Taking the First Step

By Karl Knopf, Ed.D.

The following are answers to some commonly asked questions by older adults poised to embark on the trail to health and fitness.

Q. What is the secret to a satisfying retirement?

A. Most gerontologists agree that in addition to doing something that is both mentally and emotionally rewarding, following a sensible and regular physical exercise program is the key. If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be one of the most widely prescribed medicines in the world.

Unfortunately, although most Americans know that aerobic exercise is important for improving cardiovascular fitness and for losing fat, many neglect to stretch daily or to perform the two to three days per week of strength training that it takes to become truly fit.

Also, most people don’t stay with an exercise program long enough to enjoy the benefits. Instead they start out too hard, get sore and quit, then later feel guilty for quitting and start up again too hard __ and the cycle repeats itself!

It may help to know that in the fitness game, slow’n’steady wins the race!

Q. But I haven’t exercised in years. Isn’t it too late to start now?

Today, just as gender, social class or ethnic background does not preclude a person from enjoying and succeeding in sports or physical activity, neither should a person’s age.

Middle-aged persons should keep in mind that a fit 70_year_old who has remained active can be as strong as an unfit sedentary 30_year_old. In fact, an active person will decline physiologically only by about 1/2 percent per year compared to an inactive person who will decline by about 2 percent.

If you are deconditioned, a rejuvenating exercise program can be tailored to meet your needs through modification and adaptation. Gaining access to the exercise “Fountain of Youth” is not very expensive, nor is it a painful process. For many, it is actually quite enjoyable. Remember, age is a state of mind!

Q. How many minutes per week should I exercise?

A. The optimal amount of time varies among individuals. It is dependent upon many factors such as type of activity, intensity level, and your goals and abilities.

Some interesting findings have surfaced from research conducted in recent years which suggests that more than 300 minutes of vigorous exercise per week may be counterproductive for many participants. Of course, there are various possible explanations for this. The bottom line is: More is not always necessarily better. Everything in moderation is the key to good health.

Q. How can I stick with my fitness program?

A. Most persons who drop out of exercise programs do so because they are not having fun. People will repeat those activities that are enjoyable.

It is not enough to know the benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If it were, no one would smoke or drink to excess. People cling to unhealthy habits because they provide security and comfort.

It follows that exercise, to be healthful, must be something that bears repeating. Therefore, we need to seek out physical activities that we will experience as pleasurable and satisfying. Many folks find that cross training __ that is, engaging in several different types of exercise activity each week __ helps them to maintain their enthusiasm. Some say they started exercising for wellness reasons but stuck with it for the friends they met, the improved self-esteem and extra energy they gained, and, yes, the fun they were having!

Remember, the benefits of regular exercise may not show up overnight like plastic surgery. But if you really pay attention, you will see some changes very quickly!

Reprinted from Mature Fitness (formerly published as the Senior Fitness Bulletin) by permission of the American Senior Fitness Association (800) 243-1478, http://www.seniorfitness.net/firststep.htm