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Fitness for a Lifetime

How much exercise - and what kind - do you need for lifelong fitness?

Your 50s

If you were an avid exerciser in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, by age 50 you may begin to experience the cumulative effect of wear and tear on joints and bones. So you might not be able to participate in the kind of fitness activities you enjoyed before.

But if you haven't worked out much, experts say you're likely to begin feeling an entirely different set of aches and pains -- those that result from years of inactivity. And this can curtail your daily activities.

The good news is that no matter where you find yourself on the fitness scale, there's a safe and healthy workout for you. But where do you begin?

"By age 50, women start to experience some serious loss in muscle tone and bone density, so these are two of the areas your fitness routines should focus on," says Carmichael.

After menopause, Calabrese says, a woman's rate of muscle loss doubles -- going from about 7 pounds per decade to 14 pounds per decade.

To get the most from your workouts, incorporate weight-bearing exercises along with resistance training. Resistance training includes weight lifting and any exercise that forces your muscles to overcome, resist, or bear force. Among the most effective resistance workouts, says Calabrese, are those done with exercise bands -- strong, flexible cords made of rubber tubing.

"You place the tubing around a pole or any stationary object and do pulling or rowing-type motions," says Calabrese. You can also place the bands under your feet, much as you would a jump rope, hold the ends in your hands, and pull up.

Alternately, she says, you can sit in a chair with a gallon of water in each hand, and use only your legs to boost you out of your seat.

"Any movement that gives your muscles resistance will do the trick, and the more resistance you can tolerate, the stronger your muscles will be," she says.

A bonus: These same movements will help you combat middle-age spread.

"For every pound of muscle, your body burns 35 calories while every pound of fat only burns 2 calories," Calabrese says. "So the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn at rest, and the easier it will be to control your weight."

Also important: Continuing your cardio workouts. If you're limited by injuries or other health concerns, experts, say riding a stationary bike is an excellent cardio exercise.

"If your knees or hip joints or lower back are bothering you, try the bike," says Litman. "It's great for the heart and you're not likely to harm anything."

If you haven't worked out regularly in earlier years, you can start now. But, the experts say, be sure to take it slow.

"You want to start with lower-impact activities, like swimming or walking, and you should do some cross-training, meaning you vary your workout activities so you don't do any one repetitive motion over and over," says Calabrese.

She advises avoiding running, jogging, or any sport with quick, cutting motions (like tennis) until your body is conditioned.

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