Walking and weights: how to get fit in your 50s

Walking can be a sadly solitary pursuit. But join a group, says Julie Welch, and you’ll never walk alone (or lose your way, or get stranded after dark)

1. A long walk

Only a diehard unromantic would deny that a walk in the fresh air on a warm summer night is one of the most soul-restoring activities ever created.

The Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) are giving midweek evening group walks. The presence of a leader and fellow walkers alleviate any concerns about getting lost in a strange place or walking alone as darkness falls.

The evening walks offered by the LDWA can feel closer to a workout. They tend to be longer and more briskly paced, though they are equally social in nature and frequently feature a pub or café stop.

The East Lancashire and Heart of England groups offer midweek evening walks for a large part of the year, but even if you live in London, there is no need to confine yourself to a yomp round the local park. LDWA’s London group has a programme of autumn walks.

2. Work with weights

Working out with weights is one of the best things you can do for your body, ever and even more so if you’re a woman who has reached 50. It stops you from getting fat, it gives your mood a boost, resurrects your boobs and straightens a spine that, after years of hunching over a computer, is beginning to slump into a demi-lune. Crucially, it also offers protection against osteoporosis by increasing bone density, improves your balance and can really help if you suffer from back pain.

As we age, increasing and maintaining muscle mass is one of the best ways to keep body fat at bay and improve overall fitness.

Research shows that the average woman who strength-trains two to three times a week for two months swaps 3½lbs of body fat for nearly 2lbs of muscle; and on average, for every pound of muscle you gain, you burn 35-50 more calories a day. It’s also a great way of lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol and blood pressure, so it cuts down the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Women don’t gain size from weight training; we develop muscle tone and definition. I can testify to that, as I have trained with weights for years, as an adjunct to long distance running, and it has been a huge help with my posture and core stability.

All the research confirms that women who strength-train report feeling more confident and capable of coping with the slings and arrows that come our way in midlife.

You don’t need to belong to a gym, working out with weights can easily be done at home.

For starters, I recommend buying a set of hand weights. Leave the dumbbells and disc plates for later when you’ve built up strength and technique. Reebok is my favorite. They go from toothpick-light to seriously chunky and they look nice, too. If you’re new to working out with weights, consider having two or three sessions with a personal trainer who can show you how to do it safely and effectively and can make a program specifically for your needs. Your gym will be able to point you towards one. There are also many Youtube videos that will show you how to properly lift weights.

How long should you work out for? It’s up to you, but I find that 20 minutes every morning as soon as I’m out of bed sets me up for the day and, far from leaving me exhausted, gets me energised and ready for that lunchtime run or evening cardio session.

Incidentally, one of the side benefits of regular weights training is that your body will start asking you to feed it protein, which builds muscle, rather than carbs, which build waistlines. All in all, it really does make a difference, and it’s so, so easy.