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Mixing Muscle and Maturity

By Sean Kenny

“I don’t need to exercise anymore! I’m too old to work out! What can I do at my age anyway?”

Those are only a few of the many responses I receive when I inquire about fitness programs in senior citizens. As the director of several athletic clubs, consultant to the medical community and a private trainer, I deal with these responses on a daily basis. Let’s take a closer look. For our purposes we will first define the senior population as anyone over the age of 55. 

Why do you need to exercise? Exercise holds something for everyone and is especially vital in the mature years. It builds stamina and strength to help get through the days easier. Exercise helps retain bone density and counteracts osteoporosis. Arthritis, back pain, diabetes, and a host of other ailments also respond favorably to exercise prescriptions. Exercise builds self-esteem, not only helping one look better, but feel better too. In the American culture, retirement is often thought of as the end of a person’s productivity in life. Exercise can be an effective means of maintaining physical ability and promoting an enhanced sense of well-being.

Your never too old to exercise! Always check with your physician prior to beginning a program, as you may need to observe special guidelines. Studies conducted on a 75 year old male who performed leg-press exercise for 6 weeks showed a significant gain in lean tissue and strength. He has no prior training, illustrating that it is never too late to implement a fitness program. 

What can I do at my age? Plenty. Walking is a great exercise at any age. President Truman said on his 80th birthday, “Walk 2 miles every morning before breakfast and act like you have somewhere to go.” Walking provides a great cardiovascular workout, builds stamina, reduces body, fat, strengthens bones and muscle, and best of all, gets you outside and moving. Aim for a brisk stride, but keep the pace comfortable. Enjoyment of the exercise is of prime importance. If you do not like the activity, you certainly will not look forward to it, making long term adherence unlikely. Walking can be done every day. Try to walk for 20-40 minutes, slowly increasing the time as your fitness improves. Walking with a friend will not only provide company, but accountability as well, helping you stick to your regimen.

Strength training with weights has also been shown to have beneficial results as far as positive adaptations in bone density and overall strength improvement. Due to individual differences and conditions, make sure you get supervises training for a qualified health professional when starting the type of training. The generally accepted regimen is that of low-resistance and lo repetition weight lifting sessions performed 2-3 times a week. 

Contrary to popular belief, exercise does not have to hurt to be beneficial. ‘Train, don’t strain” is slowly becoming the mission statement of modern exercise. Remember to go at your own pace. And above all, have fun! Good luck!

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