Aging is a phenomenon that many of us dread. But regular exercise (combined with a healthy diet and smart lifestyle choices) can go a long way toward senior health. It can make you feel and look a lot younger than your age. In fact, one study, published in the Archives in Internal Medicine, showed that consistently exercising after age 50 can add years to your life:

  • Men who exercised moderately added 1.3 years to their lives.
  • Highly active men over 50 added 3.7 years.
  • Women who were moderately active over 50 added 1.1 years to their lives.
  • Highly active women added 3.2 years.

The study also showed that people who exercised more also lived more years free of cardiovascular disease. The results showed that moderate exercise increases life expectancy, with highly active people more than doubling longevity benefits. The bottom line is that exercise will help you live a longer, healthier life.

Never Too Late

No matter what age and current fitness level you are, starting an exercise program can bring you many benefits. For example, regular exercise raises your metabolic rate, which means you’ll burn calories even when you’re not exercising. That’s important for people that find weight management an issue as they grow older.

It’s never too late to commit to a consistent fitness program. The challenge is tailoring your exercise to the limitations and challenges of your current biological age, which is the state of your body based on much more than chronological age. Hundreds of criteria determine your true biological age, such as weight, body fat, general health, mental health, alcohol and tobacco use and lifestyle choices. For example, if you have been sedentary for a long time and smoke, you may be 55 years old, but could have a biological age of 63. On the other hand, if you’re a 60 year-old that is highly active, doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol with a very healthy diet, you might have a biological age of 55.

You and your doctor should try and determine your biological age and consider all these factors and more when developing a new fitness program that is realistic and safe for where you are now. You’ve probably heard the standard disclaimer “consult with your physician before starting an exercise program.” That’s a good idea. Also, if you have or suspect a heart condition, high blood pressure, diabetes or any other serious ailment, make an appointment with your physician.

Safely Gauge Your Fitness Level

The first step to fitness is to gauge your current fitness level. What is your cardiovascular fitness level right now? Have you done any strength training on a consistent basis? What is your stamina? Is there a weight issue to consider when designing an exercise program?

These are all important areas worth taking some time to evaluate and consider. Besides consulting with your physician, a personal trainer or exercise specialist may be able to more objectively measure, asses these factors and design a safe and effective exercise routine that addresses your current fitness level, weaknesses and age considerations.

General Guidelines

  • While strength training should be a component of your fitness early on, it’s absolutely critical if you’re over 50 to perform 30 minutes of resistance training at least three times per week.
  • This is doubly true for women in order to prevent debilitating conditions later on in life, such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
  • Don’t forget to balance your strength training with some cardiovascular activity as well, such as walking, running, cycling, swimming or tennis.

Get Active… But Ease Into It

Even if you’ve been sedentary for a long time, you have every reason to start now. The real key is slow and gradual progress. Begin any new activity with its lowest rung. For example, instead of running, start walking first. Instead of lap swimming, take a water aerobics class first. At this stage in your life, it’s really important to ease into an exercise program. If you’re unsure of what to do, a personal trainer or exercise specialist can help you get on the safe track to fitness.

No matter what your age, committing or re-committing to fitness will increase the quantity—and quality—of your life. More importantly, you’ll likely live a longer and fuller life with its own rewards.