Everything you need to know about working out over 50

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As you get older, you may start to experience some changes. You may find you get tired more easily or you've experienced changes in your sleep. You may need reading glasses or have thinning hair. There are actually a lot of little ways your body changes once you pass 50.

You might be wondering: Will any of these transitions affect the way I work out? Should I even work out at all now that I'm older? The answer to that question is yes. Getting regular exercise is one of the most impactful things you can do for your health at any age. But there are a few things you may want to change about your routine.

Working out as an older adult doesn't have to look drastically different - but there are a few things to keep in mind, if only for your health and safety over the long term. Here's everything you need to know about working out over 50.

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Focus on the benefits of exercise

When you start working out, there are some pretty incredible things that happen to your body. And for those over 50, there are even more benefits of exercise to consider. The research is pretty clear that exercise helps to prevent many diseases associated with aging, including Alzheimer's, dementia, cancer, heart disease and more. Some evidence shows that working out could even improve coordination to prevent dangerous falls later on in life. Remember that your workouts serve a purpose outside of just looking good. Exercising helps you feel good for the many years to come.

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How much you should work out

How often and for how long you work out is really up to you and your preference. But in terms of maximizing health benefits, there's one quota to keep in mind. The American Heart Association recommends exercising at a moderate intensity for 150 minutes per week. For most people, this breaks down into 30 minutes a day, five days per week.

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Find workouts you enjoy

Workouts can be so much more than just a dull drag through time on a treadmill. Try different types of exercise that sound fun to you - because yes, exercise can be fun. You could head to the pool, try a new class or both. Don't discount water aerobics! Maybe you would enjoy hiking, taking your bike out on a trail or learning how to dance with your partner. There are even classes designed specifically for an over-50 crowd. The sky is the limit with what's out there for you to try.

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You don't have to rely on a gym

Some people hate stepping foot in a gym. If you can relate, remember that you don't ever have to go to a gym. Fitness doesn't require a gym membership. You can do workouts outside in nice weather or find an indoor workout routine to try at home. You may even want to join a club to play a sport or find a group of friends to go jogging with.

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Stay hydrated

No matter whether you exercise or not, you need to be drinking enough water. If you don't, you could experience some serious health consequences. When you exercise, you will likely need to up your water intake. Not only do you sweat out more water during your workout, but your body needs to work harder to perform those tasks and to recover. It needs water to do those things - so drink up!

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Fuel your workouts

Proper nutrition is important at any age, but especially as you get older - and especially when you start to work out. There are some diet tips you might have followed when you were younger that are a really bad idea to follow now. Eat well by getting enough protein, carbohydrates and fats in your diet and eat a variety of foods with the vitamins and minerals you need. Make sure you eat something nutritious after you exercise, too, even if it's just a snack. This helps your body replenish the nutrients and energy it just expended during your workout.

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Building muscle is important now more than ever

You lose muscle mass naturally as you age. By working out and building strength, you can help slow this process and prevent injury. A strong core, for example, can help prevent back injury. Strong arms can help you to safely carry heavy items.

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Don't lift too heavy

Pushing yourself past your limit might seem like a way to get stronger faster, but you could be at risk for an injury. Without the muscle mass to alleviate it, extreme heavy lifting could put extra pressure on your bones and joints. As you age, your bones lose density and could be at risk for fracture. Choose a weight that's challenging, but not impossible to lift. You may not be able to perform the heaviest lift of your life, but that's OK! Remember that the goals here aren't aesthetic; they're for your health.

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Be cautious with weight machines

In addition to lifting too heavy, the type of weight machine you choose to train with can also put you at risk. For instance, a leg extension machine, which involves pushing weight upwards with your feet from a seated, reclined position, may put more stress on your knee joints than necessary. Certain machines meant to work your abs and back can be risky, as well, because they put pressure on or twist your spine. If you feel pain or strain while using a workout machine, you should probably ditch it or ask a trainer for assistance. There are other exercises that use the same muscle groups you could try instead. In the case of the leg extension machine, for instance, you may opt for squats or lunges. Instead of ab machines, try planks or another core exercise you can do on the floor.

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Always include a warmup

A warmup is an important part of any exercise routine. It improves circulation, raises your heart rate and increases body temperature. All of these changes better prepare your body to use your muscles during your workout. Going from zero to 100 in terms of intensity is not advisable. It will feel less comfortable and put you at greater risk for pulling a muscle or otherwise getting hurt.

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Add in some cardio

The American Heart Association recommends aiming for exercise that gets your heart rate up - the cardio part of fitness is key for improving overall health. These types of exercise are responsible for many of the benefits of fitness, including a reduced risk of heart disease, reduced risk of hypertension, and reduced risk of stroke. With increased cardiovascular fitness, your heart actually becomes more efficient at pumping blood through your body, resulting in less strain on your heart long-term.

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Is running safe?

If you enjoy running, there's no reason to stop just because you're getting older. Exceptions exist if you've suffered a knee injury or other condition that interferes with your ability to run safely. If you suspect this may be the case, talk to your doctor and ask whether running is safe for you at this time in your injury recovery. Some chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis, can also limit your ability to run risk-free. Again, your doctor is your best point of reference for discovering whether or not you should be running.

But if you're free of injury or another interfering condition, going for runs can be a great idea. Contrary to what some believe, running does not always put your knees at risk. In fact, evidence suggests that running can actually be protective against knee osteoarthritis.

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Start a running routine

When you get started running regularly, it's important to ease into your routine. Don't expect to increase your distances super quickly or be great at it right away. Start slow. Beginner runners injure themselves often because they try to do too much too fast. Listen to your body and don't run past the point of pain. You might run and walk in intervals at first until you increase your stamina. This can also help ease the new pressure you're putting on your joints. A good rule of thumb is to keep your increases in distance at a maximum of around 10 percent each week.

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Avoid sprints

The faster you go, the greater risk you're at for pulling a muscle or suffering a related injury. Sprints are a quick way to get your heart rate up, and it can be fun to race the clock. But it's much smarter to run more slowly and for longer durations, especially if you're thinking you want to continue running over the long term. Incorporating a warmup and stretching afterwards can help make sprinting safer - though even then, you don't want to overdo it.

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Try walking

You may not think of walking as a type of workout, but it is! Walk at a brisk pace to get your heart rate up, or try going for longer distances to make it more of a challenge if you so desire. But in any context, walking is good for you. It improves your cardiovascular health, builds bone density and has profound effects on your mental health.

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Be careful of plyometric exercises

Plyometric exercises are explosive movements (popular in boot camps and other high-intensity types of training) that typically involve jumping or performing a strength-based exercise while also increasing heart rate. These types of exercises are meant to maximize power in a shorter interval of time. Squat jumps, lunge jumps and burpees are a few examples. These exercises are certainly efficient and have been applauded for their ability to accomplish a lot of work in a short interval of time. However, if you are over 50 there is reason to be wary of performing these exercises often. Without the proper muscle mass to support the explosive movement, a plyometric exercise can put a tremendous amount of stress on bones and joints. This can increase your risk for injury. 

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Core work is key

Of all the muscle groups in your body, your core (which consists of your abs and lower back) might be the most important to keep in shape. These muscles help to stabilize your spine, preventing injury and reducing back pain. Spend some time doing core-strengthening moves; these can be specific ab exercises or core-focused workouts such as yoga.

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You really need to stretch

As you get older, your lean body mass decreases. This includes changes to your tendons and ligaments that result in less flexibility and a more limited range of motion. In order to exercise safely, it's important not to move outside of your comfortable range of motion. Some people might be totally fine squatting well below their knees, while others simply don't have the hip mobility. If you have limited mobility, you could be risking an injury if you accidentally move past your body's range. In order to increase your mobility and range of motion - and decrease your risk of injury - you're going to need to stretch. There's some debate about whether you should ever stretch before a workout, but there are zero drawbacks to stretching after. Stretching after a workout can also help you properly cool down. The slow, gentle movements will assist your heart to slow its pace gradually, rather than you coming to a complete stop that could cause lightheadedness.

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How much soreness is normal?

When you first get started working out, or if you tried something new with your routine, it's totally normal to feel sore. The more you stick to your exercise routine, the less sore you're going to feel after your workouts. Sharp pains, on the other hand, are not normal. These sudden onsets of pain during exercise are signals from your body that something isn't right. You may need to adjust your form or stop for the day. Additionally, it may be a warning sign if you experience pain for more than two consecutive days. If pain persists, consult a doctor to see what's going on.

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Ease soreness with heat and ice

Of course, the only thing that can really heal post-workout soreness is time. But heat and ice may help. Ice can reduce swelling (which is a normal part of post-workout recovery) and heat can help relax your muscles and let go of any tension. Try alternating both to help with soreness if the pain is particularly bad.

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Make sure you take rest days

The general rule of thumb is to take one rest day after a day of training, but for those over 50, more time may be necessary. Listen to your body; if you're still sore on day two, your body may need an additional day to recover.

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Move on your rest days

Don't do anything taxing or excessive - but you do want to get some movement in on your rest days. Mobilization of your joints and muscles can actually aid in muscle recovery because of the improved circulation. This movement can be anything from a light walk to a simple stretch routine. Whatever gets your blood flowing!

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Your body might not look different

Many people approach working out with the sole aim of losing weight or getting a "better" body. This type of motivation may not work - and could actually sabotage your workout goals in the long-run. There is no guarantee that your body will look any different once you start working out. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it! And it doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong, either. Your metabolism changes naturally when you get older. And many benefits of exercise have nothing to do with your appearance. You'll feel more energized and experience a more balanced mood, among many other things.

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Don't limit yourself

Just because you don't have a 20-year-old's body doesn't mean you can't participate in the same types of exercise that you enjoyed when you were younger.  You may have to make some modifications and adjustments to pace, but don't let your age hold you back.

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Try something social

Your physical fitness isn't the only thing that affects your long-term health. Your mental health and your social life make a huge impact, as well. You can hit two birds with one stone by turning your workout routine into a fun social activity. Maybe you have friends who want to play a sport with you such as tennis or golf. Maybe group fitness classes are available in your area. Working out is a great way to meet new people, too!

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Don't let shame get in your way

Many people either can't stick to or never start a workout routine because of shame. This shame can be related to fitness level or body type, or you might feel shame that you haven't been working out consistently already. But remember that there is no reason to feel badly about where you are right now. It's never too late to start getting active. You don't need to feel badly about your fitness level, either. If you need to modify an exercise, such as doing a push-up on your knees instead of your toes, that doesn't make you worse or worthy of shame. Modifications aren't a bad thing - and how to use them is one of the things you need to know if you're working out for the first time.  

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