In memory of Jack LaLanne, who passed away yesterday — January 23rd, 2011 — at the age of 96, I am re-posting this article, which originally ran on Huffington Post.

One of the most important lessons I learned after turning 50 is that it’s never too late to get in shape. Along with a regular cardio program and eating right, strength training is one of the best things you can do for your body, and your health.

It can be a little more challenging for those of us over 50, especially if, like me, you haven’t been doing too much of anything for a number of years. But it isn’t impossible. Far from it. And as I discovered, we don’t have to spend a lot of money on gyms, equipment or trainers to achieve our fitness goals.

When I turned 50 a few years ago, I had loads of questions about many things: Was I getting all the right health checks? Should I be eating more protein or less? Could I still wear jeans? Was my hair too long? And … what in the world was I going to do about my arms (which had been banished behind sweaters and long-sleeved shirts)? Let’s not even talk about the 15 “post-menopausal” pounds I packed on. Even more important than that: how could I keep osteoporosis at bay?

For many years I had heard, and read about, the NYC-based celebrity trainer David Kirsch, who regularly works with Heidi Klum, Anne Hathaway, Ellen Barkin and many others. In the name of research (I was writing a new book about living our best lives after 50), I went to see David. When he asked me to get down on the floor and “give me 10,” and saw that I couldn’t even do one, he didn’t laugh or smirk or roll his eyes at me. Instead, David gave me a challenge I couldn’t refuse:

“Barbara, do these five exercises which I will show you, every day, for four weeks. When you come back to see me again, your body will be transformed.”

Result? I went down an entire pant size, my arms developed curves I never thought I would ever have, and I can now do 20 or more push-ups. Before starting, I got the green light from my doctor, which is strongly recommended, especially if you’re over 50. That was two years ago, and I still do this program at least four times a week.

Just as David challenged me, here’s my challenge to you: Do these five exercises every day for four weeks, then post a comment on this article (or connect with me on Facebook) describing your experience. I know that, like me, you will see a major change in your body. And, even more importantly, you will be helping to keep osteoporosis away.

First, a few guidelines:

  • Do these every day
  • Do them as a circuit (move from one to the other, quickly)
  • Have your sneakers on
  • Use a yoga mat
  • Remember to breathe

It’s best if you do three sets (or more) with a 15 second “breather” in between each set. As you progress, trying adding more sets. This entire program will take less than 15 minutes to complete.
Here are the five exercises that will transform your body:

#1 Push-Up:
Nothing symbolizes fitness quite like the simple push-up. It tests your entire body by engaging every part of it — arms, chest, abdomen, hips and legs. Doing them is the easiest, fastest and most effective way to get fit. They are the gold standard. You may need to start with a modified push-up (on your knees), but eventually, you’ll build up to the full push-up.

How to do a full push-up: Make your entire body straight, like a plank, with your toes and the balls of your feet on the mat, and hands directly under your chest. Using your arms, go down to the count of 4, and back up to the count of 4. Do 12-15 reps.

#2 Squat: This is one of David’s favorite exercises for working the entire lower body, thighs, hips and butt. The movement is as if you are sitting in a chair.

How to do a squat: Stand with your feet under your hips, shoulder width apart. Extend arms in front of you, for balance (or hold onto the back of a chair). To the count of four, slowly bend your knees, with your chest and butt out, stopping once you are almost “sitting in a chair.” It’s essential that you push your butt out as much as possible as you’re going down, to keep the pressure off your knees. Do 15 reps.

#3 The plié squat: This version of the squat focuses on the inner thighs, a problem area for many women, especially.

How to do a plié Squat: Stand with feet wider than hip distance apart.
Turn toes out and heels in. Slowly bring your body weight back onto your heels as you bend your knees out toward your toes, to the count of 4, and squat down while pushing your butt out. For both squats, never tuck your tailbone in. That puts too much stress on knees.

#4 The plank: This is an incredibly hard, but Zen-like, position that is one of the most effective exercises you can do, because it works your entire body.

How to do a Plank: Hold your body in a “plank” position, simulating the “up” part of a push-up, but stay there, holding perfectly still, for 30-60 seconds. Keep your abs tight and your back flat the entire time. (see photo above) Try to lengthen your whole body, reaching back through your heels and forward through the top of your head. Your heart will be pounding, your arms will be shaking, but try to make it to 60 seconds (or more).        

#5 The sit-up: Our abs are getting a good workout by doing the push-ups and the plank, but it’s still smart to spend a little time doing an exercise just for them. Strong abdominal muscles look good, but they will help maintain good posture and take a lot of the pressure off our backs as we age. David loves the good, old-fashioned sit-up the best.

How to do a Sit-Up: Lie completely flat on your back, hands behind your head, pull your belly button down into the floor, and using your abdominal muscles, pull yourself up, and then lower yourself down. Exhale as you go up, and inhale going down. Keep your legs and feet flat on the floor, and see if you can do 20 in 60 seconds.

Start with one set every day, and then build up to three sets (or more) with a 15-second “breather” in between each set. Not only will you be strengthening your muscles, but you’ll be getting a solid cardio workout, as well.

I look forward to hearing how you’re doing. In the meantime, keep an eye out for future posts about a great cardio workout that anyone can do, regardless of age or physical fitness level . . . and how I took the word “diet” out of my vocabulary, and replaced it with “eat.”

I wish you the best of everything!