To Your Health
"One must work with time and not against it,” wrote Ursula K. Le Guin in her utopian science fiction novel
The Dispossessed. Time inevitably stamps its passage on our physical selves. No matter how hard we exercise, no matter how carefully we eat, how many supplements we take or any other thing we try, we can’t hold back time.
However, this does not mean we must take a fatalistic, nonproactive approach to dealing with the effects of time on our bodies. It means we do all we can to slow the aging process but accept the fact that time changes everything, even the way we fight back against it!
I tell all my personal training clients above the age of 50 (or even 40, for that matter) that we cannot stop the aging process ... all we can do is age as gracefully as possible. To do that one must have an effective fitness program that encompasses three elements: flexibility, cardiopulmonary health, and strength.
But how does the aging process affect the ways in which we pursue those goals? Before we discuss the specifics of that, we need to consider that no two people approach fitness with the exact same level of conditioning and existing level of fitness. For example, the training ability of 50- to 60-year-olds who have consistently exercised and watched their weight over the course of their lives is much higher than those who haven’t.
The capabilities of well-trained senior athletes allow them to do much more than their sedentary contemporaries. Their joints and muscles, along with their cardio capacity, flexibility and muscular endurance enable them to train more like people many years younger.
For the sedentary or out-of-shape over-50 man or woman, the rules are different. Starting at the very bottom of the ladder of fitness, the climb to health commences with simply beginning to move more. Strength training in the form of weight work and flexibility in the form of stretching are still called for but on a different level of intensity—slowly building increased capacity.
WHAT SHOULD ALL OVER- 50 FITNESS-SEEKERS HAVE
IN COMMON? Think about how our financial investment strategies change over the years. When we’re young, we can make risky investments to seek a high return. As we age, we make investments with lower risk in order to preserve our savings. It is the same with our fitness “investments.” As we age, we still want progress, but we accept a lower level of return in order to protect what we already have. In a similar way, our workouts should be tailored for gains
but primarily concerned with safety. Here’s what I mean: If there
are two strength exercises that work the same body part with a comparable level of effectiveness, opt for the one that is safest. A specific example would be the use of a leg press machine for leg strength rather than the much riskier squat with a barbell and free weights.
Likewise, there may come a time when road or trail running offers too great a degree of risk (high impact on knees and back, risk of ankle injury or other damage) especially when running on uneven terrain. The alternative is biking or the use of an in-gym elliptical training machine that offers zero impact on joints and a high degree of control over difficulty and pace. Either choice means that the heart benefits but there is not the risk of going backward because of injury. As we age, we cannot afford to go backward if we can help it.
So . . . work with time and not against it—leave the high-risk, take-no-prisoners training style to a younger generation that can afford its potential for loss. Tony DiCosta is a Certified Personal Trainer C.P.T. and fitness writer. As a competitive physique athlete in the Masters Divisions, Tony has been the Over-60 Florida state champion and holds numerous regional and international titles. Tony can be contacted at the Sanibel Health Club.