for people over 50.
“Most of my clients are working, chasing after their grandchildren and playing golf on the weekends,” says Christina “CJ” Kelly, certified Pilates instructor and owner of Pilates with CJ, Berkeley, Calif. Most are over 50, and they “absolutely love” the benefits of both mat and reformer (machine) Pilates, she says.
Kelly modifies workouts according to the person’s needs. “As an instructor, it’s greatly rewarding to have clients who wake up pain-free for the first time in decades, increase their balance to reduce falls, and become stronger,” she says.
Tai chi or “moving meditation,” is a gentle exercise that uses a series of movements performed slowly and focused, accompanied by deep breathing. Originally used for self-defense, tai chi has evolved into a form of exercise used to ease stress and a number of health issues.
Several studies show it helps reduce the risk of falls, improves balance and eases pain in individuals with all types of arthritis. In addition, scientists show it increases brain volume and helps improve memory in older adults.
The weight-bearing, no-impact aspects of yoga make it especially good for increasing bone strength, which is of particular concern after 50. A 2011 study shows yoga also helps ease chronic lower back pain.
Researchers suggest seeking out an instructor knowledgeable about modifying postures to accommodate physical limitations. Also, look for classes geared to beginners if you’re just starting out.
“Yoga is perfect because as we get older we create muscular imbalances and we need to stretch those tight muscles,” says Casey Miller, a personal trainer in Colorado Springs and owner of TheBestofFitness.com. “Baby boomers benefit from any class that focuses on improving overall strength and on movements that help people perform everyday activities.”
Balance, cardio and fun all come together in dance class. Plus, a Missouri study shows dance makes it less likely you’ll suffer a fall. The constant need to assess movement and respond to muscle also stimulates brain activity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Many dance studios now offer adult lessons, with styles that range from ballroom to swing and country western style line dancing and more.
Check your local gym for classes such as Zumba or look online for studios in your area that offer adult dance.
Choose What’s Best for You
It’s important to recognize that all boomers are not the same and do not require the same type of workout, says James I. Millhouse, a licensed medical and clinical sport psychologist in Atlanta.
“I am 67 and I ride mountain bikes hard for one or two hours at a time,” he says. “There are others my age that need to start with sitting exercises or just moving their body until they graduate to aerobic or weight-bearing exercises that everyone should do regularly.”
Find a class that meets your fitness needs and enjoyment level to ensure you’ll stick with it long enough to reap the health benefits.