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Measuring Your Fitness Level after 50- The Ultimate Guide

Learn to measure and improve your fitness level with age-appropriate tips and strategies, ensuring a healthier, more vibrant lifestyle

It is important to adjust our lives to meet the changing demands of our bodies and health as we progress through life. This becomes most evident in the golden years, which usually begin around 50 when distinct health issues develop.

According to a study from the University of Michigan’s 2021 National Poll on Healthy Aging, more than one-third of Americans in the 50–80 age bracket reported a significant decline in physical activity levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, over 25% of the elderly who participated in the study feel less physically fit now compared to a year ago. This includes less strength, endurance, and flexibility. Almost shockingly, 21% admit they’ve been skimping even 30 minutes of moderate exercise (like walking) weekly.

That is why maintaining physical fitness is more important than ever for people over 50. The trick is to do things that are good for you and fun at the same time. Still, it can be challenging to figure out how to maintain fitness levels in old age.

Our guide is designed to provide you with all the information you need to confidently and easily navigate this journey. So let’s start with the importance of exercise and maintaining fitness for people over 50.

Understanding the Importance of Exercise for People Over 50 Years

Screenshot 2024 01 28 000201
Image source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3654306/

The health benefits of exercise are well-known. However, its advantages do not end with being young, healthy, and physically active. It’s also a great barrier against the most difficult parts of becoming older. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, regular exercise has several health advantages, especially for people over 50. There are many advantages to adding an exercise regimen to your routine. Such as,

1. Prevention of Age-related Diseases

The likelihood of developing long-term medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes type 2, and certain cancers rises with age. If you are at risk for these conditions, exercising could be the answer to avoiding a severe illness.

Another study suggests that regular exercise has several health benefits, including extending life expectancy, preventing cognitive decline, lowering the risk of falls, easing stress, anxiety, and depression, and delaying the onset of 40 chronic disorders or diseases.

2. Makes You Energetic

Though it may seem unnatural, being inactive makes you fatigued, while being active provides more energy. Endorphins are key neurotransmitters associated with pain reduction and a feeling of well-being; any activity level enhances their release. Feeling more energized and alive is only one of the many benefits of endorphins, which also fight stress hormones and encourage sound sleep.

3. Prevents Falls and Balance Problems 

An important issue for the elderly is the risk of falling. The National Council on Aging reports that one elderly person is hospitalized due to a fall-related injury every 11 seconds.

While there is no foolproof method to prevent falls, moderate exercise does lower the risk by 23%.
Those over 50 should prioritize balance and coordination exercises, such as yoga or Tai Chi, to reduce the risk of falls and accidents.

4. Keeps your Heart Healthy

Heart disease, in every form it takes, is a major killer of older people, says the American Heart Association. As with everything else, your heart changes as you age, making heart issues more common. Exercise can help prevent any kind of heart illness, including atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes, and other similar conditions.

According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology in October 2019, exercising is never too late. The importance of exercise is particularly highlighted for older people.

5. Can Help You Live Longer

Following the 50s, the emphasis of exercise is on longevity. Longevity means living longer and living longer with the quality of life you choose and enjoy. According to studies, a life expectancy gain of 0.4 to 6.9 years is connected with regular physical exercise.  Exercise adds years to your life and makes those years more vibrant, which is the greatest advantage.

Studies even show that active people, particularly people over 50, tend to have longer telomeres, which cause age-related problems. While the exact cause is unclear, longer telomeres might lower the risk of age-related diseases.

6. Maintains Joint Health and Prevents Bone Loss

The body breaks down old bones and grows new bone tissue to keep bones healthy, but this process ceases at 30. You gradually lose more bone than you produce when you enter your 40s and 50s. Preventing osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones and raises the risk of fractures with age, and increasing bone density throughout youth are both made possible by regular exercise.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation states that over half of those 50 and older are at risk of osteoporosis-related bone fractures, which cost the healthcare system $19 billion annually. However, physical activity helps alleviate discomfort and increase joint range of motion. Low-impact activities like swimming or cycling are recommended for people over 50 with joint issues. The same goes for bone health, as the risk of bone problems increases with age.

Many people in this age bracket may hesitate to exercise due to concerns about getting injured or thinking it’s too late. But with the correct mindset and knowledge, exercise can be safe and helpful. The key is discovering and committing to what works for you.

7. Prevents Sarcopenia

Losing muscle mass, or sarcopenia, is a normal physiological process that begins around 50. According to a May 2020 study in Nutrients, individuals suffering from sarcopenia may have a loss of type II muscular fibers—in particular—of as much as 50% by the age of 50. An essential part of reducing falls in the elderly is strengthening these muscles.

According to research, resistance training is a great strategy to help prevent that decrease. It makes everyday duties like cooking, cleaning, and climbing stairs easier, and it keeps your muscles strong and powerful, which is useful for opening jars and pushing heavy doors.

Even researchers at the University of Alabama found that resistance training is safe and beneficial for people over 50, with extremely low and consistent injury rates across all ages and intensities.

8. Make you Less-dependent

Regular exercise reduces the likelihood that elders may need assistance from others. According to Harvard Medical School, the capacity to walk, wash, cook, eat, dress, and use the toilet improves in older people who exercise regularly. Exercise is one of the best ways for people over 50 to maintain their independence if self-reliance is essential.

9. Good for Brain and Cognition

One of the most astounding advances in health research is recognising the closer connection between the mind and the body, and its mental health advantages may be equally significant.

According to a study from NCBI, regular exercise improves cognitive health in seniors. Physical activity for people over 50 has several positive effects on brain health and can aid in preserving cognitive abilities. A more recent research by the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation found that exercising regularly lowers the chance of acquiring dementia or Alzheimer’s disease by around 50%.

In addition, research published in January 2020 indicated that increased grey matter volume is linked to cardiovascular activity. The brain’s grey matter is involved in sensory perception (hearing and seeing), decision-making, communication, and self-control, among other functions.

These research findings support the idea that a healthy body is associated with a healthy mind.

10. Prevents Certain Cancers

Exercising regularly can reduce your risk of developing some cancers. It has been well-studied that exercise may positively affect characteristics that lower cancer risk through reduced inflammation, balanced hormone production, enhanced immunological function, and insulin sensitivity. Distinct molecular pathways explain these effects.

For example, a 2015 meta-analysis in the European Journal of Cancer revealed that physically active women have a lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who aren’t physically active. The result also showed that physical activity can reduce the lifetime risk of breast cancer by 9% for women who engage in at least 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

Another study, a 2016 British Journal of Sports Medicine analysis, found that very active individuals reduced their overall cancer risk by 10% compared to inactive individuals, and exercise may provide modest protection against colon and breast cancers.

11. Can Help You with Sleep!

Quality and length of sleep, an issue of concern for those over 50, can be improved with regular exercise. Based on all the research, sleep patterns tend to shift with age. According to research at Northwestern University, aerobic exercise significantly improved sleep quality and duration for middle-aged and older people diagnosed with insomnia.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep, Harvard Health Publishing suggests avoiding vigorous activity in the hours leading up to bedtime.

Based on all the research-based data presented above, it is well established that a fitness program is a must for a long and healthy life.

Physicians and researchers recommend maintinaing active lifestyles without overexertion, as exercise promotes longer, healthier, and more joyful lives.  

But now the question arises: how do we know how much we need to exercise?

How Do You Measure Your Physical Fitness Level With Age? 

Do you want to know if you’re fit for your age? One can visit a sports performance lab for a detailed and comprehensive fitness level evaluation. However, this is extraneous and, at times, costly for most individuals. There are some at-home fitness tests that have scientific support. Such as

1. The Run Testlow angle woman running

In the 1960s, Dr. Ken Cooper created the 12-minute run test, sometimes known as the “Cooper test,” to estimate VO2 max and measure aerobic fitness. Follow these steps to measure:

  1. Start with a warm-up.
  2. Now perform a 12-minute run. The best way to do this test is to run the path on a track or find a flat area with good GPS coverage.
  3. After twelve minutes, stop and keep track of how many laps you completed.
  4. Calculate your VO2 Max:
    • If you measured the distance in kilometres, use the formula: VO2 max = (22.351 x kilometers) - 11.288.
    • If you measured the distance in miles, use the formula: VO2 max = (35.97 x miles) - 11.29.

Result: Your age, sex, and the distance you ran are the three main factors that make up your fitness level. The following table shows the result.

Sex Distance for Above-Average Fitness (in 12 minutes)
Female 1,900–2,300 meters
Male 2,100 – 2,500 meters

This means that if a woman can run between the distances mentioned above, she is considered to be in above-average fitness. The same goes for men, as per the chart.

2. Plank Test old woman doing fitness exercises

The plank fitness test measures upper-body stability and core strength while the subject is in the plank position. To perform this test, follow these steps:

  1. Start with a plank position on the forearms for 60 seconds.
  2. Lift your right arm and keep the position for 15 seconds, then return to the ground. Repeat the same for the left arm.
  3. Repeat these steps for the right leg, holding it in the air for 15 seconds and returning. Then, follow the same for the left leg.
  4. Next, lift your left leg and right arm simultaneously and maintain the position for 15 seconds. Repeat the same for the right leg and the left arm.

Result: If you complete the test without any hurdles, you have good core strength. If not, this suggests starting a core-strengthening workout.

3. Push-Up Test  senior woman indoors doing stretching exercises

This test is great for measuring upper body strength. Here is how it works:

  1. Start in the standard push-up position, with hands shoulder-width apart and feet together. Your body should be in a straight line from heels to head.
  2. Lower your body until your elbows form a 90-degree angle, then push back up to the starting position. This is one repetition.
  3. Perform as many push-ups as possible while maintaining good form (keep your toes, hips, and shoulders in a straight line).
  4. Count the number of push-ups you did.

Result: Age and gender have a role in the test’s results. Better fitness levels are correlated with higher counts of push-ups.

Some other fitness tests that can be used to measure physical fitness include:

4. Sit-up Test Screenshot 2024 01 29 004840

If you want to know how strong your abs and hip flexors are, you should take the sit-up test.

Research has demonstrated that this simple measure of musculoskeletal fitness is an incredibly reliable predictor of personal fitness and mortality risk from any cause. The US Marines also use this test, which is required as part of their biannual Physical Fitness Test (PFT).

To perform this test, lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest. Now lift your body until your arms touch the thighs and legs, then lower your body back until your shoulder blades touch the ground. This is called a one-sit-up. Perform as many sit-ups as possible in two minutes.

Result: Compare your results to the table below.

Fitness Level Men (46-55) Women (46-55) Men (56-65) Women (56-65)
Excellent >35 >27 >31 >24
Good 29-35 22-27 25-31 18-24
Above Average 25-28 18-21 21-24 13-17
Average 22-24 14-17 17-20 10-12
Below Average 18-21 10-13 13-16 7-9
Poor 13-17 5-9 9-12 3-6
Very Poor <13 <5 <9 <3

Remember that these scores are based on completing the tests exactly as given, and they may be inaccurate if the test is changed in any way. Don’t be too concerned with your score; attempt to enhance your own.

5. Sit and Reach active old woman exercising yoga mat her comfortable apartment

This is the best test to measure body flexibility and strength of lower back hamstring muscles. To perform this test, sit on the floor with your legs extended straight and your hands reaching forward to touch your toes. The distance you reach is your score.

6. Squat Test

The squat test can measure leg strength. To perform it, stand in front of a chair or bench, feet shoulder-width apart. Put your hands on your hips. Squat down and gently touch the chair before rising. A good-sized chair keeps your knees at proper angles when you sit. Continue repeating this until you are tired.

Result: The following table can be taken as a reference for the scoring. However, it is best to take them as a general idea for fitness.

Category Men (50-59) Women (50-59)
Excellent >26 >20
Good 24-26 18-20
Above Average 21-23 15-17
Average 18-20 12-14
Below Average 15-17 9-11
Poor 12-14 6-8
Very Poor <12 <6

7. Balance Test balance test

Most healthy individuals see a sharp decrease in balance after about age 50. So, the reason for performing this test is to measure the balance and strength of the legs.

To perform this test, stand with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Now lift one leg. You should be able to maintain balance on one foot while lifting the other off the ground for at least ten counts without relying on any support. One can also repeat this test with the eyes closed.

Result: The results of the Standing Balance Test for persons aged 50-59, shown in the table, can be interpreted as follows:

Age Group Balance Test (Eyes Open) Balance Test (Eyes Closed)
50-59 years old 37 seconds 4.8 seconds

Conclusion

If you’re in your 50s or 60s, take these easy tests to ensure you’re making the most of your physical abilities to live independently for as long as possible. Anyone under the age of 60 should have no trouble completing these.  If you find any previous “tests” difficult, you may get much better by exercising.

After age 50, there are many options for physical activity, whether your goal is to shed pounds, improve your health, or just feel more energised and happy. Regular exercise can take many forms, including but not limited to riding a bike, playing golf, walking, swimming, joining a gym, attending a yoga class, or working with a personal trainer who specializes in working with seniors. All these regimens are discussed in another article. Click here to read.

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Dr Aimen

Being a Doctor by profession, Aimen is passionate about helping people get better health in their lives. Aimen enjoys her research on Prime With Time subjects and strives to create better awareness of the problems and changes related to women's health.

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