Fitness After Fifty
© Joan Price. May not be reprinted without permission.
We want both less and more from our exercise as we get older. We want less joint stress, less impact, and less pain. We want more stress reduction, more immediate feelings of well-being, more variety, and more information. In the past maybe we worked out just to burn fat and look good. These are still important issues, but now we also know the value of exercise for longevity, vitality, and mental alertness.
We want exercise that's fun but which also translates to real-life needs. We've heard it helps everything mental and physical, from strong hearts, muscles, and bones, to mental productivity and good sex. And it's the best way to keep the aging process at a slow crawl.
We can't pretend that the same exercises that raised our heart rates in our twenties are ideal for us now. Our joints and backs are getting older, and we've got to treat them with special care if we want to stay mobile and independent into our (much) later years. Still we don't want to go from high-impact to armchair aerobics--is there something in between? How can we tell if the exercise program we're getting into is right for us, or potentially will do more harm than good?
Here are some ideas for choosing the right program and abandoning the wrong ones:
- Remember the number one rule: If it hurts, don't do it. Modify or avoid those movements. If you have bad knees, avoid movements where you twist or change directions quickly. If your back is over forty, choose movements done with a neutral spine (not rounded, arched, or twisted).
- If you're taking a class or hiring a trainer, be sure your instructor is certified and experienced with your age group. Look for a certified fitness leader who keeps up-to-date by taking continuing education classes and attending professional conferences.
- High-impact aerobics and running may not be comfortable for you now, but low impact does not have to mean low intensity. Many aerobic dance and step classes optimally use the large muscles for fatburning and cardiovascular conditioning. If you do step aerobics, be sure the instructor (or video) uses music slow enough for you to put your foot all the way down when you step off the platform. Staying on your toes because the music is too fast risks injury to your foot or leg.
- Get the right shoes for your activity. Our feet, ankles, shins and knees are more vulnerable now. Protect them with shoes that cushion and stabilize your feet and absorb shock during the specific motions of your activity. Get walking shoes for walking, aerobics shoes for aerobics, and so on. Try on shoes in the afternoon, since your feet are biggest at that time. You don't have to "break in" athletic shoes any more--they should feel great right out of the box.
- Drink enough water. Our thirst mechanism doesn't work as well when we get older. To be sure you're drinking enough--2 quarts a day--keep a water bottle with you and take a long drink every 10 minutes when you exercise and frequently throughout the day.
- For your bones' sake, strength-train. You can use weights, machines, bands, or any other activity that makes your muscles lift, push, pull, or otherwise resist a force. This will help keep your bones dense and muscles strong, keeping you active and independent for the future. Building more muscle will also help you manage your weight.
- Start slow and steady. If you're just starting out, be patient with yourself. Start with light intensity, such as moderate walking or aqua aerobics, and build up your stamina before you push yourself harder. You don't have to exercise vigorously to start getting benefits. Any amount of exercise yields tremendous health benefits compared to being sedentary. Exercise is a process. You have the rest of your life to perfect it.