Question: I am 70 years old and for some reason this year, spring cleanup and weeding is really hard for me. I walk three miles every day, I eat right and I am NOT overweight. What else can I do?
Jay: You’re not the only 70-year-old who’s having a hard time this spring. Eventually it catches up with all of us. The average person loses about five pounds of muscle with each decade of life, beginning in the 30s. Along with loss of muscle comes a loss of strength. The rate of muscle loss accelerates in our later years, especially if we are less active. Not only do we lose strength, but we also lose bone mass and joint stability, since our bones and joints are only as strong as the muscles which act upon them. Apparently all of these changes are adding up and making life difficult as you attempt your seasonal chores.
Your walking and nutrition sound great and you are obviously health-conscious. However, it sounds like you are doing nothing to preserve your muscle mass and strength. Your muscles are the key to your ability to move and perform real work, play better and live a fully active life.
The good news is that just 20-30 minutes of strength training, also called resistance training, performed two to three times per week, year-round, will help you gain back lost muscle and strength and have you ready for gardening next spring. A good resistance training program is not so easy without good equipment and guidance, so you might consider joining a gym.
Question: I am trying to lose weight and my doctor recommended cardio exercise — walking — at a heart rate of 100 beats per minute to maximize fat burning. It seems pretty easy to me and I want to work harder but I also want to burn fat. What to do?
Heidi: While your physician is correct that when you exercise at lower heart-rate intensity, you burn a higher percentage of calories from fat, he is overlooking that you also burn FEWER total calories. The bottom line is that it takes some hard work to lose weight. Those folks on “The Biggest Loser” don’t lose 5-10 pounds a week by walking at a heart rate of 100. They work hard … really hard.
While I am not suggesting you hire a “drill sergeant” trainer and workout five hours a day, I am going to suggest you work harder. If 100 bpm is in your “fat burning” zone, then it’s likely (without knowing your age, health status and fitness level) that you can push that up to 120 bpm or more and get better results. You also should look into doing some intervals at even higher intensity during some of your workouts and definitely get involved in some resistance training to accelerate your metabolism. It’s difficult to lose weight period, let alone if your only form of exercise is low-intensity walking. Go with your instincts and step it up a notch, and don’t forget to address your nutrition as well.
Note from Jay and Heidi: Always see your physician prior to beginning a new exercise routine.
Jay Bryan is an exercise physiologist and Heidi Bryan is a certified personal trainer. To ask Jay or Heidi a question, e-mail them at email@example.com.
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