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The #1 Best Exercise for Slimming Down After 50, Says Science

Prioritize it above all else.

Here's a "fun" party fact: According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), people lose 10% of their muscle mass by age 50. This doesn't just affect your posture and strength (although those are affected too)—it can also have surprising implications for your weight.

Why? Blame your metabolism. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat—meaning that it burns more energy at baseline. With less muscle, your metabolism slows, which can contribute to unwanted weight gain. (Other factors related to aging, like hormone shifts and reduced activity, also can affect your weight.)

So if you're over 50 and looking to slim down, there's one type of exercise that reigns supreme. "When trying to get fit and stay lean, lifting weights is your best bet!" Pam Sherman, a 54 year-old trainer and health coach, previously told ETNT Mind+Body. That's why she says everyone over 50 should do strength training exercises at least three to four days per week. Indeed, a 2017 study in the journal Obesity found that people over 60 who tried to lose weight by reducing calories and strength training lost more fat and less muscle than people who reduced calories and did cardio.

"Having a higher ratio of muscle to fat will mean you burn more energy — just while sitting. To build that muscle, you have to exercise, and that burns calories, too," William Yancy Jr., MD, shared with AARP.

Looking for tips to up your strength training game to get slimmer in no time? Here are some top suggestions from top trainers, research, and more. And for more fitness secrets, check out: Sneaky Ways to Trick Yourself into Liking Exercise, Say Experts.

Prioritize squats


There are tons of great strength training exercises out there. But if you're looking for a move suitable for beginners, don't sleep on squats. The humble move might seem simple, but it's a powerhouse for building muscle and reducing fat. Multiple small studies have shown that just eight weeks of bodyweight squats can help reduce body weight by as much as 7% (in men) while building up muscle mass. Plus, squats also help build core strength and improve bone and brain health. If a regular squat is too easy for you, try it while holding small weights to really feel the burn. For more about squats, don't skip: The One Exercise That's Best for Beating Back Alzheimer's, Says Doctor.

Pair strength training with cardio


Everyone should be doing both, no matter their age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After all, aerobic exercise is great for heart health and burning calories. "The ideal type of training to achieve a lean body will be a combination of resistance training with high-intensity cardiovascular exercise," David Sautter, a NASM-certified personal trainer at Top Fitness Magazine, previously told ETNT Mind+Body. Want pointers? Check out: Over 60? Here Are Some of the Best Cardio Exercises for You, Says Trainer.

And always lift weights first

lifting weights

To really maximize your fat loss, dedicate the first part of your workout to strength training, followed by cardio. "This will get you lean fast," certified personal trainer Josh Schlottman, CPT, CSCS, previously told ETNT Mind+Body. This lets you power your weight lifting with your body's stored glycogen (aka energy), then use vigorous cardio to burn stored fat for energy. "Add on at least 10 minutes but preferably up to 30 to 40 minutes of cardio after you lift weights to maximize your fat burning," Schlottman recommended. Read more: New Study Reveals Why This Popular Exercise Is So Good at Blasting Fat.

Opt for full-body moves

classic plank position woman in white top and grey leggings holding a high plank
fizkes / Shutterstock

When planning your workouts, be sure to fill them with full-body moves that work multiple muscle groups at once (rather than one or two at a time) to get the most bang for your buck. "That way, you're working multiple muscle groups in every move—making your workouts more efficient and calorie-burning," top trainer Tim Liu, CSCS, previously wrote for ETNT Mind+Body. Translation: You'll see results in less time. Check out: Build Muscle and Get Lean with This 4-Move At-Home Workout.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William