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Exercises to Avoid After 50

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

As you age, your body changes. Some of the things you used to be able to do aren’t as easy anymore. It’s normal to have changes in flexibility, muscular strength, bone density, and the time it takes to recover from injuries.

Because of these changes, it’s wise to adjust the way you exercise after you reach 50 years old. With anything you do, make sure you have the flexibility and range of motion to be able to use proper form. Once you’re comfortable, you can gradually add weight and repetitions to ensure you can handle the new stress. 

What Exercises Should You Avoid After 50?

Leg extension machine. This exercise machine involves sitting while extending your legs up and out with resistance in front of your ankles. This helps strengthen your thigh muscles, called quadriceps. But for people over 50, this puts unnecessary stress on your knee cap area, causing a lot of wear and tear.

Back extension on a Roman chair. This exercise involves strengthening your back by bending forward from the waist with your thighs supported, using your lower back muscles to pull yourself up. This can be a problem if you have lower back instability or a narrowing of the spinal cord called stenosis.

Behind-the-neck pull-downs or pull-ups.  Behind-the-neck pull-downs involve pulling a bar behind your head to work out your back and biceps. They use a machine that makes you lean forward and pull down on a bar behind your neck. In behind-the-neck pull-ups, you lift yourself up to a stationary bar positioned behind your neck.

These exercises put a lot of stress on the front of your shoulders, which could cause injuries. Try doing pull-downs or pull-ups in front of your neck instead of behind it.

Plyometric exercises. Also known as “jump training,” this involves doing things like box jumps or depth jumps with explosive movement. They can be good for strength building, but they can be problematic if you don’t do them correctly or if you don’t have enough muscle strength.

If you want to try jump training, do it with less intensity. The key is to find a balance where you can challenge yourself and stay injury-free. 

Overhead presses. These are shoulder exercises where you lift weights straight over your head. A dumbbell press is a good example. Overhead presses can place a lot of stress across your shoulders and rotator cuffs. Rotator cuff injuries are common in people over 50, so consider substituting this exercise for something different.

Heavy weights. Lifting weights is a great way to build muscle strength, but when you’re over 50 there is no reason to push yourself too hard. Try a slightly lighter weight that you can safely do 10 to 12 reps with.

Sprinting. While boosting your workout intensity has a lot of benefits, sprinting can put you at greater risk for an injury when you’re over 50. The faster you go, the greater the chance that you’ll get injured.

Everyone is different. Some people can run after 50 because they’ve built up the endurance and have no problem. But most people benefit from a slower and steady pace that feels more comfortable. 

Recommended Exercises

As you get older, try these exercises instead to keep yourself healthy and fit:

Walking. Whether you’re taking a walk outside or on a treadmill, getting in steps every day is a great way to exercise after 50. It gets your heart pumping and helps build your endurance and strength.

Machines. When you head to the gym, stationary bikes and elliptical machines are a great option. They’re easy on the joints and can help you start slowly. The key is to find a speed and intensity that feels right for you, and work from there. Over time, you can adjust as you get stronger.

Aquatics. Getting into a swimming pool can be relaxing and good for your health, too. You can try lap swimming, group exercises, or water aerobics. Doing any of these activities can work out your entire body and give you some time to socialize if you want to.

Strength training. This can lower the risks linked with falling, because it builds muscle and bone density. Doing squats, using resistance bands, or using light weights are all great options. For best results, strength training is recommended at least 2 or 3 days a week.

Benefits of Exercise After 50

There are many perks, like:

  • Better blood pressure
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Lower odds of diabetes
  • Lower chances of breaking your hip
  • Less risk of falling
  • Less pain 
  • Better sleep
  • Improved mental abilities 
  • Lower odds of depression
  • Better short-term memory 
  • Less fatigue
  • Potential lower risk of cancer
  • Healthier weight

No matter your age, it’s never too late to exercise or start exercising. Talk to your doctor to get started.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Family Physician: “Promoting and Prescribing Exercise for the Elderly.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Stay Fit in Your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and Beyond.”

Harvard Health Publishing: "Fitness over 50: Rebooting your workout."
nextavenue: “7 Exercises to Never Do After 50.”

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