25 Twists on Fitness
By Michael E. Newman
Many so-called diseases of aging are really diseases of inactivity that can be modified by exercise, no matter what your age.
A robust 80, Efrain "Chico" Chacurian still plays soccer every Tuesday night and trains with the 13-year-olds on his youth development team. At 90, Ted Hatlen set Senior Olympic records in the high jump, long jump and shot put. And at 102, competitive ballroom dancer Lenore Schaeffer whirled Tonight Show host Jay Leno across the stage.
Did all these Americans drink from the Fountain of Youth? No, they found their magic potion in a healthy lifestyle centered on regular physical activity. "That's critical after age 50 because many so-called diseases of aging are really diseases of inactivity that can be modified by exercise, no matter what your age," says Jack Higgins, M.D., vice president of health promotion for Fifty-Plus Lifelong Fitness, a group that promotes senior health.
For example, regular exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a day, most days of the week, can reduce your risk for coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Weight-bearing activities such as walking and dancing can help ward off osteoporosis. Exercise that improves your strength and balance can help prevent falls that lead to broken bones.
It doesn't take a drastic lifestyle change to get the exercise you need, says Michael Spezzano, health and fitness specialty consultant for the YMCA of the USA.
"Physical activity is already part of your life, so make it work for you," he says. "To get started on a simple exercise program, just examine your daily routine, find the activities that make your body work and expand the amount of time spent doing them to 30 minutes." That could be anything from golf to hiking.
Having trouble coming up with activities? Here's a list of opportunities for seniors to get solid exercise.
How to get a move on
1. Bowling. It remains one of America's most popular sports. Start with a light ball and try to increase the weight as your skills improve.
2. Canoeing. Always take a buddy along and wear a life jacket.
3. Cleaning. Dusting, mopping, sweeping, cleaning out the garage -- all can work up a sweat.
4. Croquet. Make the course lengthy so you have to do some walking.
5. Dancing. A host of options aid fitness: ballroom dancing, ballet, country line dancing, square dancing or swing dancing.
6. Fishing. Cast away your troubles, and maybe a few pounds as well.
7. Free weights. Start with small weights and increase the pounds you heft as you get stronger.
8. Gardening. One form of exercise that yields more than just a beautiful body.
9. Golf. Leave the cart at the clubhouse and carry your bags for the best workout.
10. Hiking. Proper footwear is especially important. Get boots fitted at an outdoors store. Make sure to let someone know where you are going and when you'll be back.
11. Horseshoes. Get a set with metal shoes. You'll expend more energy in each throw.
12. Kids' games. Join the grandkids for a game of hopscotch, tag or red rover.
13. Lawn bowling. A 300-year-old sport that's still fun to play.
14. Mowing. If your lawn is small enough to use an unpowered push mower, the workout is even better.
15. Raking. For twice the exercise, rake the leaves, jump into the pile and then rake them again.
16. Rock/shell collecting. One way to give a purpose to long walks.
17. Rowing. It's great because you can always follow exercise with a few hours of fishing.
18. Softball. Try the slow-pitch version for the thrill of baseball without the 90-mph pitches.
19. Stair climbing. Beats waiting for that slow elevator again.
20. Stationary cycling. As you pedal in place, you can even read a book or watch some TV.
21. Swimming. With the water bearing your weight, swimming is easy on the bones and joints.
22. Table tennis. It's a lot less running than full-size tennis but still good exercise.
23. Walking. The king of all fitness activities: cheap, easy and convenient. And it works, too.
24. Water aerobics. Sign up for a class at your local pool. You'll be glad you did.
25. Water polo. For those who like their swimming mixed with competitive fun.
If your doctor gives you the OK to start exercising and you're age 50 or older, keep these tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in mind:
Always wear appropriate gear, such as the appropriate shoes for each sport.
Warm up before exercising. This can be a moderate activity such as walking at your normal pace while emphasizing arm movements.
Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. You can split this into periods of 10 to 15 minutes.
Make sure you drink enough water. You can be dehydrated without feeling thirsty.
Never increase your program more than 10 percent a week. This applies to the distance you walk or the amount of weight you lift, for instance.
Consider varying your routine. Mixing tennis and weight lifting, for example, offers different workouts and keeps exercise interesting.
When using exercise equipment, read instructions carefully and, if needed, ask a qualified person for help. Make sure equipment is in good working order.
Stop exercising if you experience severe pain or swelling. Persistent discomfort should always be evaluated.
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