Exercise is essential at every age. The more we learn how physical fitness affects our mental and physical health, the more it becomes vital to maintain a robust physical fitness program.
For women reaching menopause, exercise becomes doubly important in setting a solid foundation for longevity. In menopause and beyond, heart disease, bone density, the possibility of falls and general quality-of-life issues grow increasingly paramount.
Here are some exercises for women over age 50 and the best ways you can build strength, flexibility and balance with minimum risk.
1. Walking for your heart (and blood sugar)
Any exercise program should address your current fitness level and push you to improve. Walking is a wonderfully adaptable way to get in cardio, going as fast or as slow as you're comfortable with on any given day.
Beyond getting your heart rate up, a brisk walk after eating has been shown to lower your glycemic response. A 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients indicated just 10 minutes of light exercise after a meal could go a long way toward managing blood glucose and staving off type 2 diabetes.
2. Weights to strengthen your bones
We think of weight training as strictly for building muscle, but it also fortifies your bones.
Once we hit age 30, our bone mass begins to decline. For women, it's especially important to begin weight training before osteoporosis amplifies bone deterioration. Studies like one published in the journal Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2018 indicate resistance exercise as one of the most effective ways to improve muscle and bone mass for postmenopausal women.
Don't panic about joining the grunting meatheads at the gym to get your pump on. A simple at-home resistance exercise program using dumbbells is a great start, and introducing some straightforward bodyweight exercises, like push-ups and planks, will help, too.
3. Yoga to improve flexibility
Yoga is a fantastic addition to any exercise program, no matter your age or previous fitness level. Especially for older people looking to jump-start their fitness, some basic yoga instruction can rapidly enhance your flexibility, balance and strength—plus, it's great for your mental and emotional well-being.
Additionally, it can help if you have trouble sleeping. One randomized, controlled study showed yoga can help alleviate insomnia in postmenopausal women who were not undergoing hormonal therapy.
4. Adult swim
If you want a low-impact way to get started on an exercise program—for instance, if you're starting from scratch, or if exercise with more impact like walking or running is uncomfortable for you—think about hitting the pool.
Swim-based exercise is something you can take from menopause well into your sunset years. Plain swimming laps or aqua classes are great for strengthening your muscles without sacrificing your joints, with results you'll notice in the real world in no time.
5. Get on your bike and ride
Another low-impact way to get your cardio going is to get into biking. Not only will it strengthen your heart, lungs and leg muscles, but bicycling regularly can even improve your brain function.
A 2019 study published in PLOS-One on adults over 50 found that as little as 30 minutes of cycling three times per week had profound effects on the participants' well-being and executive function, the set of cognitive processes responsible for flexible thinking, working memory and self-control.
No matter what you're doing, whether it's exercise or just living your life, work on centering yourself around healthy breathing. Meditation is a great start on mindful breathing, which can have real effects on your physical and mental health.
Even just using a mindful meditation app for 12 minutes suggests a drop in anxiety, depression and even chronic pain, according to a 2019 study set to be published in JMIR Research Protocols.
What to remember
Reaching menopause in this day and age is little more than a signpost pointing toward a new, long and rewarding chapter in a woman's life. But if you don't take care of the machine, the next 50 years aren't going to be as fulfilling as they could be.
Hopefully, these exercise suggestions can help women over 50 activate their bodies and minds—and supercharge their future.