Health & Family

Fabulously fit in your 50s

If you're a woman in your 50s, you've probably had the pep talk from your doctor: You need more exercise. It needs to be weight-bearing to guard against osteoporosis. Walking is great, but it's not enough.

So how much and what kind of exercise do you need in your 50s? And how can you get it without spending all of your time and money at the gym?

Here are some answers from Leigh Shipman, a fitness coordinator at the Simmons YMCA, and Rachel Seymour, a UNC Charlotte gerontologist. A good rule of thumb, they say, is 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week, with workouts divided into three areas: aerobics, strength training and flexibility.

Women lose muscle strength and endurance more quickly once they hit menopause. Muscles and tendons tighten as they age. “You have to work out smarter, not harder,” says Shipman, who turns 50 in October.

If you don't have a fitness plan, here are exercises in each of the three target areas. Talk to your doctor before you start, and listen to your body for signs you're pushing too hard.

Shipman (pictured in the photos above) suggests a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week. Brisk walking is good, but try to vary your routine to include biking, stair climbing or a DVD or occasional class. If you have knee problems, try swimming or chair aerobics. But because swimming is not weight-bearing exercise, it doesn't help fight osteoporosis.

Pilates and yoga are great for flexibility as well as strength. A DVD or class can help you learn proper technique, but you can also try these exercises at home with minimal equipment. Try to do three repetitions of 6-12 each:

Superman: Lie on the floor, face down, arms stretched overhead. Lift opposite arm and leg, then lower. Keep head facing down.

Hamstring stretch: (Pictured.) Lie on floor with one leg up at 90 degrees. Use fitness band to pull leg toward body. Hold 8-15 seconds.

Calf muscle stretch: Stand on a flight of stairs with heel of one foot overhanging a step. Let heel drop until you feel tension in calf.

Neck stretch: Turn head to the right as far as comfortable, keeping body facing forward. Hold for 6-12 seconds. Repeat to left.

Drop right ear to shoulder and hold for 6-12 seconds. Repeat with left. Drop head forward toward your chest and hold.

Shipman recommends a minimum workout of 20 to 30 minutes three times a week on alternating days.

Pilates and yoga build strength using your body as the weight. You can also use hand weights (start with 1-3 pounds) or fitness bands or tubes.

Here are sample exercises for major muscle groups. Start slowly and work up to three repetitions of 6-12 each.

Quads: Sit in a chair and hold hand weight on thigh midway between knee and hip. Lift leg up and down.

Hamstrings: Tie ends of a fitness band around both ankles. Stand, holding the back of a chair, and lift leg to a 90-degree angle, then lower it.

Biceps: Stand holding weights at your side, wrists facing forward. Bend elbows up toward shoulders and back down.

Triceps: (Pictured.) Hold weights with elbows back, knees slightly bent, seat tucked under. Extend arms back until nearly straight.

Glutes: Stand in front of a chair. Sit down and get back up for easy squats. Cross arms over chest to maximize workout.

Pectorals: Start with modified, bent-knee push-ups or standing push-ups against a wall and work up to standard push-ups.

Core: Lie on your back with hands under hips, legs up at 90 degree angle. Engage abs and lower legs to 45 degrees. May modify with bent knees.

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