By the time you’ve gotten around to reading this article, it’s safe to say that you’ve achieved many of your goals: you’ve graduated from college, enjoyed a wonderful marriage, earned a good income and finally, sent the kids off to college. But now that that’s all behind you, it might have occurred to you how little time you’ve saved for yourself; especially when it comes to your health and fitness.
Studies have shown that from age 25 to 75, we lose 40% of our lung capacity, over 25% of our muscle function, more than 20% of our bone density. As a nation, we are becoming more obese. Over 30% of the American population is overweight and one in five adults will contract adult onset diabetes. Pretty depressing, isn’t it? The good news is that many of these trends can be arrested, if not reversed. Even later in life.
Whether or not you’ve ever been physically active, the right place to begin is at your family physician’s office. A thorough check-up, including a complete blood chemistry panel (glucose, triglyceride and cholesterol levels, etc.) will reveal much about where you’ve been and more importantly, how healthy you are now. Be sure to tell your physician that you intend to begin an exercise program, and ask him if you have any restrictions that you should be aware of.
Assuming that your results have come back within the normal range for someone your age, you’ll want to begin your new fitness program by taking an objective look at yourself and your lifestyle. Are you a morning person, or do you like to sleep in late? Making a promise that you’re going to wake up before the rooster’s crow may not be very realistic. A good indicator of who you are is your behavior while on vacation. When do you get moving after having a week off? Next, decide how much time you need to devote to your new lifestyle. Do you have medical issues that need to be addressed, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or is your goal to become physically fit enough to play with your grandkids?
A number of years ago, the position stand from the American College of Sportsmedicine (the defining organization for health and fitness standards) indicated that people needed to exercise a minimum of 20 minutes, 3 times a week to maintain basic health and fitness levels. Today, given America’s rapid decline in health levels, that stand has been revised up to include a total (whether continuous or cumulative) of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise on “most days of the week”. Translated, this means that sedentary individuals now need to start introducing high-quality exercise as a part of their normal, daily routine. Acceptable forms of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, swimming, etc.) In addition, it is recommended that some form of resistance training (e.g. lifting weights, calisthenics, water exercises, etc.) be added to your program several times a week.
How “hard” should you exercise? Good question. A lot of that depends on your current fitness level, your abilities and most importantly, your goals. The guidelines mentioned above, were designed to maintain overall health, assuming that you have no pre-existing medical conditions that would contraindicate physical activity. If your goal is to become more fit and maintain higher levels of energy, consider the following approach.
Back in the 1960’s, a physician and researcher named Gunnar Borg came up with the scale for Relative Perceived Exertion. (RPE or Borg scale). The scale goes from 6 to 20, with 6 being exceptionally light and 20 being exceptionally hard exercise intensities. If you add a 0 on to each number, it will “estimate” your heart rate (e.g. 60 for an average resting heart rate and 200 being a theoretical maximum). Most exercise professionals will recommend that you exercise somewhere between 10 and 12 on the scale. This approach will give you a rough idea of how hard you are exercising without using complicated formulas or expensive heart monitors.
Studies have shown that over 31% of beginning exercisers will quit exercising within the first 6 months. To improve your chances, you might want to find a group to exercise with. This can be either an informal group of your neighbors that agree to meet every morning “at the old oak tree” or at one of the more than 15,372 fitness clubs in the United States. Most, if not all retirement communities, YMCA’s and fitness centers conduct daily classes in everything from aerobics to yoga and kickboxing. Not only will the group structure serve as an impetus to continue, you’ll find that you achieve a much higher quality session when you have the support of each other. You might even make a few new friends, as well!
Regardless of how you decide to get started, get started! As Warren Miller, the celebrated ski film producer is fond of saying, “If you don’t do it today, you’ll be one year older when you do”.