No matter your age, there are many good reasons to start strength training. For one, being stronger just makes your life easier—you can do things like carry more grocery bags from the car to your house, lift your suitcase into the overhead compartment without any help, and conquer impossible-to-open jars of spaghetti sauce. What’s more, having more muscle mass boosts your body’s ability to burn fat—which means you’ll have an easier time staying slim as you age—and a toned physique can erase years from your body. Strength training also improves your bone mass and helps you maintain or better your balance.
All of that is why I recommend these five exercises to my patients who are older than 50. They’re super easy on the joints, target major muscle groups, and strengthen key areas that tend to weaken as we get older. You don’t need any weights, either. These moves use your body weight or a band as resistance to build muscle. Do this circuit one to three times per week.
Core muscle fibres tend to shrink and become less supple as we age, which can put more strain on your back. Planks are one of the best moves you can do to keep your core muscles strong.
How to do it: Place your forearms on the floor with your elbows aligned below your shoulders and your arms parallel to your body about shoulder-width apart. Close your hands into fists. Push your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes to stabilize the bottom half of your body. Be careful not to lock your knees. Neutralize your neck and spine by looking at the floor about a foot in front of your hands. Your head should be in line with your spine. Try to hold this position for 20 seconds. As you get more comfortable and your core gets stronger, hold the plank for as long as possible without sacrificing form or breath.
Downward Dog Split with Knee Drive
This is another great move for the core. It is particularly good for strengthening the obliques (the muscles on the sides of your core).
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Spread your fingers wide apart and press firmly through your knuckles and palms, distributing your weight evenly across your hands. Tuck your toes and lift your butt toward the ceiling as you extend your legs without locking your knees. Bring your body into the shape of an upside-down “V.” Then raise your right leg to move into the downward dog split. Bend your right knee and pull it toward your tummy and then toward your forehead. Then straighten and raise your leg back up toward the ceiling. Bend your knee and this time, bring it in toward your tummy and eventually toward your right elbow. Straighten your leg again, then bring your knee across your tummy and toward your left elbow. Repeat three times. Switch legs and repeat.
You’ll tighten weak and flabby triceps with this exercise.
How to do it: Sit on a sturdy chair. Place your palms against the seat of the chair, next to your hips, and scoot your butt forward until it comes off the chair and you are supporting your body weight with your arms and legs. Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle. Bend your elbows back and slowly lower your butt toward the floor. Keep your elbows tucked in. Your body should just clear the seat. Push back up until your arms are extended straight, but don’t use your feet for help. Do 8 to 15 reps.
Tone and strengthen your biceps, which will help you with independence and mobility as you get older.
How to do it: Place a resistance band under your right foot. Hold one end of the band in each hand. Bend your elbows as you curl your hands toward your upper arms. Pull up for 2 seconds, breathing out as you raise the band, then release for 3 seconds. Make sure that you only move your arms, not your upper body. Do six reps, then switch to the left foot and do six more. For an added balance challenge, try standing on one leg while you perform the curls.
Squats are a fantastic way to tone your legs, glutes, and core muscles all at once. They help with balance and flexibility to prevent age-related falls.
How to do it: Stand with your feet flat on the floor. Push your butt back and bend your knees down into a squat, no farther than 90 degrees. As you lower, raise both arms forward. At your lowest point, your glutes should be back as if you were going to sit down in a chair and your weight should be on your heels. If you are in the proper position, you should be able to raise your toes off the floor and you should be able to see your toes. Return to starting position as you lower your arms to your sides.