If you’re inactive and over 50, you can lose up to a pound of muscle mass each year. As a woman, your bone density decreases after age 35, and the rate of bone loss increases after menopause. The good news is that exercise can help you add muscle, increase your bone density and improve your overall health, even after age 70.
Assess Your Abilities
Anyone starting a new fitness routine should first consult her physician, but it’s particularly important for seniors to seek medical guidance because they’re more likely to suffer from a functional impairment. For example, about one-third of women 70 or older are physically limited in some way, while about 60 percent suffer from arthritis, according to the book “Exercise and Women’s Health.” Work with your doctor and a physical therapist or trainer to devise a program that’s suited for you. For example, if your knees can’t handle your body weight when you do squats, perform leg presses with a light weight load instead.
Seniors should aim for 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Alternatively, you can do at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week or perform a comparable mixture of moderate and vigorous activity. Perform strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice per week.
Take a Walk
Older women can derive numerous benefits from walking -- improving your mental as well as your physical health. For example, a study published in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” reported that women age 70 to 80 who walked briskly for one hour, twice each week, showed an increase in the areas of their brains associated with verbal memory and learning. While the authors -- from the University of British Columbia -- noted that more research was necessary to establish a firm causal relationship between cardio activity and memory, they recommended aerobic exercise to reduce cognitive impairment. Additionally, brisk walking may help lessen the symptoms of arthritis, according to “Exercise and Women’s Health.”
Don’t Ignore the Weights
It’s never too late to get stronger. Senior women can add 2 to 3 pounds of lean muscle mass in just two to three months, according to trainer and fitness author Wayne Westcott. He recommends that seniors perform eight to 24 sets of exercise per session, two or three days per week -- but not on consecutive days. If your routine includes four to eight exercises, for example, perform two to three sets of each activity, with two minutes of rest between sets. If you’re a beginner, or if you haven’t exercised for a while, perform 12 to 16 repetitions of each exercise, using about 65 percent of your maximum weight load -- the most weight you can lift one time. As a senior, use slow steady movements -- about six seconds per rep -- to insure that you maintain control and don’t overstress your body.