It’s no secret that staying lean and physically fit can become a much tougher challenge with age. Many people entering their forties and fifties can remember a time, perhaps during their teenage years or twenties, when they could eat just about anything and have the luxury of knowing it wouldn’t have a visible impact on their overall health and physical well-being.
But this situation typically changes as we enter middle age. Why? There are usually a few reasons, from reduced physical activity to slowed metabolism, meaning the body just isn’t quite as good at burning off fat and calories as it was before. The good news is that women have some options when it comes to simple physical activities that can help build strength and burn fat and calories. Let’s take a look at some of the best options for women in this list.
Before we get into the specific exercises you can do to maximize your lean muscle development and maintain healthy bones and connective tissue, let’s be clear about something: you’ll need to focus on building and executing workouts that exercise all of your major muscle groups, not just those in your legs. That means looking beyond cardiovascular exercises, including running and cycling, to those that build muscle and burn fat in your upper body.
How often should you do these full-body workouts? At least twice a week, most experts say. As for what those workouts should consist of, there’s lots of room for creativity, just be conscious of the muscle groups you’re working. If you feel like there are areas of your body that are being under- or over-worked, then it’s time to change things up. (To help get started, here’s a list of the Best Forms of Exercise for People Over 50).
One of the best ways to build lean muscle in your legs — the area of the body with the most potential for lean muscle — is by doing squats. And one of the best things about squats is that there are a few different styles, meaning you can switch your form up and prevent boredom from setting in too soon.
One option is to complete a basic squat: from a standing position, bend your knees and extend your arms outwards, helping you maintain your balance. Continue moving down until your butt is within about a foot of touching the ground, then stop for a couple seconds before reverting to your original position. Repeat 20 times. As you become better at the exercise, you can start to think about more challenging squats, like the jumping squat or frog squats.
The lunge: it’s basic, it’s easy to perform, and it requires no special equipment. But it can make a big difference in a woman’s effort to build muscle in their legs and core and strengthen the joints in their hips and knees. And as women age and the threat of joint pain increases, the lunge becomes a progressively more effective tool in keeping the body functional.
To perform a lunge, start in a standing position. From there, put one foot out in front of you and slowly lower yourself towards the floor. To maintain your balance, feel free to extend your arms out to the side. As you go lower, you should start to feel tension in the back of your legs and up into your core. Once you get to the point where your back knee is close to the ground, return to the standing position and repeat by putting your other foot forward.
Lunge in Reverse
The standard lunge, described elsewhere in this list, is excellent at building lean muscle in the legs and increasing flexibility throughout the core and lower part of the body. But there are ways to make changes in order to work some different muscles in these areas.
The reverse lunge is becoming progressively more popular. To perform it, position yourself next to a well-grounded object that can steady your balance, if necessary. From a standing position and with your left hand holding the object, extend your right leg backward. Then lower yourself until the knee of your right leg is within a foot of the ground. Then raise yourself back up and return to a standing position. Do 10 repetitions on this side before reversing positions and focusing on the other leg.
It’s important for women over 50 to focus on building lean muscle in their upper body and particularly the shoulders and neck. Sculpting stronger muscles in this part of the body can go a long way towards reducing the chance of suffering a painful injury that could require an extensive amount of time to properly heal.
One exercise that can help prevent this type of injury is the overhead press. It’s fairly simple: use dumbbells — start with five pounds in each hand — and, from a seated position, raise each hand to your shoulders. Then push your hands straight up into the air, holding for two seconds, before returning each hand to resting lightly on your shoulders. Repeat this move 10 times. If it proves too easy, increase the amount of weight in each hand.
Double Leg Crunch
You’ve probably heard how important it is to build a strong core — indeed, just about anyone can benefit from strong abdominal muscles, which can help take pressure off other parts of the body, including the lower back and hips, without you even noticing. And because women over 50 are most susceptible to osteoarthritis targeting the hip joints and lower back, it’s crucial they focus on strengthening their core.
One of the most effective exercises for helping build lean muscle in the abdominals is the double leg crunch. It’s fairly simple: lay on your back, preferable on something that will protect your spine, such as a yoga mat or thick carpet. Next, extend both legs outwards and then raise them until you’re close to forming a 90-degree angle. Then return your legs to the floor before repeating this move 10 times. Feel free to extend your arms outwards to steady yourself.
Side to Sides
Because women over age 50 are susceptible to joint pain in the hips and back, it’s important to build strong joints and a solid core. One particularly effective — and surprisingly fun — way to work the legs, core and lower back is an exercise known as side to sides, which literally involves springing from one foot to the other in a horizontal motion.
To perform this move, shift your balance on one leg while raising the other foot off the floor. Then push off with the foot planted on the floor, thrusting yourself sideways before landing on the other foot. Try to repeat this side-to-side movement for 10 to twenty repetitions before breaking.
One of the simplest and most effective strength-building exercises, the so-called Superman, requires no weights at all. Nevertheless, it has the potential to develop the strength of several major muscle groups, including those in the core, glutes, shoulders, and back. In doing so, it can take a lot of pressure off the hips, an area that can become a source of significant joint pain in women over age 50.
To perform the Superman, go down on all fours. From this position, extend your right leg out behind you and your left arm out in front of you. Hold the position for a few seconds (the longer, the better, but don’t push it too hard). Return to the starting position before extending the opposing leg and arm. Repeat this move 10 times.
A lot of guys become obsessed with building strong muscles in their chest but they’re not the only ones who can benefit from this kind of strength-training activity. By focusing on building lean muscle in this area, women over 50 can take pressure off more sensitive areas, including the shoulders and neck.
One of the best ways to build lean muscle in the chest area is to perform the chest fly. It’s simple but requires a pair of dumbbells; start with five pounds and increase if the exercise proves too easy. To try this exercise, lay flat on the ground with a dumbbell in each hand. Extend the dumbbells outward and then raise each hand until their almost touching straight out from your chest. Hold the position for two seconds and return each hand to your sides. Repeat this movement 10 times. Once you’ve become more comfortable, you can try this move on a bench or exercise ball.
Women over 50 face a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, which can cause significant problems for the spine and neck. An injury to these areas can present an individual with consistent pain that’s hard to escape and healing time can be slow and arduous. For these reasons, it’s a really good idea for women over age 50 to focus on building the muscles in their shoulders and neck, thereby taking pressure off the middle and upper sections of the spine.
One of the simplest and most effective exercises capable of building strength in the shoulders is the shoulder extension. Starting with five-pound dumbbells in each hand, with your hands resting at your sides in a standing position, extend your hands out to your sides until you effectively form a T. Hold the position for a couple seconds before returning your hands and the dumbbells in them to your sides. Repeat this movement ten times.
If there’s a theme to this list, it’s the importance of building muscle groups that can take pressure off areas that become particularly sensitive for women over 50, like the hip joints and spine. When it comes to protecting the hips and lower back, building a strong core is of critical importance.
A fun and effective exercise targeting the abdominal muscles is known as scissor kicks. To perform this move, lay flat on your back, ideally on something padded (like a yoga mat) to protect your spine. From there, extend your legs outwards and slightly up, so they’re a couple feet off the ground. Then, move your legs as if you’re riding a bike. This will place a surprising amount of pressure on the core, causing the muscles to tense up. Because counting reps can be difficult, focus on doing this for a set period of time, such as 15 or 30 seconds. Rest and then repeat.
You may remember the plank from a few years ago, when it became the focus of a viral video sensation, with people performing the move in all kinds of odd situations. While that was certainly entertaining, it doesn’t change the fact that the plank is one of the most simple and effective ways for women over age 50 to build strength in a variety of muscle groups, from the glutes to the core and shoulders.
If you’re (somehow) not familiar with the plank, it’s about as straightforward as an exercise can be: start by laying on the ground, belly-down. From there, raise yourself up so that your arms are bent at 90-degree angles, with your forearms supporting much of your weight. Your legs should be off the ground, with your toes planted. At first this will seem easy, but as you continue to hold the position you’ll feel muscles across your entire body start to strain. Start by holding the plank for 30 seconds and increase the time as it becomes easier.