Most of us tend to be more active in our younger years. But experts agree that the need for exercise—both strength and cardio—only increases as we age. “Lean muscles boost your metabolism and strengthen your overall bone density, both of which decline with age,” explains Caleb Backe, CPT, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. If you’ve maintained an exercise routine through the years, you’re on the right track when it comes to scoring impressive health benefits. But all is not lost if you’re just starting to work out post-50. In fact, many of the notations about fitness after 50 are total myths. For example, the idea that you shouldn’t run or do high-intensity workouts that are primarily performed by younger individuals. To debunk the myths and deliver the truth about fitness after 50, we reached out to the experts to shed some light.
You can’t build muscle after 50.
According to Mike Deibler, founder and owner of San Diego Premier Training in Carlsbad, California, this couldn’t be further from the truth. “While you may not be able to build muscle as easily as when you [were] younger, you still can most certainly build muscle,” he says. “Physiology does not change so much that your body will not respond to strength training. In fact, there is research showing that you can build muscle even in your 90s!” One of the best ways he recommends building muscle, regardless of your age, is by ensuring that you’re getting adequate protein in your diet.
You can’t lift heavy weight.
So long as you don’t have any injuries or limitations when it comes to range of movement, you can add weight on top of strength training movements. “The evidence clearly shows that higher intensities are more beneficial for reducing sarcopenia (muscle loss) and improving bone density,” says Deibler. “Without the use of heavier resistance on the skeletal structure, osteoporosis is more likely to occur.” He does point out, however, that the idea that older populations should use heavier loads is unfounded.
You should exercise slowly.
It’s important to move slowly at first in order to master any movement or type of workout. But, your goal should eventually be to add speed. “As we age, we tend to lose type II, or fast twitch, muscle fibers, which is typically due to inactivity or lack of stress on these tissues,” explains Deibler. “These muscle fibers are what help us move heavy objects, [and] use our speed, agility, and quickness, which is really important for functional activities and fall prevention.” To stimulate these fibers, one of the best things you can do is lift heavy loads or move faster. Doing so can help boost your agility and reaction time.
Your joints can’t support workouts.
Ironically, it’s easy to blame certain ailments for your inability to exercise as you get older. But, according to Backe, exercise is often the answer to a lot of knee or joint-related issues. “It’s worth starting with some small stretches and building up strength from there,” he says. “You should see improvements in your stiffness and overall mobility.”
You become less flexible.
Regardless of age, anyone who stops stretching and exercising will become less flexible over time. So, it’s a total myth that after 50 you magically become inflexible. “The truth is that when people say this, what they really mean is that they’re a little bit stiff,” says Backe. “Incorporating regular stretches and yoga into your exercise routine is a surefire way to increase flexibility and strengthen your body from within.”
You can’t lose weight.
It’s true that certain physiology changes will result in a slower metabolism the older you get. However, this is often an excuse used to blame all weight management issues, explains Deibler. “As we age, we typically move much less than we had in previous years. This slowed movement is more responsible than the slowed metabolism,” he says. “We just aren’t as active, yet [we] continue to eat similar portions (if not more) as when we were younger. This is a clear recipe for weight gain.” It’s true that you’re faced with some disadvantages as you age (when it comes to weight loss). But it’s not a simple problem of slowed metabolism.
Don’t let your age or the myths surrounding your age get in the way of your health. There is no reason to assume that you can’t be your fittest and happiest self at any age thanks to fitness after 50. If you have any concerns about your individual health or body, check in with your doctor to come up with a fitness plan that works for you.