Senior citizens today are proving that fitness can be cultivated and held, even among folks who have been collecting their pensions for years.
"The main thing is, don't stop," Ken Michaels says. "I don't care how old you get or fragile you become, you have to keep the juices flowing."
Ken is a senior I've seen at the gym for years. He might be 82, but he keeps up with some of the big boys. The scars on his knees from operations required to repair the damage from years of construction don't keep this guy from making it to the gym daily.
Along with the cardiovascular benefits, a mix of aerobic and resistance training can lower blood pressure, improve circulation and increase bone density, an especially important issue in the aging.
"Exercise never stops benefiting you," says Gene Kew, fitness trainer with Stay Motivated Fitness "I've worked with seniors who have lowered their blood pressure and even been able to go off some of their medications because of exercise. It's something you can do at any age."
The Ardrossan native has two rowing machines in an upstairs room in his house and often rows with a trainer. Ken's workouts are intense. Most of his daily sessions last about 90 minutes, and he can typically row the equivalent of 10,000 meters in that time. A laptop computer linked to his rowing machine gives him feedback on his performance, along with a visual display of a simulated boat so he can mark his progress on a make-believe waterway.
"I like to train hard," he says. "I pretty much use maximum effort the whole time." It has paid off. As you get older you're more focused and can work out more efficiently," he says.
Whether you have never participated in an exercise program or are returning to one after a layoff, Ken recommends taking it easy at first.
"Start out gradually," he says. "Don't try to recoup everything in the first couple of weeks. If you gradually work at it and build on it, your skills will come back."
Tips for starting an exercise regimen
1. Check with your doctor and get an assessment of whether you're ready for exertion.
2. Start out slowly, especially during the first month.
3. Learn some basic stretching exercises and perform them before and after you work out.
4. If you have never exercised, consider scheduling a session or two with a trainer.
5. Working out with a partner makes exercise for fun.
6. Try and get a good night's sleep. That's a key part of recovering between workouts.