Ah, the baby boomers.
They’re celebrated in all those glossy financial services, banking, and cosmetic dentistry advertisements as healthy, wealthy and fit well into their golden years. They’re seen arm in arm on a cruise ship’s deck gazing into each other’s mature but attractive faces and toasting the setting sun with a flute of Dom Perignon. Surely they have the secret, the key to the Fountain of Youth. Aging doesn’t happen to baby boomers. Right?
Wrong. Aging happens to everybody. (Just wait—you Gen Xers are next.)
Whether we like it or not, the aging process, even in relatively healthy adults, affects our five critical domains, including posture, balance, strength, flexibility, and endurance, say Marilyn Moffat and Carole B. Lewis, authors of Age-Defying Fitness: Making the Most of Your Body for the Rest of Your Life. In this informative guide on how to achieve optimal health well beyond the golden years, the authors, both celebrated fitness gurus, help readers identify and overcome such issues as sagging posture, diminished muscle strength, faltering balance and loss of flexibility.
How fast you age, they posit, depends on you. How fit you stay depends on you.
If you’ve been living at the gym since your 20s, you’re probably aware of this fact. But let’s say the last time you poked your head in a gym was 1980. Let’s say your role models are more Woody Allen or Keith Richards than Jane Fonda. What hope do you have to ever be in shape again?
Bobby Kurian, the general manager of Sarasota Memorial’s new state-of-the-art fitness center, Healthplex, has good news for boomers who are looking to get back into shape. “Exercise works,” he says.
It’s not just his opinion—it’s his highly educated opinion. Kurian has a degree in exercise physiology and nutrition, and he completed his graduate research in obesity and weight management at Cornell University. He knows what he’s talking about. And he cites recent studies showing that people in their 60s who regularly exercise are as physically fit as sedentary people in their 30s.
We’ve heard it over and over but it bears repeating. “No matter what area you look to, be it heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis, research shows that being physically fit into your senior years will keep you healthier and active longer,” says Cedric Bryant, the chief exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, speaking at a recent press conference.
“Humans are meant to be active,” says Kurian. “It’s just that we rarely do physical work anymore, and so planned exercise becomes necessary.”
More good news: Baby boomers aren’t just talking about exercise. They’re doing it. Nearly a quarter of all health club members in the United States are over 55.
“Boomers strive to look youthful,” says Kurian. “They’re highly motivated when it comes to their health and appearance. They’re willing to spend money, and willing to work hard to get in shape. On top of that, they’re success-driven, so they keep working at it.” He’s seen plenty of lifelong couch potatoes have a conversion once they start to see the ravages of age set in. All of a sudden, they get exercise fever.
Maybe you’re one of these people. After years of the Homer Simpson Diet and Exercise Program, you’ve finally seen the light. Now what?
Step one: Conduct a physical inventory. Informally assess yourself in terms of the five key areas mentioned above. Are you starting to slump? Do you avoid stairs? Are you out of breath after walking a block? Are your joints stiff after watching an episode of The Sopranos? Does it hurt just to get out of bed?
Step two: Do a more formal assessment. See your doctor and get a full physical, especially a cardio-stress test.
Step three: Create an exercise program to build up the areas in which you’re lacking.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
If you want to, you can do it all by yourself. (You can also build your own house, put your computer together from a kit, and grow your own vegetables.) But if you’re like most people, it’s probably better to seek expert help. That’s where a personal trainer comes in handy.
“If people aren’t supervised properly, or have health issues that haven’t been addressed, they can end up becoming frustrated, discouraged or even injured,” says Robin Bauer, LCSW, a Sarasota-based psychotherapist and American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer.
Bauer agrees with Kurian that the first step towards fitness is evaluating your personal needs and setting fitness goals. The two also agree that finding a trainer or coach to offer guidance is the best way to do it.
“A coach can help identify what it is you’re trying to do. He can delve into the nitty-gritty stuff, and ask the hard questions,” says Bauer. “It can be a combination of issues. Maybe you want to eat better but don’t know how to get started. Or maybe you’re having sleep problems or other health issues that get in the way of exercising. A trainer can identify and clarify the issues, and then create a concrete plan of action with concrete goals. Let’s face it, there’s a certain amount of accountability that comes with working with a professional.”
Both fitness experts stress it’s not just a matter of setting goals—the key is setting realistic goals, and customizing a workout routine to get there. It all starts with a professional assessment of flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, strength and balance. An intelligent fitness regimen builds all these areas—little by little, day by day, with constant supervision. It’s not magic, not instant. It’s a lifestyle change, designed for the long haul.
Kurian scoffs at instant answers based on wishful thinking and misinformation. Instead he sticks with hard science, which agrees with common sense—results that last demand a lifetime commitment. Becoming and staying fit is not as immediate as undergoing cosmetic surgery or getting Botox to eliminate wrinkles, he says. “There is no substitute for effort, discipline and dedication. “
A weekend of furious exercise will not make you healthy. A few intense weeks can’t make up for decades of inactivity. All it will do, most likely, is hurt you.
There’s even a name for that—"boomeritis.” Coined by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the term refers to the recent rise in sports injuries in people of the boomer generation. (Think Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ski mishap a few months back. The same accident—tripping on a ski—might not have seriously injured a younger, more flexible person.)
“By their 40th birthday, people often have vulnerabilities—weak links—and as the first generation that is trying to stay active in droves, baby boomers are pushing their frames to the breakpoint,” said Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, at a public forum.
Bauer takes this philosophy to heart. She says she begins by “getting people moving—slowly.” She combines cardiovascular exercise with strength training and stretching, along with exercises that improve posture and increase strength, flexibility and balance. These exercises can greatly reduce the risk of injuries from sports and endurance activities, the demands of daily life, falls and other accidents, she says.
For those who want to substitute fitness for flab and fatigue, Bauer and Kurian offer the following tips:
◆ Get a check-up before starting an exercise program. Inform your doctor of your fitness plans and discuss any concerns or limitations.
◆ Inform your fitness coach of your medical history. Be up front, and include medications, dietary habits, risk factors and bad habits.
◆ Make sure that the facility’s instructors have experience coaching people in your age range.
◆ Be clear about your fitness goals. Do you want to lose weight, strengthen joints, relieve pain, or be more energetic? Make sure the facility can accommodate that goal.
◆ Make a commitment. Don’t take off more than three days in a row unless you’re sick or injured.
◆ Mix it up. Vary your workout every day.
◆ Don’t try to compete with younger members—or with who you used to be. Set new, age-adjusted goals.
◆ Forget the mantra “no pain, no gain.” While it’s OK to push hard and long when you’re young, slow and steady is a better goal after 50.
◆ Stay balanced. Make sure you get a combination of strength work, cardiovascular exercise and stretching. For cardiovascular endurance, alternate between weight-bearing (walking, jogging) and non-weight-bearing (swimming, cycling) activities three days a week for 30 to 45 minutes each time.
◆ Take the long way. Park as far away as possible from your destination, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the grocery store, walk the dog, mow your own lawn.
After all, why shouldn’t we be like that handsome couple—vibrant and sexy—well past the golden years and into the ripe old years? In the words of Marion Downs, the 93-year-old fitness guru and author of Shut Up And Live:
”We are destined to live to 100. So why not feel good during the journey? You don’t have to be in a wheelchair or an old-age home. You can enjoy life.”
Studies have suggested that walking at a brisk pace for three or more hours a week can reduce your risk for coronary heart disease by 65 percent.
About 25 percent of American adults—and an even greater percentage of women—are sedentary. After age 44, upwards of 30 percent of women are sedentary, and by age 65, the proportion increases to almost 35 percent. By the time they reach age 75, about 50 percent of all women are sedentary.
Only about 22 percent of American adults engage in regular, sustained physical activity for at least 30 minutes five times a week, and only 15 percent exercise both regularly and vigorously.
Walking at a brisk pace (a 15-minute mile or 4 mph) burns almost as many calories as jogging for the same distance. The benefit of jogging is that it takes less time to cover the same distance and it benefits the bones; however, it may be too strenuous for some.
It takes about 12 weeks after starting an exercise program to see measurable changes in your body. However, before 12 weeks, you will notice an increase in your strength and endurance.
Improving fitness appears to help men live longer following a heart attack (The National Exercise and Heart Disease Project).
Lifestyle physical activity, such as taking the stairs, gardening, and walking instead of driving, is as effective as structured gym workouts in improving fitness (Journal of the American Medical Association).
GET OVER THE CAVEMAN
A local counselor says women often choose mates for the wrong age-old reasons.
Women don’t always end up with the perfect mate, and Dr. Robert S. Hackney, a locally based certified relationship coach and counselor, is writing a book that he thinks helps explains why. In The Avatar Syndrome, he’ll argue that we women are often caught up in biological impulses that drove us to select mates in the prehistoric past. Strong, powerful cavemen were more likely to survive and pass on their DNA, and modern women, however subconsciously, still respond to those qualities. We may marry a guy like that because we are biologically attracted to him, but then yearn for him to be a sensitive Prince Charming instead. When he falls short of that ideal, we suffer from perpetually shattered expectations.
What to do?
Hackney suggests that women need to engage in a “conscious form of mate selection by developing clear ideas of what their authentic requirements for a mate are.” Some call it conscious dating.
Hackney hopes that his book will lead women to discover what their authentic requirements are—preferably before they fall head over heels with every tall, strong and handsome guy they meet.
“Discover what Prince Charming means to you,” says Hackney. “When a woman possesses a clear understanding of what she needs in a mate, she shifts from archival behavior to authentic behavior. The relationships that develop from this are powerful and long-lasting.”
For more information, visit www.HackneyCoach.com.