‘I’m 57 and in the Best Shape of My Life—These Are the Exact Workouts That Transformed My Body'

Even for people who spent their 20s, 30s and 40s in good health, the 50s can be a tough decade to navigate. In your 50s, muscle loss occurs at a faster rate, which makes the body weaker. For women, their 50s is typically when they go through menopause, which can bring with it frustrating side effects like weight gain.

As a fitness expert specializing in helping women over 50, Schellea Fowler is familiar with the obstacles aging brings that can make staying fit difficult. But at 57, she’s feeling better than ever. What’s her secret? Keep reading to see the three fitness rules she follows as well as her tips for people 50 and older who are just starting their health journey.

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Fowler first became interested in health when she was a young adult, experiencing health problems. “I was quite sick and my health wasn’t good. I started learning about health and I became interested in how food and stress can impact the human body,” she says.

She decided to make some healthy changes to see if they would help get rid of the health issues she was experiencing. First, she quit smoking. Then, she stopped eating ultra-processed foods or anything with added sugar. Simultaneously, she started moving her body more, focusing on forms of movement that gave her joy. “I think of myself as a human experiment and I just decided to try different things and see what worked,” she tells Parade.

Changes to how she looked and felt didn’t happen overnight, but eventually, she started to feel remarkably better. Amazed at the improvement in her immune health and energy levels, Fowler decided to pursue fitness training and help other women transform their own health.

Fowler says there are three key types of fitness she does regularly to stay in shape: stretching, cardio and strength training.

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Like many people, Fowler says she spends a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, so spending a few minutes stretching every day is important for undoing some of the damage that causes, such as tight hips and hunched over shoulders. “I focus on doing stretches that move my body in the opposite way to how I am sitting down,” she says. This can include moves such as wall angels, cat and cow and chest openers.

Fowler also likes to take mini breaks throughout the day to do balance exercises, such as standing on one leg. Our sense of balance decreases as we age, which can increase the risk of falling. Balance exercises are a way to maintain your self of balance while also supporting cognitive health—it takes brain power to figure out how to stay upright!

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In addition to incorporating walking into her day as much as she can—such as walking while she’s on the phone—Fowler says she does "zone five cardio," which is sprinting. “I will run outside and sprint for as fast as I possibly can until I need to stop. I do this four times,” she says, saying that the goal behind zone five cardio is to increase your VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen the body absorbs and uses during exercise. “If you are in perfect health, you should be able to recover after a sprint in six breaths,” Fowler says.

Scientific research shows a connection between VO2 max and longevity. “The capacity of our lungs predicts how we’re going to live as we get older,” Fowler says. “I saw this first-hand with my mom, who got cancer. Before she got cancer, she was quite healthy. But one of the first symptoms she noticed was not being able to breathe as well; her lung capacity had decreased so much.”

Fowler says that strength training is key for maintaining muscle and strength to prevent becoming frail. It’s also important for maintaining strong bones. “I like working my arms and shoulders because that is where you see the fastest results,” she says, adding that she does lower body strength training too, even though she doesn’t enjoy it as much.

Examples of strength training exercises you can do at home include modified dumbbell deadlifts, dumbbell squats, kettlebell swings, shoulder presses, rows and pushups.

She also says strength training is important for staying independent in older life, being able to reach into cupboards, carry groceries and open jars without any help.

If you are 50 or older and want to start transforming your health but aren’t sure how, Fowler says to start by finding ways to incorporate movement more into your daily life. “Put on your favorite song in the morning and dance to it. That’s about 500 steps right there!” she says.

Instead of thinking of working out as something you have to set aside 45 minutes or longer to do, Fowler says to do several five- or 10-minute workouts throughout the day using dumbbells. (There are many of these types of workouts available for free on YouTube.)

To get more steps in throughout the day, Fowler says to map out a circuit in your house that’s 100 steps. “Walk this path every time you’re on the phone or just scrolling social media. Doing it 10 times is 1,000 steps—it adds up really quickly!” she explains.

For many people, doing bite-size blocks of exercise throughout the day is less intimidating than the idea of blocking out an hour for the gym—not including the time it takes driving there, showering and getting ready afterwards.

Fowler says that what’s most important is to take that first step. That can mean dancing to your favorite song, going on a walk around the neighborhood, or dusting off your dumbbells and doing a 5-minute arm workout. Over time, she says you can build on your foundation, doing harder and longer workouts.

Fitness and good health absolutely do not have to decline after 50. In fact, with this advice put into practice, it will only get better!

Next up, see 14 safe, doable ways to lose weight quickly and safely.