Late Boomers: A Workout Guide for First Timers
Sure, the baby boomers made The Complete Book of Running a bestseller, they were the first to use the Nautilus machines at the gym, and they sweated in front of their VCRs to Jane Fonda. Yet not everyone was part of the revolution; after all, only about 30 percent of American adults report getting regular exercise. But forming a workout habit in middle ageor beyondstill has a host of benefits. "We were designed to be mobileaging in a sedentary way is new to us," says Vonda Wright, director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Here's what you need to know about starting up a routine.
Realize that it's not too late. "The human body is very responsive," says Edward Coyle, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of TexasAustin. He studied a group of men with an average age of about 55 who were heart-attack survivors. The first six months of training was spent getting the men walking again, to be sure their hearts could tolerate exercise. Then they progressed over the next year until they were training five days a week, running or biking 40 to 60 minutes a day. The last six months was spent raising the intensity through interval training.
And at the end of two years, not only did their heart function improve; the men ran a 5-mile St. Patrick's Day Race and did just as well as 55-year-olds who didn't have a history of heart attack, averaging between 7:40 and 8 minutes a mile. "They ran faster than when they were 30," says Coyle.
Check with your doctor first. If you want to start a workout routine but haven't exercised regularly for six months, get your physician's all-clear first. This is boilerplate advicebut follow it. The risk of heart disease increases markedly for men in their mid-40s and women about a decade later, and exertion can trigger heart attacks in people with no previous symptoms. So your doctor might want to give you a stress test or talk to you about other risk factors you might have.
Start with something you enjoy. Why plan to finish a 5K if you don't like to run? "There's no cookbook" for the perfect routine, says Joseph Scott, an athletic trainer who's a team leader at the Sports Performance & Orthopedic Rehab Team at Southcoast Hospital Group in North Dartmouth, Mass. If you like to run, by all means, do it. But if you'd rather be swimming (or cycling, or walking, or ballroom dancing, or playing badminton ...), do that instead. Then build your longer-term plans around activities you like.
Vary your routine. No single activity is perfect, says Nicholas DiNubile, a Havertown, Pa.-based orthopedic surgeon and author of FrameWork, a guide to developing a sustainable exercise routine. If all you do is run, you'll work certain areas so hard you risk tightening and possible injury (hamstrings, calves) but neglect others (abdominal muscles, upper body). Mix it uptry to find another aerobic activity that you also enjoy. Optimally, the routine will have at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week, and two to three days of strength training, says Miriam Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University. You can boost that by making two of the cardio sessions longer, she says. And don't neglect the stretching.