Answering the wake-up call

When Eric Fredrikson was in his mid-40s, he led the fast-paced lifestyle of a busy lawyer and entrepreneur. He was also overweight, a smoker and in his words “quite sick” with asthma and sinusitis.

“One day when I was shaving, I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘how did that portly gentleman get in here with me?’” he laughs. “But of course the portly gentleman was me.”

A second wake-up call came when he went out hiking with some friends. Although these friends were about 25 years older, Eric had difficulty keeping pace. “By the time the hike was over, I was out of breath and aching all over,” he says. “So much so, they had to half carry me back to the car.”

Realizing it was time to make some changes, Eric stopped smoking – and he started walking.

“I started slowly at first, walking only every second day,” he says.

And gradually, he began to see results. He started to lose weight and his asthma improved. He also found he had considerably more strength and energy. “It was amazing,” he says. “Not only did I feel fit physically, but I also improved my mental energy and built up my immune system.”

And now, at 75, Eric is still walking. More than that, he’s talking: he’s made a career of helping other people learn how to improve their quality of life and age healthfully.

His first book, Use it or Lose it: A Guide for the 50Plus was followed by It’s No Fun Falling which was used by Shoppers Drug Mart in its campaign addressing the risk of injury from falling, particularly for people with osteoporosis. He then went on to write another book on the topic: How to Avoid Falling: A Guide to Active Aging (Firefly Books).

“Falling is the number one cause of people being hospitalized in Canada, the U.S. and virtually every major developed country,” Eric says. “In fact, the World Health Organization considers osteoporosis-related falling to be the 2nd biggest health problem in the world.”

Physical fitness is key for preventing a fall – as well as for a speedier recovery when you do fall, he says.

Eric’s other books include Fit for Business which stresses the importance of exercise for maintaining mental and physical stamina. “The key is to find some sort of physical activity that fits with the hectic schedule of a business lifestyle,” he says.

Eric also taught accident-avoidance courses for organizations promoting strategies for successful aging, including the federal government’s Home Safe Home program.

The health risks of inactivity
With modern medical advances people are not only expected to live longer, but work longer. But experts say that physical activity is key to continuing health as well as the strength and energy necessary to keep working.

Studies have shown that if you exercise you can reduce your chance of premature death as much as 35 per cent. On the other hand, if you’re inactive you could be twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease alone. Studies have also shown that exercise decreases the risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, certain cancers and premature death from any cause.

Exercise has also been shown to improve brain health. Researchers have found that exercise can help to replenish brain cells in a region of the brain that is linked with the age-related memory decline that begins for most people around age 30.

Yet according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, more than 50 per cent of Canadians are not physically active.

Answering your wake-up call
So what’s the best way to get started on a fitness program?

“Slowly,” Eric says. “What’s important is that you do. Everybody, no matter who you are, gets the call… your mind and body saying something to you, whether it’s only a small ache or pain. For most people this begins in their 30s and 40s.”

While genetics plays a role in a person’s health, “We do have some control,” he adds. “Even if you’re not dealt the best health card in terms of genes, there’s still a lot you can do to maintain your health.”

1. Start slowly – and then build on your progress. You may want to start with as little as 5 minutes of activity or a simple walk around the block. Gradually, you’ll be able to increase either the length or speed of exercise. (Of course, before starting any exercise regimen, check with your doctor.)

2. Find something you love and that fits in with your lifestyle. If you’re not the Health Club type, you might want to consider walking. Think about it: all you need is a good dose of motivation and a pair of trainers! Other popular forms of exercise include a stationary exercise bike, swimming, or fitness programs such as yoga or Pilates.

3. Develop a pattern. It’s the regularity of exercise that brings about the greatest health benefits.

4. Stick with it! The hardest period of any physical fitness regimen is the first month. You may not want to exercise every day in the beginning, but consider working out every second day instead. It allows your body to readjust.

5. Finally, when it comes to the gizmos or accoutrements of exercise (i.e.… pedometers, fancy work-out attire), if it motivates you, go for it!

For more information on Eric Fredrikson’s work on healthy living for the 50+, visit his website at