Blah and old. That's how Patricia Culbert of Waterbury, Conn.,
felt about herself at 58. "I thought, 'This is it, it's over. I'm done, and
I'm not doing any more,'" she says.
The substitute high school teacher yearned for the energy of
her youth, and thought that if she could only get herself to work out on a
stationary bike for 15 minutes a day, she would feel better. She even promised
her niece that she would do it.
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Weeks passed, however, and Patricia hadn't got anywhere near
the bike. She felt like she was cheating herself and her niece.
So she searched the Web for a compatible activity that she
could get excited about. That's when she found the AARP's TriUmph Classic, a
triathlon race for people 50 years and older. Since one person or a group of
three could perform the relay event, Patricia recruited her sisters -- a twin
and one two years older -- to do it with her.
Patricia ended up training for the swim portion of the relay,
even though she hadn't done a lap in 18 years. The first time she stepped into
the pool, she was worried. "Oh my God," she thought, "My body's not
doing what I want it to do."
But she pressed on, following AARP's training recommendations
of gradually increasing the number of laps she could do without stopping.
Twelve weeks later, at the official relay in San Dimas, Calif., Patricia swam
her best ever: 400 meters nonstop in less than 11 minutes.
A Dive into Good Health
Experts in fitness for older adults aren't surprised about the
benefits of water exercise.
"It's clear that aqua aerobics or water-based activities
provide significant benefits for older adults, including increasing
metabolism," says Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, PhD, head of the department of
kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At his former
post at the University of Alabama, he led research for 15 years that looked
into the effects of physical activity (both on land and in water) among older
In addition to increasing metabolism, Chodzko-Zajko says
physical activity in general improves cardiovascular health, increases
strength, slows down age-related loss of muscle mass, and the decrease of
reaction time that comes with getting older.