Fitness at any age

Any age is the right age to get fit. Just ask expert Edna Levitt — she’s living proof.

At age 50, Levitt first joined a gym at the urging of her university-aged son (who had just joined up himself). A single aerobics class soon evolved into a five-day-a-week fitness routine, and her passion grew into a career. At 65, Levitt earned her personal trainer certification and launched her own business, 50+ Fitness. For the past four years, she has been using her experience and expertise to help boomers and “boomers plus” achieve better health through exercise.

While cardiovascular activity is a large part of staying fit, Levitt focuses on another crucial activity: strength training. After all, doctors and fitness experts can’t say enough good things about this type of exercise.

It’s not just about appearance, though a toned body and healthy weight are certainly perks. Strength training improves energy levels, endurance and balance as well as strength — which protects against falls and injuries and makes everyday tasks easier.

It’s also an essential part of disease prevention. Building muscle mass helps prevent osteoporosis and type-2 diabetes. It helps improve mobility and keeps muscles and joints strong and limber. It can even alleviate the pain of arthritis — so aching joints are no excuse!

But the best part: “Every body at any age can do it,” Levitt says. “It’s never too late to start.” (And she would know — her area of expertise is working with people aged 50 to 90.) You don’t have to be an experienced athlete or in perfect health, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it.

Need a little help getting started? Levitt shared some of her secrets for success with

Warm up your brain and body. Getting your mind and body ready for exercise is essential. Studies have shown that “getting in the mood” for exercise actually helps your workout. Something as simple as ditching your work clothes and donning your workout gear can help improve the length and intensity of your session.

And what about the body? Warm-ups don’t have to be complicated — think a brisk walk, climbing a few sets of stairs or simply jogging on the spot for a few minutes.

Perfect your posture. Proper form is a must for two reasons: Not only will you see the most benefit from performing exercises correctly, you’ll also avoid injuries. “Slacking off” can be ineffective as well as harmful.

If you’re just starting out — or have had lacklustre results in the past — it’s a good idea to enlist the help of an instructor or personal trainer. An expert can show you how to properly do exercises and use equipment — including proper posture, breathing and pacing. Even if you don’t opt for a regular session or a class, have a trainer work with you to set up a program — especially if you have any health concerns.

Stay in control. Don’t rush your workout — controlling your movements and breathing make the exercises more effective. Levitt notes that it’s important to maintain a consistent pace as you’re working through a set. To keep your breathing on track, remember this rule: Exhale on exertion. Avoid holding your breath and breathe out during the most difficult part of the exercise.

Balance it out. How much exercise do we need? Levitt recommends an hour three times a week to start, then working up to one hour five times per week. The ideal routine incorporates both strength training and cardiovascular activity. That’s why Levitt recommends circuit training where you alternate the two types.

For instance, after your warm-up start with a few minutes of cardio, then switch to strength training. The trick is to keep alternating vigorous cardio activity (like jogging on the spot) with strength training to keep your heart rate up.

Break it up. Does an hour sound daunting? Exercise is cumulative, so you don’t have to do it all at once to see the benefits. Two half-hour sessions provide the same benefits as a one-hour block, and smaller chunks of time can be less intimidating and easier to fit in.

“Don’t think of it as having to do an entire hour all at once,” Levitt explains. “Start by doing 10-15 minutes twice a day.”

You’ll also want to space out your workouts to give your muscles time to heal in between. Strength training causes tiny tears in the muscle — it’s the repair process that builds muscle mass. That’s why many muscle groups require a day’s rest for optimal results. Alternate your workouts with “days off”, or switch up which groups you work each day.

Include the core. Your core muscles (the obliques, back and abdominal muscles) should get regular attention, especially as we age. They’re the muscles that help us maintain good posture and balance, which keeps us standing tall and prevents injuries and falls. Abdominal muscles don’t need a rest — so make sure to include them in every workout.

If you’re looking for an extra challenge, try doing your upper body exercises while standing on one foot. Your core gets a workout as you try to maintain your balance.

Try it for 10. Sometimes it can be difficult to stay motivated, especially when schedules get hectic or a minor illness hits. Levitt recommends the “10-minute rule”: convince yourself to try exercising for ten minutes. You’re likely to continue exercising once you get started, but if you don’t then a few short sessions will still add up.

“Unless you are laid up, try to keep moving,” Levitt advises. “It does make you feel better.”

Sneak activity into your routine. You won’t catch her on the subway escalators for a reason. Levitt recommends trying to work as much exercise into your routine as possible. Try taking a short walk around the block, opting for the stairs instead of the escalator, getting off the bus a few stops early or parking your car a few blocks away from your destination. Even chores like washing the car and vacuuming count. If you’re new to exercising, this is a great place to start.

“It doesn’t take much to stay active, but it does take some conscious thought to include more exercise in your routine,” Levitt advises. “Doing something is better than doing nothing at all.”

Same goes for strength training. Levitt often advises her clients to sneak in some exercise — like doing three sets of 12 squats while waiting for the kettle to boil.

Work hard enough — but not too hard. Strength training shouldn’t be too easy, Levitt advises. In order to see benefits, you have to work your muscles hard enough to fatigue them. In other words, do the exercise so you can “feel” it. This will likely mean adjusting your routine as you reach new fitness levels.

However, beware of falling for the “no pain, no gain” axiom. Serious pain or discomfort is a sign you should stop and seek the advice of a doctor or trainer as needed.

Exercise doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive — and there’s no one right way for everyone to work out. Gym memberships and weight machines work for some people, while others find resistance bands and free weights more effective. Many exercises don’t require any equipment at all — just a countertop, chair or a wall to hold on to. The trick is to find what works for you, and exercise regularly for optimal health.

For more information and tips, visit Edna Levitt’s website . <!—-Edna will also be a featured presenter at the second annual CARP Conference “A New Vision of Aging” hosted by Moses Znaimer on October 29 — or stop by and see her at ZoomerShow 2009 on October 31 and November 1. (As a visitor, you’ll receive a complimentary ticket for ZoomerShow 2009. Go here for yours.)—>

Photo courtesy of Edna Levitt, 50+ Fitness

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