Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Fitness, One Step at a Time
If you live in Southern California, the odds are that you will live into your late 80s or early 90s. Many of us can look forward to extra years that our parents and grandparents didn't have. But for most of us, the important question is not how many years we will live, but how many will we live enjoyably. A few easy‚ life-changing steps can help ensure that you will experience the full potential of all your years.
Step 1 — Get Off the Couch!
By getting active and working out regularly, you reduce the risk of developing many medical conditions that accumulate with aging and inactivity. Walking regularly at a pace of 2-3 miles per hour will diminish your risk of a heart attack by 30 percent! Exercise will also decrease the possibility of a stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and many cancers. Another benefit is that working out will lift your mood and improve your sleep. Sounds good, but how do you get started?
Step 2 — Pick an Activity You'll Enjoy
The best exercise for all of us is one that we'll keep doing! Walking, cycling, jogging, tennis and golf are big favorites. Swimming is great for those with arthritis and other conditions that limit movement. On rainy days, try an elliptical machine that will exercise both your arms and legs, or a treadmill or stationary bicycle. Check with your physician before starting an exercise regime. If you need some help or motivation to get going, enlist your spouse or a good friend to join you. Once you start exercising and feel that extra bounce in your step, you'll be hooked.
Step 3 — Commit to a Regular Schedule — it's Fun!
My prescription is to exercise 30 minutes a day for five or more days each week. Look for opportunities — take the stairs instead of the elevator, park a little farther from the store or restaurant and walk the extra distance. Your goal in sustained exercise is get your heart rate up to about 60 percent of its maximum rate. To calculate the appropriate rate, subtract your age from 220 and multiple by 0.6. For example, if you are 65, the target heart rate for exercise would be 220-65 x 0.6 = 93. Keep an exercise log to record the time you've put in.
Step 4 — Consider a Little Heavy Lifting
As you get older, the best way to avoid getting osteoporosis is by lifting weights. A study in Boston of nonagenarians (90-year olds) in a nursing home found that even at this advanced age, they could improve their strength by more than 100% in a few short weeks! After beefing up their muscles, some residents were able to discard their canes and walkers. Before you start pumping iron, find a professional trainer at any local gym or fitness center for a consult. Warm up first, start slowly, then look for that 100% improvement — it's right around the corner.
Epilogue — a Tale of Two Grandmothers
Both my mother and grandmother were in nursing homes in their late 80s, but my mom was there as a resident and my grandmother as a volunteer. They were the same height, the same build and had virtually the same diet. What was the difference? My mother always had a car, lived in a building with an elevator, and had a housekeeper. My grandmother never drove; walked everywhere, including up two flights of stairs to her apartment, and cleaned her own home. Try a little exercise today. Before long, you'll notice it's a lot easier to get off the couch and to climb those stairs. In addition to feeling better, you'll reduce your risk of illness and injury, and enjoy more of all that life has to offer!
Dr. Edward L. Schneider heads the largest private center for research and education on aging, the Andrus Gerontology Center of the University of Southern California. He also serves as Dean Emeritus of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and Professor of Medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine. Dr. Schneider has written or co-written twelve books, including Ageless: Take Control of Your Age & Stay Youthful for Life, and published more than 180 scientific articles on topics related to aging.