Exercise for Your Age
O, The Oprah Magazine | From the October 2006 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
Rx: 3 days a week of challenging but not exhausting cardio, such as a slow jog, plus 3 days of weight training, using lighter weights and slower, more controlled movements combined with slow, sustained stretching. Walk whenever possible, and do daily balance exercises.
In the 60s, problems like arthritis, bad knees, and spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spaces between bones that can put painful pressure on the spinal cord) become common. "But aches and pains shouldn't be an excuse for giving up on exercise," says Marilyn Moffat, PhD, a professor of physical therapy at New York University and coauthor of Age-Defying Fitness. "We now know that a decline in strength and fitness isn't entirely a natural consequence of the aging process but is also due to lack of use. We need to push ourselves physically no matter how old we are—we just may need to alter the activity."
Adapting a workout routine for the 60s sometimes means giving up aerobic exercise that jars and stresses the joints—for example, replacing long runs with jogging one or two miles, jogging in a pool, swimming, or riding a stationary bicycle. (Women with bad backs may need to use a recumbent bicycle.) Moffat, who is 65, says that, on average, she walks three to five miles a day because it offers both cardio and bone-strengthening benefits.
Resistance training is still important, "but I would not advise anyone to lift heavy weights if it aggravates your joints," Moffat says. And stretching and balance are absolute musts. If you don't stretch now, "by the time you're in your 80s, your joints will have lost their flexibility." One of Moffat's favorite stretches is holding the head tilted earlobe to shoulder for 60 seconds; another (if you don't have osteoporosis) is sitting on the floor with legs straight out in front of you, feet flexed, and lowering your head toward your knees. For balance, she suggests "rising up on the toes of one foot and trying to hold the position for a minute. You can do this while brushing your teeth."
In fact, that's a good image for any age—the sooner exercise becomes like brushing your teeth, the longer you'll feel younger than your years.