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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On getting fit, 'you're never too old to start'

By Joe Miller
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Latin dance program Zumba, which originated in Colombia in the 1990s, provides a full-body aerobic workout.

JEFF SINER | Charlotte Observer

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Some exercise classes are very well suited for women 50 and older. Here’s a look:

1. Zumba

This Latin dance workout originated in Colombia in the 1990s and then became popular in the United States.

Benefits: It’s a full-body aerobic workout that gets you sweating, gets your heart rate up, burns calories — and it’s fun.

2. Water aerobics /swimming

Ten years ago, says Duke’s Endress, water exercises focused on folks with arthritis and other joint issues. That’s changed. “Water aerobics has really taken off — it’s a much more vigorous exercise.”

Benefits: Good cardio, good toning. You may not have arthritis, but at 50 your joints still need more TLC than they did 20 years ago; exercising in water relieves the pressure.

3. Walking

Walking is the preferred exercise for 25 million women ages 45 and up, making it by far the most popular form of exercise for that group.

Benefits: A vigorous daily walk of at least 30 minutes can manage weight, control blood pressure, decrease the risk of heart attack, boost “good” cholesterol, lower the risk of stroke, reduce risk of breast cancer and type 2 diabetes, and protect against hip fracture. You can do it on your own schedule, it’s cheap, and it can be a social activity.

4. Pilates

Exercises done with or without equipment that focus on core strength, flexibility and balance — the main areas we worry about as we age.

Benefits: It can make you leaner and stronger, but the benefits can also help people move more gracefully and efficiently, making it possible to do some of the basic functions of day-to-day life that can become a challenge as we age.

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Hot flashes. Headaches. A tummy that won't go away no matter how many crunches you do. Menopause can be especially vexing for women trying to lose weight. As their estrogen levels drop, their testosterone exerts more influence. Because of the ensuing havoc, a woman's body will do what it can to retain whatever stores of estrogen it has. Alas, estrogen is stored in fat.

Don't despair, said Leigh Shipman, an instructor with the Charlotte, N.C., YMCA. She's been working with "active older adults" for 17 years, and she's seen both men and women lose weight and get fit.

"The average American woman should do just fine with one hour of moderate exercise a day," said Shipman, 51.

The key is finding the right exercise regimen — one you enjoy, one you look forward to doing and will stick with, said Mary Petters, an exercise physiologist with the University of North Carolina Wellness Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. "There's something out there for everyone," Petters said. "You're never too old to start."

To get started, consult a nutritionist and a trainer.

A nutritionist can help you get a handle on what you really are eating and what you should be eating, said Gerald Endress, with the Duke Diet & Fitness Center in Durham, N.C.

"People say, 'I don't eat a lot,' then they start writing down all the Starbucks coffees they have," Endress said. "They can even overeat fruit — an apple has 100 calories."

Likewise, said Petters, a good trainer can help you look at your lifestyle — work, family commitments, etc. — and see what realistically will work for you.

Mix it up.

"The body gets used to what you're doing," said the Charlotte Y's Leigh Shipman, "and after a while it won't work as hard. You need to challenge it to work the muscles differently."

Achieve a "moderate" pace. You need to push yourself, though not at first, says Petters. But to get stronger and lose weight, your body needs to be challenged.

"If you're not sweating, your heart is not getting the workout it needs, and you're not burning the calories you need to burn," Shipman said.