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Getting Fit at Fifty and Beyond

What if you used to be really fit and now you're not? What if, as the years have gone by, you've added a couple of pounds here and there, and you suddenly notice you're 30 pounds heavier than you were at your 10th high school reunion? Or, what if you've never enjoyed the idea of exercising, exercise was never part of your world-view, but you're not feeling as good as you'd like to feel and think that exercise might help improve your overall health and sense of well-being?

Many people want to get fit or want to regain a former level of fitness for a variety of considerations, including the above scenarios.1,2 But most of us need guidance in the process of getting fit. We need information and even instruction on what to do and how to do it. For example, it would be a serious mistake for someone older than 50, and even older than 40, to simply go out and try to run 4 miles if he had never run before. Muscle strains, shin splints, or even a stress fracture of one of the bones in the foot would be a likely and unwanted result. Similarly, going to the gym and trying to "work heavy" would assuredly create various problems for an out-of-shape person who wanted to "get fit" as quickly as possible. The injured tendons and sprained ligaments resulting from trying to rush would set back your hoped-for progress by at least four to six weeks, further delaying achievement of improved health.

The best way to get fit or return to fitness after a long period of inactivity is to start slowly, progress in small increments, and gain an authentic, long-lasting level of fitness over months and years. Being a smart exerciser means not doing too much too soon, in other words, respecting your body's capabilities. Also, smart exercise involves engaging in a blend of activities, usually on alternating days. Persons who only bike or run and persons who only lift weights will never be as healthy and fit as those who do both aerobic activity and strength training.3 Developing a two-week schedule will provide a thorough, balanced fitness program. In week A you do aerobic exercise (walking, running, biking, swimming laps) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You do strength training on Tuesday and Thursday. In week B you reverse activities, doing strength training Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and aerobic exercise on Tuesday and Thursday. This alternating pattern ensures you are getting the full benefit of your valuable time spent exercising.

It is important to remember that what works for you, works for you. Each of us needs to find his or her best way forward. Some methods of exercise will be experienced as intuitive and enjoyable. Others will be experienced as the opposite. You probably won't want to continue any of the latter. For example, the exercise program suggested by your friend may not be effective for your physical makeup and may even be harmful. Your chiropractor is an expert in healthy exercise and will be able to recommend fitness activities that will be right for you.

1Johanssen NM, et al: Categorical analysis of the impact of aerobic and resistance exercise training, alone and in combination, on cardiorespiratory fitness levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: results from the HART-D study. Diabetes Care 2013 July 22 [Epub ahead of print]

2Stanton R, el al: Is cardiovascular or resistance exercise better to treat patients with depression? A narrative review. Issues Ment Health Nurs 34(7):531-538, 2013

3Lorenz D, Reiman M: The role and implementation of eccentric training in athletic rehabilitation: tendinopathy, hamstring strains, and acl reconstruction. Int J Sports Phys Ther 6(1):27-44, 2011

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    Sara Harder

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