What’s Your Fitness Bar When You’re 50-Plus?

If you’re 50-plus, and someone asks you to go on a three-day, 45-mile hike, what do you say? I hope you can say, “YES, I’m coming.” I hope you feel the excitement and anticipation of being outdoors, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, away from traffic noise, to let your whole being absorb the rhythm of the natural world for a while. To watch the eagles soar over a river in a roadless area, to hear the wind sing in a deep, dense forest of giants, to let your eyes feast on crest beyond crest of magnificent rock formations. If you have to say “No, I can’t manage that,” then read this article.

Since I turned 60 a decade ago, the three-day, 45 mile hike is my fitness bar. I want to have the ability and say yes to adventures that require physical exertion. I want the doors of travel and new places stay open for me. Kayaking in Alaska? I’m in! Paddling the lakes of Minnesota? Show me how! Climbing the Solheimajokull glacier in Iceland? Just say when! I like to explore the world while using my body. I like to smell, taste and feel the world around me.

My day starts when I move my body. My mind wakes up as my blood flows strong and warms my muscles. A minimum of an hour is my daily routine to start the day. The older I get, the more I move, aware that sitting makes me stiff, moving improves my fitness. I change positions, I intersperse house and garden work in my day of writing and reading. I stand up when I talk on the phone when I’m in a group meeting. I give my body what it deserves to stay as agile as possible, to keep its strength and stamina to be ready on the spur of the moment for an adventure.


Having a body that moves, lets me dream up hiking adventures. Aside from keeping a base fitness all year round, I train, starting 8 weeks before I go out on a long-distance hike. I walk and hike at least 3x a week, increasing distance, elevation gains and weight on my back. Taking a walk with a friend? No problem, just put a weighted pack on my back. Need groceries for the week? Carry them home in the pack! Dentist appointment on the other side of town? Hike or bike there! Training is all in a day’s work. You have to think differently about what’s normal for you. If you hate strength training in the gym, find work around your place that involves, lifting, carrying, pushing. Help someone move, load up the Van. Be strong! And yes, in winter I do at least 2 specific strength training sessions a week where I systematically work all my muscle groups in my body.

The more you move, the more you’ll raise your fitness bar. I’m hardly stiff when I hike 15-20 miles a day, day-in, day-out, crouching to cook, to crawl in my tent, when I hoist a 30-pound pack on my back and lower it six times a day. As soon as I’m home and sit in comfy chairs, I find myself stiffer after a few days of doing so.

You can’t be on the move all the time to avoid age-related stiffening. But you can move more! Continue to add standing or walking to the activities you’re engaged in, one at a time, so you’re building fitness and resilience as you become a moving person. Stand at your desk, on one leg every so often to keep your balancing ability, dance while you answer your e-mail, walk around when you make a call. You’ll discover many ways you can add movement to your daily life. Be the anti-trend among your peers. As they sit more and more, as they use the car to do their errands, do the opposite, and reverse age-related slacking. You may inspire a few friends to follow your example. At least the doors to active adventures will stay open for you!

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Comments 16

  • Kathleen Gage : Aug 25th

    Great article. I love the idea of raising the bar. I did my first full marathon at 61 and plan to do an Olympic Triathlon for my 65. I’m 20 months away and the training has begun.

    Keep up the great work at inspiring others to be their very best.

    Reply
    • Dami Roelse : Aug 25th

      Hi Kathleen, you’re an inspiration yourself! Let’s keep up the work together.

      Reply
  • Kim Millay : Aug 26th

    Love the article. I am 61 and would love to do the PCT. I love being outdoors and yes the more you move the better you feel.

    Reply
    • Dami : Aug 26th

      Kim, you can do it! I started hiking the PCT when I was 65. I ‘m 1400 miles into it now. Look for my upcoming book “Walk On The Wild Side” a walking, hiking, backpacking book for women 50plus

      Reply
      • Patricia Moen : Aug 26th

        To thru hike the PCT is my dream. I just retired. Been working on bits and pieces for 5 years. My friend retires in a couple of years and we would like to be able to complete our goal a bit at a time. To know that there are other women with the same goals makes mine seem possible.

        Reply
        • Dami : Aug 26th

          Sometimes people tell me that I’m an exception the way I hike long distances, but lately I’m believing that there are many, many women 50plus that are working on the dream of hiking, day in, day out! Don’t give up your dream, let’s change “normal”

          Reply
  • Becky Keeling : Aug 26th

    I just turned 58 and knocked out a bucket list adventure this summer–a 10-day kayaking expedition in northern Canada–total wilderness/rainforest. I stay active and work out regularly so I can do these types of trips for years to come. Being immersed in beautiful natural places and connecting with the earth feeds my soul.

    Reply
    • Dami : Aug 26th

      I went to the Himalayas at 58 and trekked at 16,00 ft altitude! I haven’t stopped going for adventures. Just keep doing them and work out regularly, be grateful and hope your body will keep up with you. I’ve had some injuries, but I heal and come back stronger. I wrote a blog for another magazine about the yearly connection with self and nature; here is the link: http://sixtyandme.com/every-year-after-60-deserves-a-reboot-where-will-you-go/

      Reply
  • Steve : Aug 26th

    Your posts inspire me! At the age of 51 in 2008 I set out from Springer on an AT thru hike. I got as far as Rockfish Gap before family matters called me home. On September 5, 2017 I am setting out again, now as a 60 year old section hiker. My goal on this section is Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. I know I am nowhere near as fit as I “should” be. But I intend to take my time and go as slow as need be to get there. From this day forward I will aspire to raise my fitness bar so as to achieve my goal of completing the AT over the next 5 years.

    Reply
    • Dami : Sep 8th

      Sounds like a plan, start easy and find your fitness on the trail!

      Reply
  • Rhinestone : Aug 27th

    You’re INSPIRATIONAL!!! I will start my new exercise of standing on one leg today. I will probably use this exercise for the rest of my life. Thanks

    Reply
    • Dami : Sep 8th

      before you know it you’ll be doing more new exercises! HAHA

      Reply
  • Sully : Aug 28th

    Great motivation! Been hiking most of my life. For my 65th birthday in 4 years, my 33-year-old son and I plan to start a hike from Katahdin to Springer. Looking forward to the time in my life that I’ll have even more time to be outdoors. Keep it up!

    Reply
    • Dami : Sep 8th

      Thanks, same to you: keep on, keeping on!

      Reply
  • John Edward Harris : Aug 29th

    You go girl! At 59 I am more fit than I have been in a long time by cycling, hiking, kayaking and eating a healthy diet. I am usually one of the younger cyclists in the groups I cycle with. I look around at the older cyclists on their bikes and hope I look and move that good when I am their age. I thought I had accomplished something last week when I rode my first half century of the season, fifty miles in four hours. Now I am humbled by learning that a riding buddy ten to fifteen years older than I recently cycled over sixty miles in a little under five and a quarter hours. I don’t want to have to train eight weeks before I go out on a long-distance ride, hike, or paddle, however. I want to be able to accept the invitation, or challenge, at a moments notice. Thanks for the encouraging post.

    Reply
    • Dami : Aug 30th

      I have some cycling friends who do 50 mile rides and are in their mid-seventies. So, yes, it’s all possible. My point was that when I go out for a 200 or 400 mile hike I train the 8 weeks prior. Maybe I don’t need to, since I stay in shape for the 3-day 45 mile hike at all times, but it has helped mentally to know after a long winter that I can carry my pack up a mountain without worrying about stress injuries….

      Reply

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