Mistakes I have made as a 50+ woman trying to stay healthy and fit

Being a 55 year old woman I never thought I would have to relearn my body all over again. Before I hit 50 I never really gave much thought to my body changing so drastically. I thought I would be fine because I have been physically fit my entire life. I thought to myself many of times, I exercise and eat right on a daily basis, what do I have to worry about. If only I had taken a moment to do some research before I hit age 50 I could have voided these mistakes.

Mistake #1 – “I can eat whatever I want, my digestive system can handle it!”

Big mistake, big! In my mind my metabolism was the same now as it was when I was in 30s and 40s. I love the occasional fast food, White Castles sliders are my favorite fast food of choice, but what I have also learned is that these same foods do not metabolize the same way as they did in my 30 and 40 year old body as they do in 50 year old body. I have spent a great deal of time looking for those foods that most agree with my new found metabolism.

Mistake #2 – Recovery time after sporting activities or working out will not change.

As a 55-year-old competitive pole dancer and someone who’s been physically active my entire adult like I did not know there would be longer recovery times. What I have learned is to rely on items as ice packs, ointments, bandages, and pain relievers. Recovery times after physical activities are absolutely going to take some time, note to self give your aging body time to heal and recover.

Mistake #3 – There is no way you can injure yourself doing activities you have always done.

Big mistake! For more than 15 years I was a step aerobics instructor. I considered myself to be one of the best step aerobics instructors there was in my day. It had been over 10 years since I had touched a step and riser, but I thought I would be perfectly fine to one decided to dust off the step and riser and do some cardio. Unfortunately two minutes into doing a step routine, while stepping off the step I felt a snap in the bottom of my foot as I was stepping on step. There was instant pain and I could not bare any weight on my foot. I thought to myself, it will be fine after a day or two. Two days later and the same pain was there. Went to a ortho doctor and sure enough I had torn my plantar fasciitis. Lesson learned….you cannot just jump back into an activity you had not warmed up for or had not executed in years.

Photo by: Regina Sykes

Key take away

I continue to navigate this 50 year old body, I try not rake in the mistakes and lessons learned, yet they just seam to happen. While I am grateful for being the age I am, I often struggle with the body I once had, the body I had grown accustom to living in. I am never naïve to the fact that my body is aging, but I am still in that learning curve of what this 50+ body is capable of achieving. I also make sure to learn from my mistakes, but I also know I look darn cute as a broken ballerina while navigating this fitness over 50 journey I am on.

Photo by: Regina Sykes

Pole Dancing Over 50

How it started vs. how it is going

I started pole dancing in 2009 at the age of 42. During that time I was one of the oldest dancers in the classes I attended. Being the oldest person in a class of people in their 20s and 30s was a bit intimidating, but I did not want to give up. I found myself in a competition that only I knew I was in. I met every challenge and soon was just as active, flexible and strong as my 20 and 30 year old counter parts. The successes I saw in my 40s made me want to continue pole dancing in my 50s.

Once I got into my 50s I discovered the things that I could do in my 40s as pole dancer I had some how lost them. I did not feel differently overnight, but it was gradual shift. The shift was both physically and mentally. The crazy tricks I was pretty solid in I started to doubt if my 50 year old body could execute those moves. I suddenly became more aware of possible injuries. I would think today will be the day I fall and break my hip or fracture something that would take an exceptionally longer time to heal.

Getting old is hard

As I continue down my path as a pole dancer over 50 I’m noticing there is a great deal more to this pole dancing over 50 that meets the eye. Yes, I am doing things that most of my friends my age cannot do, however does that make me less susceptible to injuries. What I’m finding is that being able to execute moves on the pole and being physically fit over the age of 50 requires a connection of both mind and body. This means a longer warm-up, breaking down moves to have a better understanding of body composition. It also means have a great understanding of potential injuries when executing certain moves. While all of this is important not matter your age, it is even more important when you over 50 and executing moves.

video by: Regina Sykes

Photo by: Peter Yeung

Mind Over Matter

There’s also the mental piece of pole dancing over 50. The mentality of should I be doing this at my age always pops in your head. I have struggled to find others in my age group that pole dance over the age of 50 to have conversations with. This leaves me to my own devices and understanding as I move through this activity. I often have to psych myself out to perform certain moves. I have to get past the fear of injuring myself. Once I am able to successfully execute a move multiple times I am totally comfortable doing it continuously. Much of what is done is more mind over matter that the physical execution of a move.

Photo by: Regina Sykes

Health and Fitness of 50 For Women

Our Aging Bodies

As we age our body composition gradually changes.  This is especially true for women over the age of 50.  Women’s center of gravity changes and it is much more difficult to lose weight.  There is also a struggle when we as women over 50 start to try and gain muscle while reduce those stubborn areas where fat collects.

What workout do I choose

When working on your fitness as a woman over 50 the consideration you have to give yourself is reducing cardio workouts and add training using weights. Resistance training is a crucial part of an exercise program for women over 50.  There is a link between muscle mass and metabolism.  As we age we lose muscle mass, it is important to find activities that will incorporate weight training to build muscle. It is also important to understand the need to increase muscle and bone strength to prevent falls and fractures

Regular exercise routines should include activities such as playing tennis, pole dancing or yoga.  Being more creative with your fitness and health routines helps with a way of staying fit and adds creativity. The fantastic news is that the benefits of fitness over 50 is well worth the effort.

Photo by: David McWhirter

The case study and tips from a professional

As the body ages the level of difficulty to stay physically fit increases tremendously.  While it is not impossible to stay physically fit, there are variables to overcome and knowledge you must have to continue to live a healthy existences.  There is truly a difference between women and men and fitness levels once you are over the age of 50. 

Once I reached 50 one of the things I started noticing with my body was not responding to exercising as it did in my 30s and 40s. The change to my body composition and the activities I was capable of changed almost overnight. Activities that were once easy to do became a struggle to execute. Trying to stay physically fit has become a huge challenge.  Initially I could not quite put my finger on what was happening to my body.  In trying to figure out what was going on with my physical fitness level, my energy, the aches and pains in my joints I made modifications to my fitness regiment.  After spending time modifying my exercise regiment there still was something that was just not quite the same or quite right.  This was extremely frustrating, to the point where I just wanted to give up and accept my new body.

While my body was ready to call it quits my mind was still trying to figure out what the heck was going on.  A decision was made to talk with friends and family members over the age of 50.  We had discussions of our experiences of not being able to build muscle as quickly as we did in our 20s, 30s, and 40s.  I also describe how although I have not gained much weight, but my weight distribution had changed to concentrated areas such as my belly and my back side.  There was also discussions about how muscle aches and pains seem to intensify following exercising. Finally, in my discovery conversations, the constant, women over the age of 50 and my male counterparts were not experiencing the same situations. The ah ha moment was that women over age 50 were experiencing the same situations regarding, problematic fat concentration in their mid sections, difficulty with building muscles, aches and pains in joints, while men over 50 had none of these symptoms.

Upon completing the interviews with family and friends, the discovery unfolded a vast difference between women and men over the age of 50.  This led to seeking out the expertise of a fitness expert.  Fitness coach Tracy Holtzman was the person for me.  Tracy Holtzman has been a fitness coach for over 30 years.  She helps women of all ages set and meet their fitness goals.  Tracy is also a woman in her mid 50s, therefore making her the best individual in my sphere to ask questions. 

I asked Tracy the following question to ensure I am heading down the right path with my physical fitness. When asked how much should a 50 year old woman exercise?

According to Coach Tracy it is important to work on rebuilding or continuing to build lost muscle mass.  Regular exercise is important; you should work toward getting in physical conditioning at least 3 to 4 times week for at least 30 minutes each day you work out. She also stated do not be afraid to try something new and different.  Sometimes what we need to is awaking areas that have been either dormant or not challenged.

I am starting to take Coach Tracy’s advice. I am now pushing my limits with pole dancing and incorporating it into my daily routine of physical fitness.  I am also using it to enhance my mental as well. 

Photo by: Regina Sykes

Interview with a Friend

Sometimes you have to go to those that are experiencing the same thing you are in an effort to gain a better understanding.  In an effort to gain some perspective on what I as a 50+ year woman is going through with my wavering fitness levels I thought it would be important to get some perspective from another woman my age.  I sat down with my best friend since fifth grade, Faith Varner.  Faith and I seem to live a parallel life and have been going through this journey called life for over 40 years.

While aging is inevitable, aging well is not necessarily a given.  Can you describe some factors for you are involved in aging well?

Faith:  This has never been a truer statement.  For me personally the factors that are involved in aging well to identify and determine exercises and healthy eating measures that best fit my lifestyle.  I most certainly had to get a physical exam by doctor.  There were things going on with my body I did not understand because I had never experienced them before. So getting a complete medical work up with important.  I also had to know what my physical limitations are.  Your mind and body has to be on the same page.  So getting my mind and body on the same page was extremely important. 

As a woman over 50 what has been most impactful to you about your fitness and health journey?

Faith:  As a woman over 50 the most impactful thing about my fitness and health journey has been finding exercises that best fit my fitness level and abilities.  I was diagnosed with lupus at age 50, I’m 55 now.  This was something I was not prepared for and knowing I have lupus at this age I realized I needed to give myself grace in physical exercises.  I had to go from being in a gym lifting weights to doing things such as yoga or Pilates.  So I would say with my fitness and health journey the most impactful thing that has occurred for me is being diagnosed with lupus and trying to figure how to live with this while trying to be as healthy as I possibly can.

Are there things you have considered doing to change the direction of fitness level?  And if so what has been the outcome for you?

FaithYes there are most certainly things I have considered to change the direction of my fitness level.  As I mentioned before I’ve started taking yoga and pilates classes, but I’m also taking on other activities too, such as pole dancing.  Dancing in general is something that has been amazing, however incorporating a bit of strength conditioning with pole dancing has also taken the boredom out of exercising.

An Honest Conversation with myself

This year I reached a milestone age, 55.  I’m half way to 60 and my body continues to change in ways I never imagined when I was 30 or 40.  The changes that have occurred are not significant, but impactful.  As an individual who has always been vigilant in being physical fit, this body change after reaching 50 is still shocking and upsetting. I try to determine what I can do to stop or at least change this metamorphosis my body is going through.

Today is about an honest conversation between my 40-year-old self and my 55-year-old self.  When I was 40 years old, I worked out every day religiously for an hour a day.  My body was in the best shape it has ever been in at age 40.  At age 40 I honestly thought “this is it, I will look like this forever.  I will feel like this forever.”  There were no aches and pains following a workout, there was only the gratification of building muscle.  Suddenly, I hit 50 and it all went to hell.  It’s time to do that check in with 40 year old me to see what the heck I was thinking.

Questions to my 40-year-old self:

55 year old me: What was your motivation to work out on a daily basis?

40 year old me: For me working out was my form of self-care.  I truly loved the feeling of achievement when I completed a workout.  I had six kids at home, a husband and four dogs that I had to keep up with, therefore it was important to stay healthy and physically fit.

55 year old me: Was weight gain or the distribution of your weight ever a concern for you?

40 year old me: For me weight gain was more of an issue for me because I struggled with being able to gain weight and keep it on.  So essentially, I had the opposite weight gain that most people go through.  My concern was around how do I gain weight.  Not once did I have the concern that I would gain weight and not know how to lose it.

55 year old me: What is the one thing you would like for your 55-year-old self to know regarding being and staying physically fit?

40 year old me: I would want my 55 year-old self to know, you are still in control.  Don’t stop working out on a daily basis and find the time for self-care. Being a woman in her 50s now there are those conversations that you need to have regarding your health, but you might avoid them.  There are important conversations you need to have with yourself.  If you are honest in those conversations with yourself you will find some key answers as to what you need to change that will benefit you.  You will also need to be accepting of your current physical condition in order to know how to make an adjustment that will make a world of difference.