Fit at 50 (and older!)


Each May, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) leads our nation’s celebration of Older Americans Month (OAM). Older Americans do have unique needs when it comes to getting started in a workout program. Here’s how to get started:

Anyone who is 50+ and looking to get heart healthy with exercise should start by understanding their max heart rate and target heart rate. It’s easy to do!  Find your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.  Then take your maximum heart rate and multiply it by 60% to get to your target heart rate. For example a 60 year olds max heart rate would be 160 beats per minute and their target heart rate would be 96 beats per minute.

Using this you can start with three cardio sessions per week, aiming to maintain your target heart rate for 30 full minutes. You can choose whatever cardiovascular exercise you enjoy the most; you can walk, jog, swim, cycle, row, do exercise circuits or even play a light game of tennis. As long as you get moving you’ll get heart healthy benefits.

Once you feel comfortable at that level you can begin to increase the intensity to 70% of your maximum heart rate.  You’ll know it’s time to increase the intensity or duration when you have to increase the resistance or speed to get to the same heart rate. This should only take a couple weeks as the heart responds quickly to exercise. 

Here is how exercise can lower your resting heart rate: Endurance training will increase the amount of hemoglobin, a blood protein that transports oxygen around the body. As you continue to exercise your heart will be able to increase its stroke volume or the amount of blood it can pump per beat. This means your heart can do the same amount of work at a lower heart rate taking stress off the heart.

The faster your heart can adapt to exercise and become efficient, the healthier it will be as you age. It’s pretty simple: which heart do you think will be healthier in the long run? One that beats 60 times per minute or one that beats 50 times per minute. The less your heart has to work at rest the better. Most muscles get an opportunity to rest but the heart never stops so the only way to take stress off it is to improve its efficiency.

Start an exercise program today to improve efficiency and your heart will be able to sustain that workload as the years pass!  Share how you’re staying healthy in the comments below: