Fitness Over 50: Staying Active Is More Important Than Ever For Your Health

By Sherry Jackson

Exercise is important for everyone, but for those over 50, it’s vital. Just walking or moving a few days a week helps strengthen the heart and lungs. According to the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, exercise can also lower blood pressure, increase balance and flexibility and reduce the risk of developing conditions and disabilities. Doing just three hours of exercise a week can increase a person’s life span by five years.

For some, it’s now or never, and for those who have already retired, there’s suddenly a lot more time in each day and no more excuses. But many active adults over 50 don’t like going to a regular gym. They’re loud, busy and don’t have the right classes or cater to seniors. But there are plenty of alternative options to keep healthy and active.

Bring the Gym to You

When Bill Stark left the corporate world after 30 years with Texas Instruments and retired to Arizona, he had a goal to provide fitness to those over 50. He always made working out and staying fit a priority. Stark is now a GYMGUYZ franchisee covering the East Valley and Sun City, providing mobile, in-home personal training services to customers.

“This company really stood out,” Stark says when discussing why he choose GYMGUYZ. “It was a perfect fit for me. Things are coming back to the home and I saw this as a really convenient model.”

GYMGUYZ brings its expert trainers and equipment to your home, office or other location. The company’s vans are stocked with more than 300 pieces of state-of-the-art fitness equipment and provide one-on-one training or inclusive group sessions. Stark’s franchise has seven personal trainers of both genders on staff.

“It’s providing customization,” Stark says. “We offer a free fitness assessment and then talk to customers about lifestyle choices, fitness levels and goals. We modify our program to meet their specific needs.”

Strength and interval training and improving your core are all important to prevent losing muscle mass. While most seniors aren’t interested in diets, Stark says “Eating healthy and exercising are really important for quality of life.”

Safety is crucial for those over 50. Understanding a person’s abilities, ailments and concerns are important to customize any workout, Stark says. His GYMGUYZ team makes sure customers know how to get up properly if they fall, how to sit up properly and do exercises that can be performed while seated in a chair.

Stark recently launched a partnership with two-time Mr. Universe, Dr. Lance Dreher, to create special workouts for those with disabilities. Lance has been a personal trainer for decades, specializing in workouts for Baby Boomers to serve the growing retiree population in Scottsdale. The partnership with Stark was a natural fit because his flexible model allows the trainers to cater workouts specifically to their clients’ needs.

“It’s all about helping people and giving back,” Stark says.

Bowling for Fitness

Another popular fitness activity for those over 50 is bowling. Little training or skill is required, it provides socialization and gives a surprisingly good workout.

Each Thursday morning, about 60 seniors arrive at Uptown Alley in Surprise. Uptown is a “new breed” of entertainment centers that includes family entertainment such as bowling, an arcade, two-level laser tag, billiards, live entertainment, a full-service restaurant and three bars.

The seniors are divided into 12 teams with four people per team. It’s a blend of bowlers, says Jen Bullard, bowling league coordinator for Uptown Alley. “Some are in their 90s, while others are in their early 50s.”

The social aspect is what brings most of them – they meet up with the same people each week and talk about their lives, kids and grandkids. Others are a little more competitive.

“For me, it’s the camaraderie and the social aspect,” Uptown Alley bowler Andy Hernandez says. “We’re not drinkers, we’re not smokers and the bowling alley is a real nice place to meet and socialize.”

“Our bowlers are gracious and fun,” Bullard says. “Our leagues are designed to be fun and social.”

But within the fun atmosphere, it’s still a workout. Bowlers average one to two miles of walking while playing. Throwing an 8 to 15 lb. ball works out the core, arms and leg muscles, Bullard says. Many bowlers stretch before they start playing.

“It limbers you up and gets you moving,” Hernandez says. “Once you reach a certain age, you’ve gotta get moving. “

Another weekly Uptown Alley bowler, John Johnson, says while the aerobic activity isn’t that much for him, it keeps him “on balance and his legs in shape.”

Bullard has seen an impact on several bowlers. One player who just moved back to Arizona was diagnosed with diabetes. Bullard says after bowling, she can walk better. Another player had a case of tuberculitis last year and was motivated to get better so she wouldn’t miss the bowling league time.

“These seniors, they look forward to bowling each week,” Bullard says. “For some, it’s the only time they get out and about.”

The leagues run from the first Thursday of November until the second week of April.

Just Keep Moving

Even activities around the house such as household chores, gardening and yardwork, brisk walking and taking the stairs can help you stay fit, according to the School of Gerontology’s website: “Try new things such as raking the leaves instead of using the leaf blower and take a walk after lunch instead of watching TV.”

Regardless of the activity you choose, movement is essential to health, says Irene Stillwell, executive director of the Arizona Senior Olympics and the Lifelong Fitness Foundation. The nonprofit organization specializes in promoting and implementing fitness programs and activities for people 50 years and better.

For some, it’s important to have a goal to strive for. The Arizona Senior Olympic games have more than 24 different events including alpine skiing, shooting, basketball, racquetball, tennis, volleyball, shuffleboard and more. The games are held in February and March at different venues across the state. Participants can earn gold, silver and bronze medals and can qualify for the National Senior Games.

“People train all through year for the Senior Olympics and it helps,” Stillwell says. “We use sports as the incentive to get seniors to be active. If you want your body to keep moving and keep moving well, you have to be active. Anything you do is better than nothing. Every movement you do counts.”