From sports bras and leggings to shoes and swimsuits, here’s what to consider before you buy.
Your age shouldn't dictate what you choose to wear when you work out, but there are certain things older adults may value - or benefit from - in their fitness gear. And taking the time to find workout clothes and accessories that suit your needs is worthwhile.
“Putting on the right type of exercise clothing makes you feel more confident,” says Michael E. Rogers, C.S.C.S., a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Aging at Wichita State University.
Predictably, feeling confident and comfortable makes exercise more enjoyable, which increases your odds of sticking with it. Here, experts offer advice to help you find the best workout gear for you.
Find the Best: Sports Bras
If you’re an older woman who’s planning to do any type of exercise, a supportive sports bra is a must.
“Generally, women require more chest support as they age, as the breasts naturally lose some of their elasticity,” says K. Aleisha Fetters, C.S.C.S., author of Fitness Hacks for Over 50. For maximum comfort, Fetters suggests picking a sports bra that fits the type of activity you’re doing — low, medium, or high impact.
Go for a high-impact bra for activities like dancing or group fitness classes, medium-impact for walking, and low-impact for yoga or a gentle stretching session.
Remember that "high support" doesn't necessarily mean tight compression or underwires. "Good, supportive straps, both around the torso and over the arms, make the biggest difference," Fetters says. So look for thick, adjustable straps.
It’s also important to consider how easily you can put the bra on and take it off. For many, pulling a tight-fitting sports bra over their head can be very uncomfortable — and for those with limited shoulder mobility, it can be downright impossible. Similarly, sports bras that clasp in the back can be tricky to manage.
"I would suggest purchasing sports bras that either button, clasp, or zip in the front," Rogers says. That way, you can secure and remove the bra without stretching your arms overhead or behind your back. Three options to consider:
- DSG Seamless Front Zip Sports Bras (available in different levels of support and plus sizes)
Find the Best: Workout Tops
The best top for you depends on some personal preferences like sleeve length and fit (loose or form-fitting). But one thing that all the best tops have in common is that they're made of synthetic, sweat-wicking fabrics like polyester, spandex, nylon, and acrylic. Steer clear of cotton, as this fabric holds on to moisture.
Fetters adds that the risk of overheating increases with age. For that reason, tops with venting and breathable panels are a plus.
If you're going to be lifting weights or doing yoga, you might like the added freedom of movement that raglan sleeves offer. Think of the classic baseball jersey where there's no shoulder seam. Instead, the sleeve extends all the way to the shirt collar. That's a raglan sleeve, and you can find them in long- and short-sleeved varieties.
Find the Best: Pants and Leggings
The key when buying workout pants is to get the appropriate length for your height. Any extra fabric could pose a tripping hazard if it bunches up around your legs or catches under your heels. That's definitely something you want to avoid, as falls are the No. 1 cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If leggings are more your style, you may want to look for ultra-high-waisted versions with a large panel (or waistband) at the top. "I personally find ultra-high-waisted pants to be the most comfortable, as do many of my older training clients," Fetters says. "You don't feel them slide down or cut into your abdomen."
Fetters also recommends paying attention to the fabric. If comfort is your top priority, look for descriptors such as “buttery soft” or “weightless” (like the popular Nulu fabric of Lululemon Align leggings). If you’re more interested in wicking sweat and feeling held in, you’ll want to look for synthetic fabrics made from polyester, nylon, or spandex.
For walks and workouts in cooler weather, look for fleece-lined leggings. You can find styles at all price points.
Find the Best: Athletic Shoes
You've probably heard this before, but it's worth repeating: Don't buy shoes off the internet. Instead, go to the store and walk around in them.
No matter what type of shoe you're looking for (walking, tennis, golf, etc.), there's no single style that's "best" for everyone. We all have different foot shapes, body types, walking styles, and personal preferences. All of these factors will influence what we find comfortable in a shoe.
“You really have to be your own expert at comfort,” says Paul R. Langer, D.P.M., a board-certified podiatrist with Twin Cities Orthopedics in Minnesota.
Another rule of shoe shopping: Resist the urge to buy the first pair you try on.
"If someone comes in straight from work to buy a running shoe, I guarantee the first shoe you show them is going to work because their only reference point is a dress shoe," Langer says. "Knowing what's most comfortable requires that you compare things and then make a selection based on what feels best." He suggests testing at least three pairs of shoes before you make a decision.
Finally, pick shoes built for your activity of choice. Get running shoes or walking shoes if those are your preferred form of exercise, but avoid them if you mainly take group fitness classes or play a sport like pickleball or tennis.
"Running and walking shoes are made for straight-line motion, and they'll have an elevated midsole, which can put you at risk of an ankle sprain in activities that require lateral movements," Langer explains. If you're planning on playing any sports, he suggests looking for court shoes.
Want more specific shoe-buying advice? Check out these simple guidelines to find your perfect workout shoe.
Find the Best: Swimwear
Swimwear probably won't change much for older men. However, many women will find it's harder to find a suit that both fits and goes on comfortably as they get older.
Two-piece swimsuits can be a solution, Rogers says, as they typically offer more size and fit flexibility than one-piece suits. "As we age, the body doesn't have the same proportions that it does when we're middle aged or a young adult," he explains. You may find you need a different size for your top and bottom.
And don’t worry: Two-piece swimsuits have come a long way, and many options offer similar coverage to a one-piece.
If you have balance or mobility issues, putting on a swimsuit can feel like a workout on its own. One possible solution is STEPIN2NOW, a collection of swimsuits that were tested and approved by women with arthritis and mobility issues. Each suit features a two-sided design that provides the look, coverage, and support of a standard one-piece swimsuit, but it’s much easier to get on and off.
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