WRITTEN BY RICHARD SEVEN
Fit After 50
Once you see the whys, the ways open wide
You have to supply the will. Take the case of Patricia Buchanan. As her 50th birthday approached, she was suffering from stomach and back problems, arthritis and a bad rotator cuff. She says she looked like "exactly what I was. An out-of-shape matron."
One day, she began checking out details of a local triathlon. Not for her, but for her son and son-in-law, both marathoners who were looking for something easier on their knees. She asked a young woman who competed every year. The woman told her she should do it, too. The thought astounded Buchanan. Yet by the time she called her son she decided to go for it.
"I could tell he was stifling a laugh," she says. "After all, I'd never done anything sports-wise, let alone competitively. This was January, and the race was in August. I was determined. I got out my old mountain bike that I'd never ridden. I rode a mile up the road and had to walk part of the way back. I tried to run and couldn't last 500 feet. I joined the gym and found I couldn't swim even one length."
Buchanan, now 54, stuck with it, inching up her distances. In her first event, she finished third in a three-person race in her age group. But she had so much fun that she began preparing for the next one. She's on pace to do nine events this year.
"Triathlon has changed my life," she says. "I feel so good both physically and mentally. I used to wonder where I could find 10 minutes to do anything for myself, and now I regularly find a couple hours. Sure, the yard's weedier and the house isn't spotless. I don't put much overtime in at work anymore, but life is so much sweeter."
The most inspiring thing about Buchanan's account is how repeatable it is. There are also many open avenues.
Richard Rosen, a yoga practitioner and author of "Yoga For 50+" (Ulysses Press, $12.95), says he got a wake-up call when shortly after his 50th birthday, he got a letter from the American Association of Retired Persons wondering if he wanted to join. That prompted him to think about his occasional aches and pains and to brainstorm ways to modify and simplify poses and techniques.
Acorn Media has produced the "Keeping Fit in Your 50s" series of DVDs and tapes for female boomers ($49.95). The videos focus on aerobics, strength and stretching.
Most older athletes are mindful of cardio and stretching programs, but many err when they ignore strength workouts. You lose muscle as you age, which can lead to a number of ailments.
The International Council on Active Aging says exercise is critical for the 50-plus crowd, but the popular tips, advice and urging in the mainstream can be counter-productive to older people. The group, the world's largest association for the senior fitness and wellness industry, offers some advice:
Get a checkup before launching a major program.
Select an activity you enjoy and will stick to.
Start slow and find a friend or group to help you keep going.
Set goals. Know your limits, but think of ways around them.
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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