As a physical therapist, I am constantly asking my patients about the intensity of exercises I have them perform. It’s a needed question to assure I am making a patient work hard enough, but not so hard that I am harming them. The easy calculation in weight loss is, using more calories than you consume. Women over 50 exercise for more reasons than weight loss. Exercise for women over 50 is also about strength training and having fun. We may not want to be standing in front of a crowd in a bikini showing off our muscles, but strength training is important for bone density and the strength to live independently for as long as possible.
What is the level of intensity?
Each time you exercise you should ask yourself, ‘Am I working as hard as I should be?’. One way to decide if you’re working hard enough is your heart rate. Some gadgets, such as Fitbits, can measure your heart rate, but you can do it yourself by feeling for the pulse in your neck or in your wrist. Each time you feel your pulse it means your heart made a beat. Your maximal heart rate is 220 – your age. As I’m 50 years old woman, my maximal heart rate is 220 – 50 = 170 beats per minute. To determine your heart rate you can count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by 4; as the 60s divided by 4 is 15s.
How much exercise should women over 50 do?
The American College on Sports Medicine recommends individuals should perform 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity (ie. brisk walking, slower bicycling, water aerobics) or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular activity (ie. fast walk, running, swimming laps, singles tennis) in one week. Exercises can even be done in 10-minute intervals to give you the health benefits you desire.
Moderate activity is about 50-70% of your maximal heart rate and vigorous activity is about 70-85% of your maximal heart rate. So for a 50-year-old woman, the maximal heart rate is 170 bpm. My heart rate during moderate activity is about 60% x 193 = 102bpm. My heart rate during vigorous activity is about 77% x 170 = 130bpm.
Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale
If you don’t want to spend time calculating your heart rate, an easy and research-based way to determine how hard you’re working is the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale (see above.) There are a couple of instances this scale should be used instead of your heart rate: pool activities (because the heart rate can be stunted in the pool) and when taking medications that affect heart rate. So next time you are exercising, ask yourself if you’re working as hard as you should be and remember to keep exercise fun!
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