Life Audit

The Senior Circuit

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For many people, turning 60 is a life-changing event. Charles Bagley is no exception.

But unlike others who may approach their seventh decade of life with a bright red sports car or a new spouse, Bagley turned his attention inward.

After years of hard living, Bagley decided it was high time to start aging gracefully. He changed his diet, gave up drinking and confronted some personal issues that had left a dark cloud hanging over his head. The results were almost instantaneous. He dropped some 15 pounds by following the Sugar Busters diet and started to feel better about approaching the rest of his life.

But that was not enough for Bagley. Having led a rather sedentary life for the last 30 years, Bagley set his sights on tuning up his body as well. He purchased a treadmill and dumbbells for his home and, with the advice of friends and some Web sites devoted to fitness and aging, devised a get-fit plan for himself.

For the last two years, Bagley has dutifully awoken at the crack of dawn every morning and logged nearly four miles on his treadmill before mixing in a variety of weightlifting exercises, sit-ups and stretches. All before 6 a.m.

The plan has worked quite nicely. Bagley has shed another 20 or so pounds, and watched his body tone up and his psyche soar. “I am pretty pleased with my progress,” Bagley says. “But I don’t know whether the exercise program I am doing now is the one I should be doing.”

He’s lost enough weight and feels enough in control of his diet now to allow himself the occasional indulgence. But Bagley also is mindful that he is no longer a young man and wants to make sure that any exercise program he continues to follow will keep him fit and strong into his senior years. “I want to keep working out for as long as I can. That is my goal,” he says.

Life Audit health and fitness expert Jim Karas says Bagley has put himself on the right track. “What Charlie is doing is setting himself up very effectively for a good 60s, 70s and 80s,” Karas says. After the age of 60, he adds, “exercise is not optional.”

Though Karas commends Bagley’s newfound dedication to fitness, he needs to tip the balance of his workouts in favor of strength training over cardiovascular endurance to get the most benefit for his body as he ages.

The average person starts to lose muscle by the age of 20, says Karas. The rate accelerates with age, but it can be stopped—and even reversed—through regular strength and resistance training exercises with weights, bands and other workout tools that progressively challenge the body.

Fine-Tuning the Routine

Right now, Bagley’s daily routine includes a set of upper-body exercises every morning using 25-pound hand weights and incorporating 80 sit-ups. Karas wants to see Bagley include strength training exercises for his back and lower body while slowly adding more weight or intensity to his routine so that his body continues to reap the benefits of his hard work.

“The only time we use the back of our body is when we row or ride horses,” Karas says. “So I would urge you to do more exercises for the back, low back, glutes and hamstrings.”

Bagley, however, is concerned about the amount of weights that he can use without injury. Last year, he incorporated 35-pound dumbbells into his daily routine and developed a hernia that had to be corrected surgically.

To prevent future injuries, Karas wants Bagley to give his body a break on a regular basis. Weightlifting actually tears muscles, and their repair and rebuilding is what strengthens them. But that process takes 48 hours, so Bagley needs to vary his daily routine. Karas suggests he focus on the upper body one day, the lower body the next. There are ways to increase intensity without increasing the amount of weight that Bagley lifts. One technique is to slow down the speed of each rep. “Instead of doing an ‘up two, down two’ count, take it to four counts each way,” Karas suggests.

He also suggests mixing in exercises that use tubing, rubber bands and exercise balls to keep it interesting.

Karas also wants to see Bagley increase the intensity of his daily treadmill use, but decrease the time he devotes to it. Currently, Bagley walks about three miles, at a pace varying from three-and-a-half miles per hour to five miles per hour at a 10 percent incline. But he can’t complete this workout unless he is holding on to the treadmill’s handrails.

Bagley must let go, Karas says. Holding on to the handrails can lead to lower back problems, but—what’s more important—it also takes a lot of the wind out of your exercise. Karas would rather see Bagley decrease the speed and incline so that he does not have to hold on. Then, and only after he is comfortable with a hands-free workout, should he slowly start increasing the incline. Speed does not have to increase. In fact, Karas says, slowing down while increasing incline will take out some of the momentum of a treadmill.

Karas also wants Bagley to cut down his daily treadmill workout to 30 minutes to give strength training a priority. If Bagley needs more cardio, Karas would prefer Bagley get it from interval training—for example, by changing the treadmill’s speed and incline every five minutes—than from extending his walk.

For Bagley, challenging the body is vital, says Karas, but that challenge must be smart. Slow and steady progression will help him to stay in peak form throughout his golden years.


Vital Statistics

Charles F. Bagley III Position Member of Campbell Woods in Huntington, W.Va. Age 61

Our Expert

Jim Karas
Jim Karas is the author of the health and fitness workbook Flip the Switch and The Business Plan for the Body, a New York Times best seller. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business and a high school gym flunkout, he is now the owner of Solo Sessions Personal Fitness Training in Chicago. He also appears regularly on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Life Audit Hot Tip: Exercise off Those Years Does your birth certificate say you’re 30 but your body look more mid-50s? A new exercise program designed to combat the effects of premature aging may be coming to a health club near you. Called BodyAge, it begins with a computer-assisted analysis that uses vital statistics like age, weight, cholesterol levels and resting heart rate to determine such fitness factors as strength, flexibility and body composition. The resulting measurement, called your “body age,” will tell you which age your body most closely resembles. This information is then used to develop a health and wellness program that can turn back the clock on your body.

Golden Rules For Golden Years

Exercise is not an option after 60—it’s a necessity.

1. Don’t start any exercise program without a complete physical exam.

2. Plan to progress slowly.

3. Always have an effective warm-up.

4. Tip the balance of cardiovascular and strength training exercises in favor of strength.

5. There’s no need to feel the burn—learn to understand the difference between good and bad pain.

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