Each month WebMD the Magazine puts your questions about weight loss
and fitness to top exercise and motivational experts. This month, John Harvey,
an 86-year-old retired physician, asked for help beginning a fitness routine.
Harvey moved with his wife to a retirement community in Bethesda, Md., about a
year ago. He's never been obese, but at 225 pounds he's leaning more on his
cane and is unsteady on his feet. For advice, we turned to Anthony Absalon, a
fitness trainer at Fox Hill Senior Living in Bethesda, who specializes in
seniors and is arthritis rehabilitation-certified by the Arthritis
John's question: I was a workaholic all my professional life. I never
exercised or played golf or tennis -- I just worked all the time. Now I have
trouble with my balance, I've had to use a cane for more than a year, and I've
had arthritis for many years. What can I do to get more fit?
Sound Body, Sound Mind
When caring for an older adult, it's important not to overlook routine care -- stuff that seems obvious but that may not be on your radar. Here is a rundown of what to keep in mind:
Everyone needs regular checkups. But some older adults (and young ones, too) reason that since they just saw the doctor last month about that sinus problem, they don't need to go again. A visit to the doctor for a specific problem, however, doesn't take the place of a complete checkup.
Answer: "While today's seniors were growing up, fitness wasn't what
it is today. The biggest issue is trying to get them to start with a fitness
program that combines cardio, strength training, and balance." Some of
Absalon's safe fitness tips for seniors:
Watch your steps. Get a simple pedometer -- many cost around $10, and
some are even giveaways -- and track how many steps you take each day. The
goal is at least 10,000 steps every day, but work up slowly -- you don't have
to go from 1,000 to 10,000 overnight.
Take the stairs. Just walking up and down stairs instead of riding
the elevator can help burn calories and build strength and balance. But it's
not always easy with an old injury. "If you have a bum knee, it's up with the
good, and down with the bad," says Absalon. "So lead with your good leg when
going up the stairs, and lead with your bad leg going down."
Take a chair. You can boost your core strength -- essential for
balance and muscle tone -- while sitting at a computer or watching TV. Scoot
forward so you're sitting on the edge of the chair, sitting tall with chest up
and shoulders back. Lean back from the hips until your shoulders touch the back
of the chair, then come back up. "You'll feel how tight your stomach muscles
are," says Absalon. "It's a safe way to exercise your core without torquing the
Squat safely. Regular squat exercises can strengthen your leg muscles
and keep you from needing a cane, walker, or wheelchair. Stand straight and
tall with feet shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward. First, drop your hips
back and stick out your bottom, then bend the knees like you're sitting. This
keeps you from pushing the knees over the toes -- not a safe squat. "Don't
worry if you can't go down very far at first," says Absalon.
The results: After nine months of exercising with Absalon, Harvey has
gone from 225 to 185 pounds. "My balance has improved, and I feel so much more
secure in my walking now," he says. "They tell you not to give up the cane once
you start using it, but I get around fine here in the house without it. And my
hips don't hurt as much and they seem to work better. I feel much stronger and
more invigorated -- it's amazing!"