Awakening: Occupy Everywhere

Exercise is a Net Good – Always

category_bug_journal2.gif 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


Having recently caused a serious sprain to my ankle I can only say that exercise is essential to all of us. I think the bone mass I strengthened prior to the injury was what prevented a fracture or break and the leg weights and ankle stretching I did 2 or 3 times a week has influenced how fast I am healing.

Yes, mam, all of my body but my one hip now thinks it's in its forties. I joined the local Y. It's five minutes from the house. I do water aerobics five days a week, and I am supposed to be doing upper body and core stuff three days a week. Since the trip, I haven't gotten back for that....oh, guilt.

I agree with all of this except one point made by your friend. There is absolutely nothing I have ever been able to do that makes exercises anything other than mind-numbingly boring, and a lot of trouble to prepare for. So I listen to podcasts during. I have to be careful not to get so distracted by the podcast I hurt myself. I hate exercising, not because of the exertion, but because of the boredom.

I find that I have to like exercise or I won't do it. Happily, I like being outside, running/walking trails, so I spend a lot of time that way.

Your friend is so right that there are now cut-rate gyms without a lot of facilities where there is a lot less of the showing off that is associated with the flashy muscle palaces. I've migrated from Golds to a circuit training place full of 60-75 years putting in our time -- though I still much prefer being outside to using machines.

I don't go to gyms, but even working in the garden every day for an hour or so makes a noticeable difference.

My HMO offers free gym membership because they know how important it is toward keeping elders healthy and fracture free. This saves the HMO money and makes for fitter elders.

I used to go 5 days a week, but due to breaking my hip and lack of transportation I no longer participate.

No lectures, please. I already know I should get back to the regimen.

In my experience, I believe in exercise but don't think it's a plus to do it without considering the right kind and amount. I have known more than a few elders who went overboard on say how many miles to walk a day and ended up needing hip or knee replacements a few years later. My belief is do it regularly, follow the suggestions for how to do it, and don't overdo it.

They say the reason so many baby boomers are stuck with replacement joints is because of how they abused their bodies in their younger years. Now that doesn't mean it's all, as genetics like serious arthritis can also be a factor, but it's better to regularly walk 2 miles a day (in my opinion) than set the goal too high and have tendon or joint problems. The other thing is making sure you do stretches and loosening ups before exercise which a gym would doubtless have you doing but when we are on our own, we can skip it to later unpleasant results. I think strength building exercises can be done by weights and home machines like stair-steppers etc. which for someone who lives in the country, it's important.

Out here the women are really into what I think is called Zumba. It seems these exercise things come and go in fads and not sure how good Zumba is since I didn't sign up for it; but it's popular for now anyway.

My husband agreed to join a gym when my local gym went out of business and I joined Planet Fitness. For $10/month make that $20 for the two of us. He is a walker - and in cold weather now walks on the treadmill and uses some of the machines. He has more energy now - and stopped complaining about feeling weak.
I am a runner and have been running for over 40 years. Having failed to master running on a treadmill -I ride the exercise bike before lifting free weights at the gym -2-3 days a week. I try to run 3 days a week - fewer miles than maybe 5 years ago - but I still enjoy it. Exercise gets us both out of the house- and keeps us from complaining about growing old. We are both in our mid 70's. This winter I will take up the challenge of the eliptical machine - it looks less deadly than the treadmill. Podcasts are a great help in passing the time - but laughing while lifting weights can be dangerous.

I take two spinning classes and one power lifting class at the local Y. Because of an occasional knee problem, I cannot do some of the other classes. I choose my classes according to the instructor. I find exercise very boring, but with the right person at the head of the class, boredom does not exist.

I hope that I’m helping myself physically. I know for certain that I gain mental strength by attending.

Whew! I am out of breath just reading your post and the comments. Post April 22, 2011 stroke I am aiming for 1,000 steps a day and am not always successful. It's piddling but a beginning. In awe of determined and fit elders!

My 88 yr old neighbor walks 2 miles a day practically rain or shine. And as one of my other neighbors says "She doesn't even wobble." Definitely an inspiration. Guess I better get inspired.

I exercise at the gym 5 days a week. During my stress test, the technician said he could tell that I work out as my heart rate did not "all of a sudden begin to beat faster" at the increasing incline, etc. Once lying down, again, he said 'your heart is showing that you work out because it is already going to the resting heart rate'. The heart "loves" aerobic exercise. Helps with all else such as stress, etc, as well.

Forgot to mention that when I had the bone density test, again, I was told how the exercise "is probably the reason your bones are stronger than most 65 year olds. they are very very strong."

I don't go to a gym, because in this country, they are costing an arm and a leg that I'd rather use some other way ;)
I bought an elliptical machine, which I use at least three times a week more often four, wearing a heart monitor and following doctor's orders. I have been doing that, assorted with long daily walks and the last time I had my heart checked, the doctor asked me if I exercised. When I said what I did, he looked like he didn't believe me but had me going on a bike, faster and faster, harder and harder, and finally said: "obviously you do what you said".
The result is my heart is in much better condition than it was four years ago when I started that routine and the cherry on the cake is I lost some 15 kilos without paying a lot of attention to my diet. I just reduced cheese to once a day.
I wish I could say that it has helped me with sleeping, unfortunately it hasn't.

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