Has joint pain, muscle pain or injury occurred more frequently since you’ve been trying to add exercise over 50?
Maybe it’s stopped you from continuing a new workout only a few weeks in?
If you answered yes to one or all of these questions, you’re not alone.
Over 50 you’re dealing with a new set of workout rules.
Changes in hormones, recovery rates, physiological processes and arthritis are all factors that shift the way you work out.
As you probably already know, pushing back and refusing to listen to your body only makes things worse.
Yet, when you adapt your workouts to live in harmony with your body at any stage, not only do you increase your strength, burn more fat and firm the body by building lean muscle, but you create an enjoyable workout strategy you look forward to doing time and time again.
So, let’s make that happen!
Here are the common mistakes I see time and time again when starting a new workout plan:
#1 The intensity is too much too soon:
This is a common mistake many starters make, especially when beginning a new weight training program.
While there are some who feel that because they were active years or even months back, they should be able to pick up right where they left off and push themselves too hard,
More often than not, it has to do with a disconnect between how hard a person feels they’re working and how hard their body is actually working.
This is known as the “Rate of perceived exertion” in the fitness world:
When you do a new cardio session, you can feel the lungs burn, the body temperature rise, you feel out of breath, and your heart is pounding.
If you were asked on a scale of 1-10 how difficult you feel you’re working, you can assess these signs and say, “It feels like a 10.”
Yet when weight training,
Often the only sign you’ve done enough is the physical inability to lift the weight any longer, to do another push up. You feel tired, but there’s no burn.
It’s not until the next day when you wake up (or the day after that) that you feel the pain, the stiffness, and you can’t even lift your arm to give your hair a good shampoo.
Not only does this cause muscle soreness, but it also creates inflammation and irritation in the tendons, ligaments and cartilage between joints.
For the first few new workout sessions, take the amount of weights you think you can lift for your workout and reduce the weight size to 1/3.
For body weight exercises modify by elevating the body. You can do this by bending your knees only a small bit, or by doing push ups on a wall or the back of a sofa.
If you wake up feeling a little stiff, that’s ok, but excessive pain means you’ve done too much too soon. Choose a lighter weight the next time you do the workout.
If you wake up feeling as though you hadn’t done a thing, that may be a sign your weights were too light. Choose the next weight size up the next time you workout.
#2 You aren’t taking enough time off in between exercise sessions:
There’s this preconceived notion that the more days of exercise you complete, the faster you’ll reach your strength, health and weight loss goals, but that’s just not true.
It’s actually during the time off (the rest days) that your lean muscle repairs, creating more strength, more toning and enhanced weight loss.
It’s during the rest that your immune function rises, relaxation hormones rise, and stress hormones fall.
You may be wondering, “Then why do many activity guidelines suggest you move daily?”
The guidelines are wonderful to get a sedentary population standing, but when it comes to your new fitness journey these guidelines don’t apply.
- Starting weight training after a long time off
- Starting weight training for the first time ever
- You’re increasing the length or intensity of your walks, your steps or your cardio sessions
- Starting both your cardio and weight training all at once
- Starting cardio, weight training and a weight loss journey all at once.
This is because you’re moving beyond basic movement, and taking your fitness to the next level.
The new level of demand you place on your body requires more recovery time in between, otherwise you increase inflammation which causes muscle and joint pain, not to mention it flares up arthritic symptoms.
Worse yet, consecutive and ongoing days of fitness suppress immune function.
What’s even more important to note, over 50 recovery rates change:
Hormone shifts are a huge deciding factor for exercise recovery so if you’re currently in menopause or post menopause, you may notice you need more time off.
Also, your body has a decreased ability to synthesize protein (the nutrient muscles are made of). This means it’ll take longer to repair your lean muscle.
If you’re starting a new workout, you bet you’re starting a new intensity, which means you may need longer to recover.
Choose a beginner’s workout plan that asks for 2-3 days of workouts per week.
If you feel you have to do something daily to stay on track, choose the activities your body is already familiar with for off workout days.
#3 The duration of your workout is too long:
Many women decide a good place to start a new workout program is to add on to what they’re already doing.
They add more time to their walks, more steps to their Fitbit 10,000, or more long, drawn out cardio sessions, with the best intentions of losing weight, feeling healthy and getting fit.
That is, until their hips, back or knees hurt too much to continue…
Or, worse yet, instead of increasing their energy, losing the pounds and feeling healthy and strong,
They begin to plateau, they feel tired, exhausted and they give up.
I see this especially in 2 types of women:
- If you have a demanding job, husband, children and life. This is because you’re dealing with two major factors that increase stress hormones:
The over 50 shift in stress hormone Cortisol, and the further increase and dysregulation of Cortisol because life is stressful.
While exercise can help regulate cortisol levels, overly lengthy workouts cause cortisol to rise and rise, which in turn stores more belly fat, increases your risk of insulin resistance and type II diabetes, creating the opposite effect for your health and weight loss (you can read all about it here)
- If joint pain is often caused by arthritic flare ups:
Simply put, continuous, repetitive motion creates joint inflammation. Not to mention, the more arthritic pain you feel, the more fatigue you’ll feel sooner. The metabolic cost of being physically active while in pain increases by as much as 50%
Keep your workouts short and sweet.
If high demands and elevated stress hormone sounds like you, keep your workouts under 45 minutes.
If arthritic flare ups are the problem, and you’re just starting out, start with 10 minute workouts, or choose 30 minute workouts that constantly switch up the area you’re working. That way each joint only gets small doses of fitness at a time.
#4 You don’t get the right nutrients AND you’re adding in a new workout
A new fitness routine often comes with a desire to lose weight (especially around the belly), as well as to feel healthy and strong.
As a result, many women start a new workout plan while cutting back on portions, cutting out entire food groups, or cutting out times of day they’ll eat.
If the weight loss plan feels healthy, energizing and works for you long term, I think that’s great.
Yet all too often I see women who take on their new way of eating, and feel ongoing muscle pain, leg cramps at night, joint pain and fatigue.
Simply put, these women are not eating the right amount of nutrients for their new workout level and their body type.
This is especially true over 50 when nutrient absorption is lower, as a result, cutting out food groups leads to muscle cramps due to inadequate amounts of magnesium, electrolytes or glycogen (your muscle’s energy store)
As the workouts become harder, without certain food groups such as carbohydrates muscle injury rates increase and workout performance is reduced. In other words, you may not be able to get through a workout you once thought was much easier to do.
The key is to eat as many nutrient dense foods as possible from all major food groups.
- Eat sufficient amounts of protein to heal damaged muscles, tendons and cartilage.
- Choose complex healthy carbohydrates to ignite your energy by increasing muscular energy stores and reducing muscle pain.
- Eat healthy fats including nuts and seeds which are high in magnesium to reduce muscle cramps and inflammation.
The more nutrient dense the foods, the fuller you’ll feel sooner. This naturally reduces your calorie intake in an enjoyable way, melting away the inches, all while igniting your energy and strength pain-free
- Lee, R. D. (2011). Diseases of the musculoskeletal system. In M. Nelms, K. Sucher, & S. L. Roth, Nutrition therapy and pathophysiology(pp. 789-793). Belmont: Cengage learning.
- Minor, M. A., & Kay, D. (2009). Arthritis. In J. L. Durstine, G. E. Moore, P. L. Painter, & S. O. Roberts, ACSM’S Exercise management for persons with chronic diseases and disabilities(pp. 259-266). Windsor: Human kinetics.
- Westby, M. (2012, February). American College of Rheumatology. American College of Rheumatology. Atlanta, GA, USA.
- Manifesto, P. (2006). Exercise and arthritis. Retrieved from World Arthritis day