“Over 50, exercise is no longer optional.” That’s a confronting statement for someone who’s thinking that it’s time to ease off from physically challenging activities. However, this tough advice comes from someone who knows what they are talking about.

Victoria Gill runs the Green Apple Wellness Centre in Brisbane and she has spent the last 20 years studying health and fitness issues relating to older people. Her centre is full of people aged between 50 and 85 and they are all working out, but under well trained and experienced coaches.

The Green Apple Wellness Centre is one of the leaders in the growing trend for older people joining seniors’ gyms and taking up fitness classes. Loretta Stace, the CEO of the industry group Fitness Australia, confirmed that this trend was well underway, but the fitness industry was still working on a new business model to serve this emerging market. She said, “currently there are not enough trained and experienced instructors capable of working with older people, but this will change over the next few years”.

Most over 50s have accepted that they can no longer exercise like enthusiastic 20 year olds and for this reason it’s important that we exercise within our physical limitations. It’s easy to do some damage and a slow healing injury is a good excuse for giving up the fitness program. Therefore before starting regular exercise it’s a good idea to talk to an instructor or a health professional who is qualified to give exercise advice for older bodies.

One final word of warning before you sign up with a gym. If you are over 60 and have a heart condition, or if you haven’t done regular physical exercise for a long time, it’s advisable to check with your doctor before you race out and buy the lycra (just kidding – lycra isn’t essential equipment for over 50s).

When you’re ready to start getting fit, you’ll need to find a gym that can offer you a suitable level of exercises covering these areas:

  1. Strength and resistance training

    This will help retain muscle strength and bulk. Muscle wastage is a major problem for older people and leads to weakness, frailty and falls.

  2. Stretches

    Add pliability to the body. Stretching should be done when the body has warmed up.

  3. Mobility

    To keep the joints and muscles in good working order.

  4. Cardiorespiratory or aerobic exercise

    Exercise to speed up the heart and get you breathing faster.

  5. Balance

    To enable you to move around with confidence and help to avoid falls.

While all of this sounds like hard work, you can be confident that the benefits far outweigh the effort. You will feel better and have more energy. If you can retain a reasonable level of fitness as you age, you will be able to enjoy a better quality of life for much longer.

Paul McKeon is the editor of www.mylifechange.com.au, writes about issues experienced by people considering retirement. His focus is on the people who think about organising their money but are unprepared for the many lifestyle challenges that lie ahead.