The "Boomers" are coming. It is no secret that the over 50 population of Americans is growing rapidly. The bad news is that a large percentage of these folks are (as is the general population) aging much more quickly than they need to.But here's the good news. An aerobic exercise program can usually result in a 20 percent improvement in aerobic fitness. This improvement translates to a 20 year functional reversal of the clock. If you are 60 when you make the switch from an inactive lifestyle, this means you return to the aerobic fitness you had at age 40! Frankly I am happy to take the 20 year improvement, keep my wrinkles and forget the botox.But there is even more good news. Strength training, it turns out, is a great idea for even them most elderly of our citizens. One of the most amazing demonstrations of this was a study done at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for the Aged. A group of ten frail men and women between the ages of 87 and 96 participated in an eight week program of high-intensity strength training of the lower body. Nine finished the program. Hang on to your hats – the results were amazing. Muscle strength improved by an average of 174 percent, walking speed increased by an average of 48 percent, and thigh muscles increased by an average of 9 percent.Slowing down the biological clock does not mean that this special population has to spend inordinate amounts of time in the weight room or on the treadmill. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that two full body workouts weekly at 20 – 25 minutes with lighter weights (exercise bands would work well) will give good results. Add three 30 minute walks each week at an easy pace to begin and you have a “turn back the clock” beginning. For more great resources on exercise for seniors, check out this exercise guide from the National Institute on Aging. George Conway started exercising when he was 80 years of age, over 17 years ago. As George states, "Exercise adds life to your years and years to your life." George began his fitness program with Nautilus strength training. However, he also started walking, an activity in which he rapidly improved, and has excelled at various race walking distances over the past several years. George has indeed become a competitive senior athlete, as well as a physical fitness enthusiast.We all need our heroes. I have posters of Lance Armstrong, Mark Allen and others on the wall in my home gym. When I think I am pushing hard, I look at these folks and give it just a little bit more than I knew I had. These great athletes and many of the athletes you meet and get to know at Beginnertrathlete.com are a great inspiration. BUT… I have a new hero. His name is Dave McCoy. Dave is an 89 year old guy I met in the March 2005 issue of Bicycling Magazine. Dave still rides the mountain trails at a resort he founded in Mammoth Lakes, California 50 years ago. Dave hasn’t slowed down much from the 4000 feet of elevation gain he would do on his daily commute to work. But he’s taken a new direction. He parked his road bike when he was 85 because he loves the freedom a mountain bike gives him. “I love the physical fitness you need on long uphills, and nothing can match the thrill of turning around and zipping down the hill… riding fast keeps you alert, aware. It keeps your body agile,” he says. He still rides an hour or two after work every day and drops his relatives on the hills on those longer weekend rides.So Dave is my new #1 hero. Besides, it is great to have a hero that is 23 years older than I am. Makes me feel like a kid! Dave got me so inspired, I signed up for the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in Minnesota next July. I’ll be over there with the old guys just in case you are around. Figured that would be the best way to see all of the great athletes who will be competing.And…of course the training is a great way to keep turning back the old clock!
1. Exercise Testing and Program Design, Bryant, Franklin and Conviser, Ch.12 Strength Training for Seniors.2. For the complete story on George Conway and more, see: http://www.seniorfitness.net/massachusetts_governor.htm
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