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staying fit & strong at 50 and beyond


Geriatric Fitness

“The American College of Sports Medicine now recommends weight training for all people over 50, and even people well into their 90s can benefit. A group of nursing home residents ranging in age from 87 to 96 improved their muscle strength by almost 180 percent after just eight weeks of weightlifting, also known as strength training. Adding that much strength is almost like rolling back the clock. Even frail elderly people find their balance improves, their walking pace quickens, and stairs become less of a challenge.”From Chris Woolston’s article, Seniors and Weightlifting: Never Too Late

“Some studies suggest exercise for seniors is one of the critical elements in aging slowly and in a healthy fashion.  Seniors suffering from a variety of ailments are typically folk who do little to no exercising.  On the other hand, seniors who exercise regularly are both stronger and have more vitality with fewer incidents of illness.”  From Exercise Critical for Seniors in the Senior Citizen Journal     

“Exercise and nutrition, they go hand in glove.  Just like you can’t separate the mind and the body, you can’t separate exercise and proper nutrition.”  One of my heroes; the late, great, Dr. Jack LaLane, from his television show back in the 1960’s.  Yes, he really was a Chiropractor. OK; FIFTY might not be be anywhere near geezerhood, but the truth is, I train differently than I did when I was 21.  I have to.  When I was in my early 20’s and into the bodybuilding / powerlifting scene, everything revolved around putting up as much weight as humanly possible.  Although I still do squats and deadlifts, just thinking about the weight I used to push makes me cringe.   But this post is not about throwing around heavy iron like JARED.  It’s about maintaining your independence and your dignity.

As you get older, you start to realize that health means much more than looking good in the mirror.  Health equals independence.  And independence means you are diminishing your odds of having to one day rely on others for help performing activities of daily living (i.e. eating, bathing, dressing, toilet, etc, etc, etc).  What are my tips for keeping you healthy (and ultimately independent) as you head into your 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and beyond? 

  • DIET IS YOUR #1 PRIORITY:  As you get older, EATING PROPERLY is more important than ever.  When we were young, most of us made the mistake of automatically equating thinness with good health (I MYSELF WAS GUILTY).  This is a mistake that can cause you all sorts of problems you as you get older.  TAKEAWAY:  Diet is far more important than exercise when it comes to staying fit and healthy.  In other words, you can’t workout hard enough to overcome a CRAPPY DIET — especially as you age.
  • DON’T NEGLECT THE STRENGTH TRAINING:  After the age of 30, experts tell us we lose 10% of our muscle mass per decade for the rest of our lives.  The only way to throw a proverbial wrench in the gears of this machine is to engage in some form of RESISTANCE TRAINING.   Although there are any number of ways to go about doing this (KETTLEBELL SWINGS with my 100 lb T-bar have become a staple), if your body will handle it, make sure to do some basic strength movements.  Squats and deadlifts are tough to beat.  And if you start slowly and concentrate on good form, they aren’t as difficult or dangerous as you have been led to believe.   TAKEAWAY:  Although lifting does not burn as many calories as cardio up front, it increases your metabolism up to 9 times longer than cardio increases your metabolism (4 hours as compared to 36 hours).
  • FORGO TYPICAL “CARDIO” TRAINING FOR H.I.I.T.  The old way of doing cardio — slogging on the treadmill for an hour — is largely a thing of the past.  Everything in the peer-reviewed literature points to ‘short and intense‘ as being best when it comes to practically all forms of exercise.  RUNNING IS NO DIFFERENT.   Rather than going for an eight mile run, go down to the football field (or park) and jog fifty yards / sprint fifty yards.  Back and forth, non-stop, for 10-15 minutes.  You’ll be amazed at the difference.  And if you are at that point in your life when you don’t feel you can run anymore, walk fast(er).  Also; you can avoid a great deal of impact to aging joints by staying off harder surfaces and wearing appropriate footwear.  TAKEAWAY:  The only form of exercise that approaches the benefits of strength training is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).
  • FLEXIBILITY / POSTURE TRAINING:  Motion is lotion — especially as we roll our body’s  odometers over.  Plainly stated, when joints lose their normal ranges of motion, they wear out.  “Wearing out” means your joints lose their cartilage, they develop bone spurs, and they become engulfed in calcium deposits.  Although there about a jillion ways to tackle this bullet point, it is my belief that EXTENSION TRAINING is a quick and easy way to kill two birds with one stone.  TAKEAWAY: Start by spending just a few minutes a day working on Extension, because it’s much tougher to regain it than it is to let it go south in the first place.
  • CORE STRENGTH & BALANCE TRAINING:  If done correctly, CORE STRENGTH is both easy and fun.  What do I suggest?  If you are weightlifting on a regular basis, do exercises you would normally do on a bench, on a ball (shoulder presses are a great example).   One thing I want to warn you against — especially if you have a history of back problems — is SIT UPS OR CRUNCHES.  And although I could mention it under any number of these bullets, Yoga Stretches are a fabulous way to train your whole body.   TAKEAWAY: If you are into thinking outside of the box, TRAMPOLINING and / or WHOLE BODY VIBRATION are both incredibly effective at taking care of this bullet point.
  • WEIGHT LOSS:  Be aware that BMI Charts are skewed by people who carry more muscle mass (weightlifters).   On the other hand, it’s also important to realize that the average American does not realize just how fat they really are (HERE and HERE).  Take some photographs of yourself in your underwear.  Pictures don’t lie like mirrors (or best friends) can.  TAKEAWAY:  As long as you are hitting it hard, firming up, and getting leaner, don’t fret about what the scale says.
  • GET IN THE WATER:  Whether it’s the pool or THE CURRENT RIVER, try to make water activities part of what you do to stay fit.  For instance, our local pool offers water aerobics in the summer, and I have yet to hear a patient say it did not benefit them tremendously.  Exercising in the water is easy on the joints, promotes flexibility, strength, and cardio fitness, and on top of all that, is a great calorie-burner because of the extra energy required to warm your body.  Exercising on top of the water is fantastic as well.  Our area is perfect for KAYAKING.  If you are really serious, paddle your kayak up river.  TAKEAWAY:  There aren’t many people who don’t enjoy exercise when it involves water.
  • TAKE UP A SPORT OR ACTIVE HOBBY:   There are any number of sports that people participate in well into their 60’s, 70’s, and beyond.  Golf comes immediately to mind (just remember that using a cart negates its benefits).  We could mention any number of others, including Tennis, Racquetball, Martial Arts / Tai Chi, Cycling, Zumba Classes, Yoga, Dancing, Badminton, Mall-Walking groups, etc, etc, etc.  Some people even COMPETE well into their twilight years.  TAKEAWAY: Exercise does not need to be boring.  Find something you love and go with it.
  • MAKE EXERCISING PART OF YOUR SOCIAL LIFE:  If you’ve ever been a gym rat, you know how social working out can be.  Not that it can’t be incredibly focused and intense, but because you always see the same people, it’s pretty easy to make acquaintances / friends.  An ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER is a great way to workout with a friend, and make sure each of you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.  TAKEAWAY:  If you don’t figure out a way to make exercise enjoyable, you are unlikely to stick with it.
  • AVOID FLU SHOTS:  I get it.  This is seems a rather strange point to stick in this list.  I’ll show you real quickly why it’s not.  In fact, for some of you it may be the most important.  Even though “EVIDENCE-BASED MEDICINE” has shown us that Flu Shots don’t work worth a flip for senior citizens (HERE); who is it that lines up for them like they’re trying to purchase the last ticket for the Wayne Newton Reunion Tour concert?  That’s right; senior citizens.  Who tends to get Alzheimer’s?  Again; senior citizens.  Unfortunately, even though most of you are not aware of the fact, there is a significant (and scary) connection between the two (HERE).   TAKEAWAY:  Leave Flu Shots to the younger folks (Oops!  They don’t work so hot for them either — HERE).
  • SEX: Although the average (or even above average) sexual encounter is not going to burn nearly as many calories as you may have been led to believe, the health benefits of regular sex are legion.  Increasingly, it’s thought that part of this could be due to keeping the MICROBIOME healthy.  TAKEAWAY:  While it might not be the best workout, it’s undoubtedly the “best” workout.   Trouble in this department?  CLICK HERE.
  • BODY / MIND CONNECTION:   As strange as it may seem, keeping your body fit is one of the top ways to keep your mind fit (HERE and HERE).  The opposite is largely true as well.  Could be why hours upon hours of sitting in front of a TV every day is bad for you on so many different levels.  TAKEAWAY:  It’s important to stay mentally fit as well as physically fit.  Make sure you are working on learning something new each and every day.

Who doesn’t love Jack Black?  But who wouldn’t rather live and grow old like JACK LaLANE?  While I certainly recommend you talk to your doctor about any changes in DIET or lifestyle you are planning on making, it’s important to remember that most doctors approach to health — GIVING YOU MORE DRUGS — is not going to get you from there to here.  Even though we all like the “Easy Button,” true health is one of those things you’ll have to do for yourself.  It may be difficult at first, but I promise you that few things will be more rewarding.  And the longer you stay with it, the easier it gets.  If you need one more boost of motivation, HERE is a monster list of studies of the benefits of exercise for seniors.


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