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Fit At 50 And Beyond

Exercise is important at any age. But what is the role of fitness for women once they hit their 50s?

It plays a huge role to a healthy life, according to the co-hosts of "Keeping Fit in Your 50s," Robyn Stuhr and Cindy Joseph.

"Keeping Fit in Your 50s" is an exercise video/DVD series, which is divided in three parts: aerobic activity, strength training and flexibility, designed to teach women how they can lead healthier lives.

Stuhr and Joseph stopped by The Saturday Early Show to explain how women's bodies change as they age. They also explained why it's essential for women to exercise regularly and be flexible once they hit the half-century mark.

Once women hit 50 it is more important than ever that they stick to an exercise program. Until this point, many women have been too busy taking care of others to focus on their own health, say Stuhr and Joseph. But around age 50, the body begins to go through some major changes. Menopause begins making women more susceptible to osteoporosis, heart problems and weight gain. Unfortunately, less than a quarter of women actually get enough exercise.

Stuhr and Joseph say a well-rounded fitness routine for older women includes cardiovascular activity, strength training and flexibility. Aerobic activity and lifting weights are great ways to stay in shape, but many women may not realize that a focus on flexibility is equally important.

Most people begin to experience some aches and pains as they get older. It may be just a tiny bit more difficult to bend over and tie your shoe, or maybe you have lower back pain. While these are "old age aches and pains," you don't have to feel this way, according to Stuhr and Joseph. As we age, our muscle tissues become shorter. Thus, we feel a tightness and stiffness in our muscles that result in a restricted range of motion. The good news: regular stretching can help eliminate much of this stiffness.

While it would be ideal to do some stretching every day, even stretching three times a week can be helpful. The great thing about stretching, says Stuhr, is that you don't have to go to a gym or put on special clothes or even set aside time to do it. You can stretch while talking on the phone; it doesn't have to be part of a formal routine.

Some things to keep in mind while stretching:

  • It should never be painful. Stretch your muscles until you feel tension, but not pain.
  • Don't bounce. Stretching should be long and slow; hold your position for 20 to 30 seconds.
  • It's best to stretch when muscles are "warm," not when you've just jumped out of bed.

    Stuhr and Joseph demonstrated some stretches on The Saturday Early Show that, they say, aren't difficult to perform.

    This muscle tends to get really tight as we age because we spend so much time sitting. Surprisingly, tight hamstrings contribute to lower back pain.

    Stretch: To stretch the hamstring, while standing, put your heel on the seat of a straight-vacked chair, foot pointing toward the ceiling. Some people will feel a stretch just by doing this. Others will need to bend forward at the waist to feel the stretch.

    Hip Flexor
    This muscle is basically on the front of the thigh; it works to help you lift your leg up when walking, and running. Stretching and strengthening the hip flexor will make it easier for you to be active in all areas of your life.

    Stretch: Put your foot flat on the chair's seat and bend the knee of your leg on the ground. You are stretching the leg that's on the ground.

    This is a common stretch -- grasping your ankle and pulling your foot and lower leg behind you. But, Stuhr says that many people do it incorrectly. Your back, stomach and shoulders all need to be aligned before you even begin pulling your leg back.

    Some people who are out of shape or overweight may have trouble doing this exercise.

    Stretch: Put a towel around your ankle and then grasp the towel instead of your ankle to make it easier to pull your leg back.

    After years of wearing high heels, many women have extremely tight calf muscles.

    Stretch: This is another familiar stretch that involves keeping both feet on the floor with legs staggered. You can keep the back leg straight or bend at the knee to work different parts of your calf.

    We all spend so much time hunched over a computer, a desk or a steering wheel that we have terrible posture. This means we have weak backs and tight chests.

    Stretch: To regain flexibility and thus regain better posture, put your hands up like you would if someone was pointing a gun at you. With your hands up, simply squeezing your shoulder blades will help stretch your chest.

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