Everything from what you do, to how you do it, changes once you hit 50.

Age may be just a number, but when it comes to beginning an exercise routine, it's a number to heed—especially if you're over 50. While establishing a fitness regimen is important at any age, doing so around or after this milestone carries a few risks. To help you mitigate them, we spoke with two doctors to find out exactly what you need to know about building this good habit safely.

older women exercising in class
Credit: Getty / Luis Alvarez

Start slow and steady.

According to Miami cardiologist Leonard Pianko, M.D., if you're over 50, the best way to begin a fitness routine is slowly. "While our inclination is to go full speed ahead, my advice is to take it slow, but steady," he says. If you are not particularly active, make an appointment with your doctor before you begin working out to make sure it's safe to start a new regimen in the first place. "Often, your doctor will recommend an electrocardiogram to make sure there are no underlying heart problems," he notes.

Determine your baseline.

Dr. Pianko suggests investing in a fitness watch to keep track of your heart rate—this will help you establish a baseline and identify any issues you may have while exercising. "Then, you can estimate your maximum heart rate (MHR) using the standard formula: 220 minus your age," he says. "If you are just starting out, the goal should be around 60 percent of your MHR. Slowly build it up, so when you are exercising consistently, you reach 80 to 85 percent of your MHR." Once you hit it, don't exceed it, he cautions. "By using a monitor, you can tell if you are nearing your max heart rate and pushing your body too hard—or not pushing your body hard enough," Dr. Pianko notes.

Begin with a few straightforward movements.

If you're new to working out, Dr. Chad Walding, D.P.T., and the co-founder of NativePath, says you should start with "easy" options, like stretching and walking, before building up enough momentum and stamina to move on to something more challenging. "Look for things that are just slightly out of your comfort zone that you can tolerate doing consistently," he says. "Start with as little as five minutes of walking in the morning and evening." From there, increase the duration to 20 to 30 minutes. And don't overlook at-home options, he notes: "There are lots of home exercise routines that are joint-friendly, improve posture and balance, and boost cardio available on the Internet."

Understand the difference between soreness and pain.

The saying "no pain, no gain" isn't accurate, says Dr. Walding, especially if you experience pain that worsens over time. That's a red flag. "A little discomfort is fine, especially with muscle soreness," he says. "If you're not having a little muscle soreness with exercises, you can likely do more." However, if you're experiencing soreness in the neck, shoulders, low back, hips, and knees, and it's getting more painful the more you work out, something else could be amiss; alternatively, you might need to adjust your form.

Focus on workouts that will keep you on your feet.

Whatever exercise you choose to do, Dr. Walding says that you should make sure it prioritizes mobility, balance, strength, and posture. "As we age, our biggest threat is having a fall, which increases the chances of early mortality," he says. "Also, we live in a forward-flexed society where we're always sitting, driving, texting, etc." These movements cause our head to move forward, our spine to slump, and our shoulders to hunch. "It's this position that sets us up for pain and poor balance," Dr. Walding continues. "So, a good routine not only helps improve strength and balance, but it looks after joint health and body alignment to keep us upright and active."


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