If your metabolism feels like it's slowing to a crawl, it's not in your mind. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh studying 541 midlife women found an average gain of 12 pounds eight years after menopause. We also tend to gain a little potbelly, what Peeke calls the menopot. And other places begin to droop noticeably. "At this point, loss of muscle mass and tone really shows," says longtime fitness expert Kathy Smith. "It can actually start to change your posture."
The classic shoulder slump from years of hunching over a desk or computer "will really age you," says Smith, who suggests this stretch: Clasp your hands behind your back at the level of your butt and squeeze your shoulder blades together, pinching your spine. Try, with straight arms, to stretch your fingertips toward the floor until you notice a tug between your ears and shoulders, then lift your hands as high as you can, feeling the stretch in your chest.
"If you haven't started weight training, you must," says Smith, "although if you're a beginner, I really recommend guidance. Women in their 70s have doubled their strength in nine weeks. If you feel intimidated going to a gym, you can rent videos to do at home. You want to hit all the major muscle groups, and you can do the whole cycle in 15 minutes if you keep some dumbbells around."
Peeke says you should be thinking of adding activity to your life in general. Programs like Shape Up America aim for 10,000 steps a day, about five miles of walking. Regular cardio sessions are important, too, but expect a change in recovery time. "Can I run like I used to?" asks Smith, who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in her 50s. "Sure. But can I do the same run again the next day? No way."
Other additions to your program should include warming up (for instance, with walking or light yoga stretches) before exercise and more intense stretches (such as sitting spread-eagle and bending forward) after. "Many yoga classes have a heavy stretch component, making them perfect for the body that needs to maintain its flexibility," says Smith.
Yoga—along with tai chi, dance, and the Bosu ball (a soft half-dome used for standing and sitting exercises)—is also great for balance, which will become an increasingly important issue. While the physical changes this decade brings may be hard to take at first, ultimately, says Smith, "you shift into an acceptance mode. You change what you can, and live with what you can't. It's a gentler way."
In Your 60s: 3 days a week of challenging but not exhausting cardio, such as a slow jog, plus 3 days of weight training, using lighter weights and slower, more controlled movements combined with slow, sustained stretching. Walk whenever possible, and do daily balance exercises.
In the 60s, problems like arthritis, bad knees, and spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spaces between bones that can put painful pressure on the spinal cord) become common. "But aches and pains shouldn't be an excuse for giving up on exercise," says Marilyn Moffat, PhD, a professor of physical therapy at New York University and coauthor of Age-Defying Fitness. "We now know that a decline in strength and fitness isn't entirely a natural consequence of the aging process but is also due to lack of use. We need to push ourselves physically no matter how old we are—we just may need to alter the activity."
Adapting a workout routine for the 60s sometimes means giving up aerobic exercise that jars and stresses the joints—for example, replacing long runs with jogging one or two miles, jogging in a pool, swimming, or riding a stationary bicycle. (Women with bad backs may need to use a recumbent bicycle.) Moffat, who is in her 60s, says that, on average, she walks three to five miles a day because it offers both cardio and bone-strengthening benefits.
Resistance training is still important, "but I would not advise anyone to lift heavy weights if it aggravates your joints," Moffat says. And stretching and balance are absolute musts. If you don't stretch now, "by the time you're in your 80s, your joints will have lost their flexibility." One of Moffat's favorite stretches is holding the head tilted earlobe to shoulder for 60 seconds; another (if you don't have osteoporosis) is sitting on the floor with legs straight out in front of you, feet flexed, and lowering your head toward your knees. For balance, she suggests "rising up on the toes of one foot and trying to hold the position for a minute. You can do this while brushing your teeth."
In fact, that's a good image for any age—the sooner exercise becomes like brushing your teeth, the longer you'll feel younger than your years.
More Workouts... For Any Age