Not long ago, I came across an article about exercise, health and longevity. The opening paragraph made me smile:
"For people who exercise but fret that they really should be working out more, new studies may be soothing. The amount of exercise needed to improve health and longevity, this new science shows, is modest, and more is not necessarily better."
The article, based on a study that was done over a 30-year period, also said that of all the exercises one could do for health, vitality and longevity, running is the best . . . if you don't overdo it. According to the research, running slowly and under 20 miles a week offers the maximum health and longevity benefits. This amounts to jogging for about 45 - 60 minutes every other day.
Sounds like something we could do, should do, but many of us won't. Here's why:
We think we're just too old.
Watch this episode from my new weekly "The Best of Everything" AARP YouTube Channel series: "Running After 50." You might just change your mind:
A few years ago -- around the time I was turning 50 and trying to come to grips with the changes my body, mind and life were going through -- I decided to start running, against my better judgment. Even my husband and daughters raised their eyebrows (one actually rolled her eyes, but I'm not naming names).
I knew I had to do something to get my health, weight and stress level back on track, but run? Even I questioned the good sense of this. I had never willingly run in my life, except during the dreaded annual Field Day at P.S. 203 in Brooklyn, or when I used to chase down the Mr. Softee truck. But worse than that, I hadn't done any kind of sustained exercise since having my second daughter, and it was definitely showing.
Lucky for me, I came across a life-changing article in the Wall Street Journal about Jeff Galloway, the Olympian and marathoner who developed the Run-Walk-Run program used by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
I contacted Jeff to talk about his program. He insisted that anyone who could walk could run, regardless of age or fitness level, just by following his simple method. Willing to try, I made a commitment that day and bought my first pair of running shoes (and a very cool outfit to go with it).
Like many people over 50, I was worried because I thought that running, or even strenuous walking, can hurt our joints. Research shows, however, that it won't, if done right. After 30 years of following his own program, Jeff has never had an injury. The reason is simple: it calls for slow, gentle running, with scheduled walk breaks. Distance, not speed, is the goal. It's easy on the joints, yet gives a high performance cardio work out, and helps build muscle mass in our legs and hips, which is crucial in the battle against osteoporosis.
As we get older, we lose muscle strength, flexibility, sense of balance, and our bones start to thin. It's all part of the inevitable aging process. During the first five years after menopause --unless we actively do something about it -- we'll lose 1 to 2 percent of our bone mass every year because we're losing estrogen. If we stay on this path of inactivity, we will inch our way to osteoporosis, something we want to avoid at all costs.
Running is a terrific way to strengthen our lower bodies (while exercising hearts and lungs) and offers so many other great health benefits: reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression and dementia. It truly is, without question, one of the best things we can ever do for our bodies, minds and spirits.
In November 2011, I ran in the NYC Marathon to celebrate my 55th birthday. Naturally, the idea came to
me one day when I was out for a run. My body and mind kicked into a perfect meditative rhythm, and at that moment, I had no doubt that I could not only handle the physical endurance that would be required to train for and complete a marathon . . . but I would embrace it as a symbol of my new-found physical and mental power. I finished in 5 hours and 30 minutes, surpassing my own expectations.
Now, I run to think, solve problems, feel good, burn calories, and burn off steam. I run to be alone and to be part of a community. I run to look good in my jeans and feel good in my heart. But most importantly, I run . . . because I can.
Remember this: We can't control getting older . . . but . . we can control how we do it.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you've been idle for a while, it's important to see a doctor before getting active again, says Dr. Alexis Colvin, an orthopedic surgeon at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. You want to make sure you don't have any pre-existing conditions, such as heart disease, that might present a problem when you start up your new exercise regimen.
Getting active too quickly, often with incorrect form, is one of the primary reasons people over 50 find themselves in her office, Colvin says. It's important to slowly build a base level of strength, flexibility and fitness before pushing yourself to, say, sign up for that marathon.
It's always helpful to have a little direction and support in starting something new. Colvin suggests getting started with a personal trainer or physical therapist to tailor an exercise program to your goals.
Low-impact activities, such as swimming or using the elliptical, are all good for people who have joint pain, says Dr. Colvin. If it hurts, don't push it!
An active lifestyle isn't limited to throwing on some running shoes and hitting the pavement. Dr. Colvin suggests yoga and pilates, which can help with strength and flexibility even if they don't give you the same cardiovascular workout you might get from the treadmill.
Colvin also points to the many home exercise videos available, which can be a great alternative for those who would prefer to exercise from the comfort of their living rooms. The one drawback, she says, is potential for injury from using incorrect form, "since there's no one watching you."
Mix up your routine and <a href="http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/tipsandtricks/a/Cross_Training.htm" target="_hplink">consider cross-training</a> (adding swimming and biking to a running program) to prevent boredom, avoid repetitive injuries and improve your overall condition. Exercise with friends to add social benefits to the physical and mental advantages of your workout. Recognize your limits, adjust accordingly and enjoy the quality-of-life benefits of an active lifestyle for many years to come.
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