A Guide for Fitness Over 60

Elderly people walking for exercise.

If you’re pushing 60 or you’ve already passed that milestone, it’s time to get serious about making exercise a staple in your daily routine. (Image: Robert Kneschke via Dreamstime)

Fitness over 60 is essential to getting the most from life. Some people stay pretty fit by keeping up with a busy lifestyle until they age. Others have just never gotten around to exercising much, and it starts to show.

Either way, if you’re pushing 60 or you’ve already passed that milestone, it’s time to get serious about making exercise a staple in your daily routine.

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If you have been sitting in a chair for a while, don’t worry. Here are four practical tips to get you going.

First, see your doctor to assess your fitness

If you haven’t seen a doctor lately, that’s your first stop. They will give you a physical exam to assess your fitness level and ensure you’re healthy enough to start picking up the pace.

This is the time to determine whether any medical problems affect your exercise routine. Of course, you may need to adjust for conditions such as heart problems, arthritis, or diabetes, but exercise can also help you manage these conditions, so don’t get discouraged.

The key is to have clearance that will help guide your first steps. Your doctor may also offer advice on where to start or on exercise groups in your area that are tackling the same challenges you are. But, above all, your doctor can get you on track and help you exercise safely.

Your first stop is to have your level of fitness checked by a doctor.
Your first stop is to have your level of fitness checked by a doctor. (Image: Atit Phetmuangtong via Dreamstime)

Start slow

All workouts should begin with a warm-up and stretching. Simple leg and arm swings or trunk rotations are good for getting your muscles firing and your circulation going. If you’re going for a walk, walk slowly and steadily for a few minutes before picking up the pace. Relax, breathe, and don’t be afraid to take it slow at first. You’ll find that it comes more quickly as you develop a routine.

Talking test

The “talking test” is a good test of how hard you work. If your heart rate is up, but you can still converse with someone next to you without gasping for air, you’re likely doing it right. You’ll notice normal soreness in the first 24 hours after a weightlifting session, but if you still feel it after 36 to 48 hours, you probably did too much. If you’re not working hard enough, you’ll know that too.

Hydration and fuel

Committing to exercising regularly is an excellent time to reassess your eating habits and remember to drink plenty of water every day. Plan meals and snacks high in fiber and well-balanced with “good” calories to fuel your body. Whole grains like oatmeal, fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, beans, tofu, and fish are all excellent examples.

elderly bike riding
Committing to exercising regularly is an excellent time to reassess your eating habits and remember to drink plenty of water every day. (Image: Tom Wang via Dreamstime)

You can find any number of great exercises to do, in or out of the gym. The following four offer the most help for those over 60 with the least risk.

Walking

It gives you everything you want from an exercise:

  • It gets you off your chair or couch.
  • It’s a natural movement that encourages good posture, with your shoulders back and your lumbar spine in the correct position.
  • It gives continuous work to the muscles and connective tissues responsible for stabilizing your feet, ankles, knees, and hips.
  • It burns calories. The more you walk, the faster you go. The more hills and steps you climb, the more you burn.
  • Walking is also a versatile activity. You can beat fitness boredom and upgrade your walking workout with simple tweaks.

Love treadmills? You need to elevate the walking surface a few degrees to match the effort of walking on flat ground. Once you can walk on the treadmill comfortably, don’t be afraid to bump up the incline or intensity.

Squats

Unless you spend a lot of time on steps or hills, walking doesn’t do much to increase your lower-body strength or preserve the vital muscle tissue that disappears with age and inactivity. That’s where squats come in.

It’s a simple exercise—you push your hips back as if you’re about to sit in a chair and then straighten your hips and knees as you return to the standing position—with countless variations.

The best way to start is to sit back until your butt touches a box or bench about 18 to 24 inches high. From there, you rise and repeat. Make sure you start the movement by pushing your hips backward rather than bending your knees and shifting your weight over your toes. Your feet should stay flat on the floor while your chest stays up, pointing forward.

Need to make it easier? Start from a seated position, push up just a couple of inches until you feel some tension, and then release. Or make it more challenging by holding a dumbbell with both hands right under your chin.

rowing exercise
As with squats, there are lots of ways to do rows. But the one you’ll see most often in a gym is the seated row, using a cable machine. (Image: Auremar via Dreamstime)

Rows and lat pulldowns

As with squats, there are lots of ways to do rows. But the one you’ll see most often in a gym is the seated row, using a cable machine. It’s usually part of an apparatus that includes a lat pulldown station.

With both exercises, the movement is pretty simple: Use the muscles in your upper and middle back to pull a bar to your chest. Then, hold it in that position by squeezing your shoulder blades together, return to the starting position, and repeat.

Pushups

This exercise works the same muscles as the chest press but stretches them while training the core muscles to stabilize your torso and protect your lower back. Unfortunately, not many older people can do traditional pushups with their hands and feet on the floor. Fortunately, you can make it easier without losing any benefits by elevating your hands on a bench or step, a kitchen counter, or even a wall.

A final note

Everyone is different, and everyone’s health can change over the years after an injury or a medical event like a heart attack. Your doctor will be the best person to guide you on how to exercise safely, based on your medical history and current health.

Another essential guide: is your body. If an exercise doesn’t feel right, make it easier by using less weight, going slower, or adjusting your body position. Still, have pain? Skip that exercise, and check in with your doctor if the pain persists.

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