Comedian George Burns, who lived to be 100, often advised his audience to “Look to the future, because that’s where you’ll spend the rest of your life.”
Vonda Wright, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine and a nationally recognized author of several books on active aging and fitness, thinks that’s sound advice. “Nothing is more natural than aging,” she says. “Adults over 40 today are redefining what it means to age. They’re looking ahead and doing what it takes to stay fit and vital.
“With just 30 minutes of daily exercise, you can minimize your risk for 35 common illnesses including high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes,” says Dr. Wright, who also directs the center’s Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes (PRIMA®), which focuses on maximizing the performance of both elite and recreational athletes over age 40.
Staying Fit as You Age
“As we enter our 40s and 50s, we’re just starting to hit our stride, with the potential for many years of wonderful living ahead of us. A well-balanced exercise plan is a key to maintaining that quality of life as we grow older,” she maintains.
“There’s no age or activity level to prevent any older adult from being active,” explains Dr. Wright. In fact, studies of 90-year-old men doing resistance training on a daily basis showed improvements in their strength and functioning.
Starting and sticking with a fitness plan initially can be hard, says Dr. Wright. “The first step is to make exercise a part of your daily routine. Schedule it on your calendar, like an appointment,” she advises. “Don’t be a weekend warrior. Instead, try to maintain a moderate activity level throughout the week, and increase your exercise level gradually to reduce your chance of overuse or injury.”
She tells her patients to FACE the future with a balanced, total body workout designed to achieve maximum benefits while avoiding injury:
- F — Flexibility with daily stretching exercises
- A — Aerobic cardiovascular exercises every other day, using interval-style training
- C — Carry a load (or strength train) to build and maintain muscles in your arms,
legs, and core (stomach, back, and abdomen)
- E — Equilibrium and balance through simple exercises like standing on one foot
“Whenever possible, mix up activities like running, swimming, cycling, or rowing,” encourages Dr. Wright. “Cross training helps promote total fitness while reducing the chance for injury. Most of all, take that first step!”