Getting fit over age 50 can be a frustrating proposition if you are unaware of the actual challenges you will face. In this article, I’ll discuss three things that I believe are essential to achieve fitness over the long term.
Not surprisingly, the things that will help you succeed in being fit are the same things that can help bring success to almost any other activity: clarity or purpose, persistence, and focus on continual improvement.
I developed these ideas both from my professional background as a scientist as well as my 60+ years working out and playing eight different sports.
In my view the purpose of getting fit over age 50 is very simple: to enjoy the highest possible quality of life for as long as possible. This implies that staying fit is a long-term objective. Fitness is not something like a vaccination that you do once and then enjoy the benefits indefinitely.


Clarity of purpose
When people begin a fitness program I have been struck by how often they begin with a fuzzy idea of what they want. I have heard expressions like “I just want to get toned”, or “I want to get back into size 36 pants”, or “loose some fat”, etc.
Vague ideas do not lead to focused activity. If you don’t know where you want to go, one direction is as good as any other.
Vague ideas also obscure how much work will be involved, and for how long. Getting back into a smaller pant size may take a week for some people and a year for others. Likewise, “getting toned” may mean getting a six-pack to some and not having your gut hang over your belt to others.
The vaguer the idea, the more difficult (or impossible) it becomes to measure. If it can’t be measured, then it will be difficult or impossible to tell when you have succeeded or failedor whether you are progressing or regressing.
Essential point: success begins with very clear and measurable goals. Example: “weigh 180 on January 10”, “run a mile in 6 minutes”, “deadlift 350 pounds”. These are measurable, and it is easy to tell how far you are from achieving them.
There is nothing that will ever top the power of persistence. One of my favorite quotes on this is:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” – Herbert Hoover
This is especially pertinent to physical training and fitness over age 50. Getting and staying fit is not something anyone does merely by wishing it would happen, or through sporadic visits to the gym.
Persistence is essential because staying fit for years, even decades involves commitment and effort over time. Fit people of any age do the necessary work. People who merely “want” to be fit, but won’t do what is needed will never achieve anything more than minimal results.
Constant improvement
Fitness is not something that is “done to you”. It is not a job you can outsource to a personal trainer. If you are serious about wanting to be fit for as long as possible, it is essential that you commit to constant improvement in caring for yourself.
This implies both continual learning, and acting on what you learn. If you simply learn something and dont put it to use, you get no benefit.
Everyone’s body is a little different. Thus, it is important that if you want long term success, you become the leading expert about what works best for you. This includes nutrition, exercise programs, and healthy habits.
This is a job only you can do. You and you alone must become the expert on what will work for you and constantly strive to improve. I short, if you want the best possible results, recognize that you must be committed for the long term.
Which leads me to another quotation that I think sums up the need for daily re-commitment to the job of staying fit:
“Motivation does not last, neither does bathing. Thats why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar
Enjoy the journey.