Wellness for the Aging Equestrian Part One: Physical Fitness

Aging may improve the quality of fine wines and cheeses, but it tends to negatively affect physical performance. As the human body ages, there is a decline in cardiovascular functioning, respiratory ability, musculoskeletal strength and the flexibility of muscles and joints. The good news is that consistent physical activity can offset some of the detrimental effects of aging.

Before you make any changes, like adding exercise to your life, talk to your doctor. Get a good baseline of your current wellness so you can know your limitations and track your progress. A complete program for physical fitness should include the three areas of cardio, strength and flexibility. A) CARDIO As an older equestrian it’s important to have stamina to groom, then ride, then untack. Improving cardio endurance is the best way to build stamina.

One way to improve cardiovascular health is to increase your exercise intensity. Exercise intensity increases as you come closer to achieving your maximum heart rate, which you can calculate by subtracting your age from 220. If you're just beginning to exercise, try to get your pulse up to a rate of 50% of maximum. If you've been exercising a while, work up to 60%, then try sustaining 70% of your maximum rate for 30 minutes. GOAL: Move more- at least 30 minutes 3 times per week of sustained movement that increases heart rate.

  • Walking is AMAZING! Aim to get 30 minutes each day, this will help with your biomechanics & your fitness. Aim to walk a minimum of 10,000 steps per day.
  • Running is a terrific cardio exercise but can be tough on older joints. Try to do running in intervals, with plenty of walking in between. Start with 1 minute of running then 5 minutes of walking, or run down hills and power walk up.
  • Dancing can be a great cardio workout! Put on your favorite jams and dance around your house for 30 minutes. Or plan a night out with your spouse or friends.
  • Jumping Jacks are a great way to add cardio to your program. I like to do 75 total on my weight day with 25 in between each weight sets.
  • Other cardio exercises to try include: Swimming, Water Aerobics, Biking, Hiking, Tennis, Golf (minus the cart)

The second area of focus of our Physical Fitness Plan for Aging Equestrians is B) STRENGTH: As we age, muscle mass decreases. Maintaining muscle strength and mass also helps burn calories to maintain a healthy weight, and strengthens bones. Older equestrians need strength to tighten girths, haul the wheelbarrow, or lift hay bales.

To do most strength exercises, you need to lift or push weights, and you need to keep gradually increasing the amount of weight you use. You can use the hand and ankle weights sold in sporting-goods stores, or you can use things like emptied milk jugs filled with sand or water. Start slow with 1-3 lbs of weight and work your way up. Remember that you have to gradually add a challenging amount of weight or add a different type of strength training in order to benefit from strength exercises. If you don't challenge your muscles, you won't benefit from strength exercises. GOAL: Do 20 minutes of strength training twice per week.

Light weights are the easiest way to get results fast. Do three sets starting with 20 repetitions, on your second set of reps reduce it to 15, then on your third set go down to 10 repetitions. Remember to include exercises that target biceps, triceps, shoulders, back and legs.

Body weight resistance exercises use your own body weight to create the resistance. This option is great when you don't have access to your weights. These include push ups, plank poses, squats and such.

Resistance band work outs. These are lightweight and easily portable. You can stash them in your suitcase when travelling and use them to get a good workout right in your hotel room. Your muscles quickly adapt to movements you do often, which is why adding variety to your workouts is key for challenging your muscles.

The last leg of our Physical Fitness Plan for Aging Equestrians is C) Stretching and Flexibility Along with muscle mass and cardio endurance, flexibility also decreases as we age. Like strength and endurance, flexibility too can be improved. This area might be one of the first changes you noticed as you have aged. It is super important for aging riders to be flexible so we can pick a hoof, swing our leg across the saddle and reach up to comb a forelock.

Increased flexibility allows for more freedom of movement and greater range of motion. Body areas to focus on are the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. Here are a few simple things that can increase your flexibility: Stand up as much as possible. Are you hindering your health by spending much of your day sitting? If so, start standing more. Take breaks in your day every hour and do 1 minute of deep breathing and stretching.

Add Yoga or Pilates into your weekly routine. At least 30-40 minutes twice per week. Better yet, 15 minutes every morning will get results fast and start your day off right! I created a yoga program specifically for riders. To check out Horse Rider Yoga, click here

Add a 5 minute stretching routine pre-ride to warm up and post ride to cool down your stiff joints.

Since I am the aging equestrian writing this I thought I'd include MY TYPICAL WORK OUT SCHEDULE: EVERY Morning: 15 minute yoga flow

Plus a 10-20 minute meditation session

Sunday- OFF

Monday: Run/walk 3 miles,

Horse Rider Yoga


Tuesday: Power Walk 3-4 miles, weights Wednesday: Run/Walk 3 miles, Horse Rider Yoga 25 minutes, Ride Thursday: Power Walk 4 miles, weights Friday: Off Saturday: Run/Walk 3 miles, Horse Rider Yoga 25 minutes, Ride Being physically active is crucial to keeping your body in its top condition. A few proven benefits of physical activity are strengthened bones and muscles, reduced risk of disease and stroke, and more energy. Physical fitness is far more attainable than commonly perceived. Physical wellness is not just about having a thin lean body frame, but it is also about having cardiovascular and muscular endurance. As an aging equestrian, having a physically fit body is necessary for the demands of horse care and riding. When you decide to make some changes, it’s important to be deliberate in your actions:

  • If you are setting goals – be SUPER SPECIFIC, write them down, and plan them out. Here is a link to my weekly fitness planner Work Out Schedule
  • If you are making new habits – add them to your calendar, set phone alarms or alerts, and do them EVERY DAY.
  • This is NOT a quick fix, but a LIFESTYLE CHANGE.

Remember, it’s a low, steady progress. So don’t expect overnight results or get discouraged and give up! I’ll be here to cheer you on if you need it so just shoot me an email at Laura@HorseHippie.com Join me next week as we move on to Part Two: nutrition for the aging equestrian.

Peace and good rides,


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