Fit After 50: Aerobics–Work Within Your Zone

Note: Please check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program or adopting any of the suggestions included below. And remember, it is always important to warm up before and cool down after aerobic exercise.

You know how there are moments that are burned into the cells of your brain forever? One of mine is when I attended my first ever aerobics class. It was led by a German woman named Helga (I kid you not) and I lasted seven minutes. I literally crawled out of the room on my hands and knees and dry-heaved in the hallway. Can you spell “humiliation”? It was years before I was brave enough to consider aerobics again. So, if you have the same kind of unconscious resistance to aerobics, I totally understand. Unfortunately, after 50, we need to move.

About 10 years ago, I attended an anatomy seminar led by a medical pathologist. When he started discussing the anatomy of the heart, he digressed into a mini-lecture on aerobics. He basically said that because the heart is a muscle, exercise impacts it but not as much as you would think. While the pumping capacity of your heart might improve, the real benefit from aerobic exercise is that it trains the voluntary muscles in your body to use oxygen more efficiently–during exercise and at rest. The result is less overall burden on your cardiovascular system and from his perspective, that was a good thing.

Aerobic activity is *any* sustained movement that causes your body to require more oxygen than normal. Effective aerobic exercise is that which keeps your heart rate at 65% to 80% of its maximum rate for a period of no less than 15 minutes. If you are not very fit, slow walking can be aerobic. If you are very fit, you might have to run or bike to reach your target heart rate. The important thing to remember is stay within your target heart rate.

You determine your target heart rate using the following formula: First subtract your age from 220, then multiple that number by .65.

For example, if you are 50 years old:

220 – 50 = 170. 170 x .65 = 110. Your target heart rate would be 110.

Click here for Heart.com’s information on target heart rates.

Fit After 50: Walk Your Way to a Longer Life

Several medical studies have shown that people who walk regularly live longer, and that walking regularly can prevent hip fractures, keep you flexible, help you sleep better and keep your mind clearer as you age. In a DiscoveryNews article, Seth Landefeld, director of the Mt. Zion Center on Aging at the University of California at San Francisco, said, “There is a lot of evidence that people who keep up physical activity as well as social activity do much better in all sorts of ways. They live longer. They have better health. Their mental health stays sharper…. If you keep walking and moving around, that will likely have benefits in terms of survival and overall health.”

Unless you are confined to a wheel chair or have a heart condition that prevents mild exercise, walking is something you can do. And you know intuitively that walking produces many health benefits. The problem with doing it regularly, if you’re at all like me, is that the pressures and responsibilities of job, career, family, and everyday living¬† often get in the way of taking care of your body. It’s hard to be consistent with any kind of exercise program — even one as simple as walking.

But here’s the thing: If you’re over 50 and you’re not exercising at least three days every week for at least 30 minutes or more each time, it’s time to make a change. Stop sacrificing your health and possibly shortening your life for the sake of your employer or a TV show or a computer game, or whatever else you’re doing that’s preventing you from at least taking a walk every day. Start putting your body and your health higher on your priority list. Just do it! Everything else you are doing with your time will suddenly fade into insignificance if your health fails and you are no longer able physically or mentally to maintain your previous busy schedule and lifestyle.

Before beginning any walking or exercise program, check with your doctor if any of the following conditions apply to you:

  • you’ve been inactive physically for more than a year
  • you are over 65 and you don’t currently exercise
  • you’ve been diagnosed with heart trouble
  • you have chest pain, especially when exerting yourself
  • you often feel faint or have severe dizzy spells
  • you have high blood pressure or diabetes

If you are still working for an employer, a good time to begin a regular walking program is during your lunch hour — BEFORE you eat lunch! If you are retired or are self-employed, set a time each day for taking a walk. Schedule it just like you would a meeting or any other regular activity. Commit to your schedule and stick to it. Share your commitment with your coworkers or colleagues and ask them to help you stick to your commitment by not calling or scheduling meetings that might intrude on your walking time. They may even want to commit to walking at the same time themselves!

Be sure to get a comfortable pair of walking shoes that have a flexible sole and an adequate cushion for your instep and heel. Start with short distances and time periods (10 to 15 minutes) if you haven’t been walking or exercising regularly. Gradually increase the time and the pace every two weeks. Be sure to warm up first with three to five minutes of slow walking, and cool down in the same way after the brisk part of your walk.

Finally, if you ARE confined to a wheel chair, or if for some other reason you are unable to walk, ask your doctor or health care provider what exercises or movements you can safely do that will increase your heart rate enough to increase the amount of oxygen your muscles are able to absorb from the blood flowing through them. Remember, the key is MOVEMENT. Move as many of your joints and muscles as you can, as often as you can. Any movement is beneficial if it’s rigorous enough to cause your muscles to demand more oxygen.

So start moving and you will begin thriving! Keep on moving and you will keep on thriving!

Fit After 50: Warming Up and Cooling Down

Before exercising or stretching, it is really important to warm up. Cold or “unprepared” muscles are muscles that are prone to injury. This is especially true after we have turned 50. For many of us, our muscles, tendons and ligaments have tightened or stiffened with age. Jumping directly into an aerobic activity, weight-training, or even stretching without warming up can lead to sprains, tears or other unnecessary muscle, ligament or tendon damage. Also, after 50, it is a good idea to gradually raise our heart rate before any exercise.

Ever hear of people who drop dead while shoveling snow? One factor contributing to these sudden deaths is strenuous exercise in the cold without gradually raising one’s heart rate beforehand. Cold causes our blood vessels to constrict. That means our hearts have to work harder to provide blood to our muscles. If we have any kind of underlying heart problem–and a good percentage of us do by the time we are in our 50’s–then sudden vigorous activity in the cold can put an unnecessary strain on our hearts. Warming up beforehand gives our hearts a chance to catch up, so to speak.

Warming up consists of any slow and sustained movement that gradually increases the blood flow throughout your body and gently raises your heart rate; it prepares your muscles for more sustained and vigorous activity. You should plan to spend about 5 to 10 minutes with your warm up. My favorite is to walk slowly, gradually increasing the speed with which I walk. Another favorite is to turn all limbs and joints one at a time (for example, starting with my ankles, then moving up to my hips, back, hands, arms and neck)  in clockwise and counterclockwise circles. Another easy warm up is to slowly march in place and gradually increase the height and speed with which you raise your knees.

Cooling down is the mirror image of warming up. Just as it is important to prepare your muscles for more active movement, and to slowly increase your heart rate prior to exercise, it is important to slowly lower your heart rate following exercise. To cool down, simply gradually lower the intensity of your exercise until you can breathe easily and talk normally.

So warm up and cool down: it’s easy and well worth the time and effort.

Fine After 50: Improving Your Physical Balance

Phil and I plan to discuss strength training and aerobic conditioning as well as stretching in future posts but before we jump into those meatier topics, I thought it might be nice to talk about balance. Per Consumer Affairs, one in ten people will experience difficulty with balance by the time they are 65 years old. There are a lot of reasons why we develop balance issues–and some of them can be indicative of serious physical problems. So, if you have significant problems with dizziness or balancing, it’s a good idea to check it out with your doctor.

If your balance issues are simply an indication of aging, though, there are some simple exercises that you can do to help improve your balance.

One is simply to stand on one foot next to a wall with your hand supporting yourself against the wall. Remove your hand from the wall and see if you can stand without wobbling for at least 30 seconds. Then switch and stand on the other foot. I do this both with and without shoes–the goal is to stand on one foot unsupported without wobbling for at least 30 seconds.

Eventually, you might want to consider graduating to a balance trainer. They look like one-half of a rubber ball stuck in a frame. (For example, check out the Bosu Sport 55 cm Balance Trainer. I am a complete physical dork but I love trying to balance on a balance trainer. Once again, stay close to a wall until you get the hang of it.

Another exercise to consider is a yoga pose called the tree pose (For a great description, click here). In the position, your hands are either in a prayer position in front of your chest or straight up above your head while you stand on one foot. Once again, you should aim to hold this position for at least 30 seconds without wobbling–and once again, if you have a problem, stay close to the wall.

Happy balancing!