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Exercising as You Age

Exercising as You Age
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BY MARY JANE HORTON

I have never gone to a 12-step meeting, but I can admit it now: I was an exercise addict. I have been exercising – happily – my entire life. It has never felt like a chore to me. I love it. So when I found myself upping my Pilates a few months ago, I didn’t think twice. Three times a week was my usual number of days going to a very challenging, fast-paced equipment class. And then I started inching up. It felt so good; sometimes I would go four, five, even six days. What was I thinking?

Sure enough, I got injured. (It was also bad ergonomics at my workspace.) But, I got really injured. My shoulder hurt so much that I hardly moved for weeks. I took Advil and used heat and tried to feel better. But I didn’t.

I went to the doctor who took X rays and thought it was “just one of those things.” But I stopped exercising, and it didn’t get better. Then he gave me a course of steroids and that helped bring the inflammation – and pain – down. So I slowly started moving around a bit.  I went for a walk with my next door neighbor, which I was also in a habit of doing several days a week. After the walk I came home, took a shower, bent over to towel dry my hair, and could barely straighten up. After not moving for so long, I was totally deconditioned and the walk – that walk I have done many days a week for years – was too much. My back was in total spasm.

Luckily I was going to physical therapy at the time, so the therapist switched from my shoulder to my back. And slowly, very slowly over the course of about three months, I got better.  But, I was still left with a big hole in my day where my exercise class used to be. I was walking – a little – being very careful not to do too much uphill climbing, making sure not to go too far or too long. Babying myself.

A new road 

Once you start babying yourself, it’s hard to stop. You feel like you could break at any moment.  A misstep, an over-stretch – anything. So, with my physical therapist, I devised a plan to get moving again. I would do one-on-one Pilates one or two days a week, and walk moderately a few days a week. That worked, although it took me about two months to work back to the three to four miles I was used to walking. And with the Pilates, I basically had to start from scratch (even though I have been doing it for over 20 years).

But here is what I decided: I am not going to stop exercising, and I am not going to overdo it and get injured. (Of course, I know that you can get injured without even overdoing it, but I am being very careful). I changed my work environment – got a sit/stand desk and a very expensive Herman Miller chair. I am going to be the turtle who wins the race: slow and steady

What should you do ideally?

How much you exercise as you age has a lot to do with how you exercised when you were younger. If you worked out a lot for many years, you should probably slow down a bit. If you haven’t exercised much, you should push yourself a little more, According to fitness experts on Oprah.com, in your 50s, you should strive for four to six cardio sessions a week, 20 to 40 minutes each, with an intensity that lets you answer a simple question but not chat, plus half an hour of weight training twice a week, with eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, or 15 to 20 using lighter weights. And stretch afterwards.  In your 60s, shoot for three days a week of challenging but not exhausting cardio, such as a slow jog, plus three days of weight training, using lighter weights and slower, more controlled movements combined with slow, sustained stretching. Walk whenever possible, and do daily balance exercises.

The bottom line – according to the most current research – is that you don’t have to do high amounts of activity or vigorous-intensity activity, you can keep yourself healthy by doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. And that is pretty much what I am doing. No more, sometimes – I hate to admit it – less. But I think my body is thanking me for it.

 

 

 

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