AUSTIN, Texas — I’ve been challenging my body to all sorts of crazy stuff for at least 30 years.
But now that I’ve passed the half-century mark, it’s not bouncing back like it once did. My lower back feels the pain of yesterday’s water-skiing session, my left foot aches from rolling it while trail running back in July, and I’m still nursing a knot behind my right knee from a nasty rope swing accident (seriously) more than a month ago.
Yet I’m not giving up. I’m more committed to fitness now than ever, because I don’t want to stop doing the things I love, like backpacking, bicycling, hiking and scuba diving, when I reach my 60s, 70s and 80s.
I talked with experts about why it’s important to stay fit after 50 — and got tips on how to do that.
Be an original
At trainer Laura Cisneros’ new Original Equipment classes in Austin, over-50 athletes take a three-pronged approach to fitness by working on flexibility, mobility and strength.
“Our tagline is, ‘We don’t need no stinking burpees,'” says Cisneros, the founder of Urban Animals boot camp and former CEO of Dynamax. “The idea is that these are hardcore workouts for hardcore masters athletes, and people of all types over 50.”
As we age, she says, warming up becomes more important. Without flexibility or mobility work first, you might, for example, strain your back if you try to do a deadlift.
“Tissue gets less elastic as we age,” she says. “We warm up with the idea of gaining maximum flexibility. Once the muscles are heated up and more pliable, you want to increase that range of motion, which is another thing we lose as we get older.”
She incorporates medicine ball work into many of her workouts, because they allow you to train at maximum range of motion with velocity and increased flexibility, she says. Then it’s on to strength work, which helps boost creation of energy-producing mitochondria in our cells.
“That’s the nirvana for fighting off aging, from the muscle and movement perspective,” she says. “We want to harness the power of the body’s energy system by creating more mitochondria at the cellular level.
She recommends spending about 40 percent of each workout on flexibility and mobility, then splitting the rest of the time between cardio work and strength training.
“Warmup is so important,” she says, especially as we age.
Jim Owen, whose book “Just Move! A New Approach to Fitness After 50” ($22.99, National Geographic) just hit bookstore shelves, has a simple message for those of us over 50: Quit sitting around so much.
At 76, Owen spends an hour stretching and exercising, five days a week. He got inspired the day he turned 70. “I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Oh my God, this can’t be me.’ My back was killing me, my knees were shot and my rotator cuff was frozen.” He needed to lose 25 pounds, too.
He started a walking program, at first walking for 10 minutes, then adding 5 minutes each day until he’d built up to half an hour. “After three or four months, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt,” he says.
These days, he begins each exercise session by throwing a couple of air punches, something that usually raises a few eyebrows. “People ask me what the heck I’m doing,” Owen says. “I tell them I’m fighting off old age.”
Apparently, it’s working. He says he’s in the best shape of his life and weighs less than he did in high school.
“My whole philosophy is sit less, move more. It doesn’t really matter what you do,” he says. “My motto is simple — start from where you are, forget limitations and do your best. And remember, your favorite chair is not your friend.”
Owen says it’s also important to realize that just cardio work isn’t enough. Core work, flexibility, balance and strength training are important, too, and no amount of exercise will make up for a poor diet. That’s why he skips the bread, potatoes and dessert. (He’s not completely crazy, though. He still enjoys a little red wine.)
“If you don’t do anything, your health is going to decline,” he says.
Aging is cool
Amy and Damien Temperley recently launched Aging Is Cool, an Austin-based wellness program for clients 60 and older. Members pay $24 a month to attend an array of fitness and brain training classes, plus the occasional social outing.
The lineup includes a Stay Strong and Sturdy class, which includes light weights, balance work, stretching and a little dancing. Yoga and tai chi instruction are also offered. Classes take place at a dance studio in South Austin and at select retirement communities and assisted living centers.
Staying fit allows people to continue doing other things they like to do — like hiking or biking or doing intricate needlework — as they age, Amy Temperley says. It can also help prevent falls, which can result in head injuries or broken hips.
“It’s the baseline. If you can keep that, you can do anything you want,” Temperley says.
Like Owen, she says it’s all about staying active.
“Don’t sit so darn much,” she says. “It’s really all about getting up and moving — walk around the living room, walk around the dining room table. Swing your arms around. Just don’t sit so much, because that’s the quickest way to decline rapidly.”
That, and work your brain. “We include brain health in everything we do, and some of that is really about trying new things. Go a new direction to a familiar place like work or the grocery store. Try something different. Don’t spend so much time in front of the TV. Interact with people.”
Pam LeBlanc writes for the Austin American-Statesman. Email: email@example.com.