Over the weekend, an old friend in New York City emailed to tell me about his recent thalium stress test.
”I forgot to mention...how those mornings at the gym have paid off.
“There I was on the treadmill. As the cardiologist keep raising the speed and incline, I kept going - like an elderly Energizer Bunny.
“Finally, the doctor got frustrated and jacked up the numbers so I was running up a 15-degree slope which didn't exhaust me but hurt my feet because of a condition called fat pad atrophy, which is self-explanatory.”
Wow. That's astonishing especially when you know that my old friend is also old – 73 years. It's not that he hasn't exercised through the years, but it has been haphazard and without intention. Early this year, he set out to get serious about the exercise aspect of staying healthy.
Because the the stress test results are so impressive, I asked my friend if he would tell TGB readers about his regimen.
“Of course, anything to help my fellow-dodderers,” he said. “First, a routine:
“I'm at the gym three mornings a week. I do 20 minutes on the elliptical to work up a sweat. To avoid boredom - which leads to laziness – I do three minutes each at ever increasing levels starting at level 1 and ending with level 6.
“I do 60 minutes on various resistance machines, especially those that strengthen the core. I do three sets of eight reps at each machine. (Obviously, this isn't actually 60 minutes since I take breaks between sets.)
“Twenty minutes on the treadmill. Again, to avoid boredom, I do three minutes at ever increasing levels (inclines). Start at, say, Incline 1 and aim for Incline 5. At first, it's best not to raise the speed along with the inclines; start at 2.8 mph and go no higher than 3.3 mph, especially if you have food-pad atrophy).
“Every Monday, I bump everything up a notch. So, for example, if you did three sets of eight reps, at 10 pounds resistance on an abdomen machine, you should bump that to 15 pounds resistance, and so on, week after week. Same with the elliptical and treadmill: bump the levels and inclines.
“As you can see, this is NOT an easy routine and the lazy or undisciplined will quit pretty soon. But for anyone who stays with it, after three months (which is only 36 sessions) he or she will be in much, much better shape than when he/she started.”
Ronni here again. My friend recommends (and I agree) that before you begin a new exercise regimen, it is good to print out the recommended exercises at the Mayo Clinic website and of course, check with your physician. And here's some more good advice from my friend:
“If you suspect your doctor is basing his recommendation on your temperament and not your actual condition, repeat the question this way: 'If you didn't know me personally, what exercise routine would you recommend for somebody at my age and in my state of health?'
“I might add that this routine won't do you much good if you (1) smoke; (2) drink heavily; and/or (3) eat badly.”
Ronni here. I didn't ask for suggestions about gyms, their ambience, cost and such but my friend included some interesting information about all that. Some of it may be New York City-centric, but it's worth checking out in your area:
“Money: in the past few years, several of the major gym chains have opened discount subsidiaries which offer miraculous specials - Planet Fitness is advertising a promotion for $10 a month. Blink Fitness has been offering a $20 a month deal.
“These places are not at all shabby. They're usually only a couple of years old and they have more equipment that you'll ever need. What they don't offer are bells and whistles: showers, but no towels, no shampoo, no conditioner; no classes or individual instruction.
“However, there are usually professional trainers around working with clients, and they're glad to add to their client lists.
“Because of the low prices, the customers tend to be working class or destitute students. At Blink on East 4th Street in New York City, it's an exhilarating mix of male, white, black, Latino and Asian bodybuilders; expectant mothers of all colors and nationalities; incredibly strong female athletes (my occasional trainer is a 20-year-old former gymnast from Ukraine - we communicate in mime and grunts); and a handful of old farts like me.
“People come to Blink (and Planet Fitness) to exercise - nobody wears Spandex, and there's very little socializing (or even chatting) while people are doing routines. These joints are not for Carrie Bradshaw and her pals.”
Ronni again: Well, that cuts the intimidation level way down and erases one more excuse.
Week after week, year after year, the research studies pile up with unanimous results: regular exercise is crucial to maintaining both our physical health and cognitive abilities as we age. By now, we all know that, but few of us do much about it.
My friend tells me he has been going to the gym three days a week since March with fewer visits over the summer and he's been back to the full three-per-week for about a month and a half.
In that time he has not doubled or tripled his capabilities. He says he is in five times better shape that when he began his gym routine – as his stress test confirmed. It's amazing how far we can improve even at our ages.
Maybe his regimen is too much or too strict for you, but I'll bet you could do more than you are doing and as he says: exercise is a net good – always.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek: The Bronx County Courthouse vs. The Taj Mahal