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“You have to start where you are right now, not where your neighbor is or where you want to be, and then you can build,” says Janet Hamilton, Atlanta-based exercise physiologist and founder of RunningStrong.com. Overdoing it at the beginning can cause too much soreness or injury, and will discourage you.
Done the right way, exercise delivers these key benefits:
BONE AND HEART HEALTH. In addition to keeping your heart healthy, walking and other load-bearing exercise preserves bone. “The greater the load on the bone, the greater the stimulation for bone growth,” says Hamilton. In addition to walking, running, and jumping movements, other options include ballroom dancing, salsa, zumba, or step classes.
BALANCE. All types of exercise improve balance and reduce risk of falls. Pilates and yoga, while not proven to build bones, are good for balance, flexibility, and strength.
MUSCLE. It shrinks with age but the process is reversible with weight or resistance training that challenges all the major muscle groups, three times per week.
“I’ve seen people improve their fitness well into their eighth decade of life,” says Hamilton, “so it’s never too late to start.”
How to Begin
To start, Hamilton recommends walking at a comfortable pace. Over time, add short spurts of walking faster or on an incline. Once you’re comfortably walking 10 miles per week, consider adding short spurts of running.
At home, she says, these are the best resistance exercises:
Squats: Stand in front of a chair and squat until your rear end barely touches the seat, then stand up.
Push-Ups: Start by doing them against a wall, then against a sturdy chair back or desk, and gradually progress to floor push ups.
A MODEL IS BORN—AT AGE 51
Juliette Branker, now 56, began a modeling career at age 51 after being discovered by a modeling scout. She is proof positive that you don’t have to join a health club to be in great shape. “I’ve never been in a gym,” she says.
However, aerobic exercise and weight training are built into her day-to-day activities. Living in New York, she walks daily. “I could walk 20 miles, and it’s no problem,” she says. Although she is a successful model, Juliette also holds a day job at Lowe’s home improvement store, where she routinely drives forklifts and trucks, and lifts 50-pound bags of soil, rocks, and patio pavers.
And she eats an exceptionally healthy diet. “Growing up, we ate wholesome food at home, and rarely ate junk,” she recalls, and those habits have continued. Fish and vegetables are her favorite foods. “I love avocados,” she says, “I can eat them like you would a banana.” Notably absent from her menu: soda, alcohol, snack foods, and desserts, except for a cookie or brownie once in a great while. But she loves coconut water, and hot tea and coffee (without sugar or other sweeteners).
About half of all women over 50, and about one out of every four men, will break a bone because of osteoporosis. Help protect your bones with weight-bearing exercise, and look for a good bone-building supplement. Calcium, magnesium, strontium, and vitamin D3 are fundamental to bone health. Two high-quality bone health formulas that we like are:
SOURCE NATURALS MBP Bone Renew features MBP, the natural protein complex found in trace amounts in milk that helps to increase the growth of bone-forming cells and promote calcium absorption.
DOCTOR’S BEST Strontium Bone Maker delivers strontium, an important mineral that helps to promote healthy bone metabolism, reduce bone resorption, and maintain bone density.
On average, people lose about 30 percent of their strength between ages 50 and 70, contributing to frailty, poor posture, and other problems. A sedentary lifestyle accelerates this process, so keep moving. And be sure to get adequate protein—vital to maintaining strength and muscle, as well as keeping your immune system strong. Protein drinks and powders are a great option. We like:
JAY ROBB Whey Protein in Vanilla is a convenient and delicious way to drink your protein. Each serving provides 25 gm of high-quality whey protein, about half your daily requirement.
CALNATURALE Svelte Chocolate Organic Protein Drink packs 16 gm of organic soy protein per shake, plus each tasty shake gives you 20% of your daily fiber and is lactose free.
Amazing Wellness Contributing editor Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997.