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CyclingAt age 50, 10% of our muscle area is gone and continues to decline with age. Research shows that participating in regular exercise is an effective way to reduce or prevent functional and physical declines associated with aging. This article provides evidence-based strategies for effectively combating these changes associated with aging. We can be strong and active well into old age and have fun along the way. Being fit allows for participation in many social activities. No longer must we sit on the sidelines. This article provides the scientific background for designing our exercise program so that we can get maximum benefit without injury.

As we age, the natural course of biology is for our muscle tissue and bone density to decrease, causing us to lose strength and power, and for our metabolic rate to decrease. These losses are often due to inactivity. We find that simple activities of daily living, like walking up stairs or standing up from a chair, become more difficult. The risk of falling also increases. No matter what our age, these changes can be arrested and even reversed! No matter how weak we are now, endurance and resistance training improves strength and functional ability. We can become stronger!

Older individuals should be prescreened for medical conditions prior to participating in an exercise regimen. Knowledge of appropriate attire, footwear, warm-up, cool-down, post-exercise stretching, equipment use, nutrition, fluid replacement and training principles is very important. 
Appropriate attire includes shoes with good traction and clothes that allow your body to dissipate heat and do not restrict your movement.

The Exercise Session

Before exercise, one should perform a warm-up. A warm-up is 5-10 minutes of low intensity activity and moving through the full range of motion that you will be using in your sport or exercise; this should increase heart rate without causing fatigue. It may seem obvious, but during exercise, holding your breath should be avoided to prevent restriction of blood vessels causing hypertension or lightheadedness; one should exhale on exertion and breathe continuously.
There are two major components of the exercise program: Resistance training and endurance training.

Resistance training:

Your physical therapist or personal trainer will help you determine how much weight you can lift one time. You’ll then develop a lifting schedule like this one, and do it 2-3 times per week.

Load (weight)




Low Power

(75-85% of 1RM*)



2-5 minutes

High Power

(80-90% of 1RM)



2-5 minutes


(85% of 1RM)



2-5 minutes


(65-85% of 1RM)



30 secs-1.5 minutes

Muscle Endurance

(<65% of 1RM)



< 30 seconds

  *RM=repetition maximum

Endurance training also has necessary principles addressed when designing a program including. First, pick the specific activity. Choose from cycling, running, tennis, golf, swimming, skiing, or walking. Determine the number of sessions, with time adding up to 150 minutes per week. Know the intensity you want to put forth into training, as measured by %-age of max heart rate or rate of perceived exertion. Higher intensity workouts require shorter time of work-out, and lower intensity requires longer duration.

So, find a sport, exercise or activity that you like. You will stay committed if you do something you enjoy.

After exercise, a cool down allows the blood that has been pumping to your muscles to return to the heart and lungs and decreases the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness.
After cooling down, one should stretch. Stretching can decrease power and force production; therefore, it is not recommended prior to exercise. Stretching before exercise is only favorable for individuals in sports requiring a large range of motion, like a gymnast. Minimal research supports pre-exercise stretching as beneficial for injury prevention. Static stretching is a prolonged hold that must last at least 30 seconds. Bouncing your stretches is detrimental, because it causes micro-tears in your muscles. 
Hydrating is important prior, during and after exercise. One should drink approximately 1 pint of fluid, preferably water, 2 hours before exercise. During exercise one should drink enough to replace fluid lost through sweat. After exercise, you should drink 1 pint per pound of fluid lost in sweat. You do not require electrolyte or carbohydrate drinks unless exercising greater than an hour. 
Muscle soreness may occur after exercise, but muscles repair to adapt and prevent future damage from the same stimulus. Use ice if muscles are sore after exercise. 
If you are afraid to exercise, talk to a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist.

People who tend to fall or injure themselves have the greatest fear of exercise, but are also those who need it the most. Balance can be improved by strengthening, and by exercises requiring quick stepping. Dizziness should be assessed by a physician.

Exercise is the key to healthy living. At this stage of life you are hopefully wiser and will use your experience and knowledge for motivation to stay healthy to continue to do what you love for years to come.

Written by Sarah DeNoia Arruda, PT, DPT, CSCS


Baechle, T.R., & Earle R.W. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd ed.). National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Mazzeo, R.S. (2013). ACSM Current Comment. American College of Sports Medicine. Indianapolis, IN. http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/exerciseandtheolderadult.pdf

United States Department of Health and Human Services. October (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. vi-viii. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines

Westcott, W.L., & Baechle, T.R. (2007). Strength Training Past 50 (2nd ed.). Human Kinetics.

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