Pumping Iron to Stay Young?

This grandmother says it can help. And experts back her up.

From the WebMD Archives

May 22, 2000 -- At least five mornings a week, I hustle to the Fountain of Youth. After tumbling out of bed and into workout togs before I've had a chance to think about it, I'm out the door headed for the gym. Clad in tights and a leotard to smooth my bulges, I feel energetic already.

It's a 20-year-old routine. At this point, I could be the poster girl for senior citizen exercise. I'll never see 70 again, and that's as specific as I'm going to get. My regimen includes not just aerobics -- walking the treadmill or taking a class -- but strength training, which the American College of Sports Medicine says is especially crucial for aging bodies like mine. Pump iron, the experts say, and you'll have less of that flab that can make you feel old.

The strength training part of the routine, also called weight training, is the part most people blow off. Too boring, too repetitive, too difficult. Those are the main excuses.

Not so, I say. I'm a great-grandmother, and I only took up weight training five years ago. Sticking with it, I've found, isn't so tough -- as long as you follow a few simple steps.

Here are my secrets.

Plan Ahead (and Don't Forget to Brag)

Every Sunday, I plan the week ahead, scheduling time for workouts as religiously as I make time for work. For me, when something is written down, it's as important as a work assignment.

My workouts are no secret, either. I tell friends, enemies, and acquaintances all about the weights I work with, the number of reps I do, and how often I go to the gym. I'm sure it bores them to tears, but having said all that, how could I possibly quit?

Mornings, Music, Good Company

It's important to work out first thing in the day, I think. Go to the gym, your home gym, or wherever you go to sweat before the business of the day overtakes and overwhelms you. I go to an all-women's gym, which to me means that I can wear whatever I want.

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Music, whether it's rock and roll or the latest R & B hit, helps. It provides not just a pleasant background but jazzes you up to lift a little longer.

Having a buddy who is enthusiastic about exercise helps, too. One of my buddies, Marilou, is a dedicated exerciser. She's really my role model at the gym. She's younger than I am and eats a low-fat diet, as I try to do. If I miss a day, I feel as though I owe her and my other gym pals an explanation. It's easier just to go.

The Routine

I never think about a workout in total. I always think "I'll go lift some weights for a little while," and end up, of course, doing my whole routine. Breaking a task up into small parts and thinking about just one of them makes it easier to deal with.

I alternate lower-body and upper-body weight machines, plus the ab machine for sit-ups to tame that ever-present midriff bulge. I also alternate the machines with free weights. I do 30 reps (that's weight-speak for "repetitions") with 8-pound free weights in each hand. Then I exchange those 8-pounders for 5-pounders to do side lifts.

Don't be intimidated by the machines. Most include a sticker with illustrations and instructions, or you can always ask your gym's trainer what's what.

Other Perks

After every workout I give myself a reward -- a piece of hard candy -- before driving home. The piece of candy means that I get an "A" in working out for the day. I deserve it.

The biggest incentive to keep going, however, is the personal feedback I get from working out. Regular visits to that fountain of youth called the gym keep stiffness at bay, restore my wobbly balance, and help stave off extra pounds. I'm just under 5 feet 2 inches tall, and I weigh in at 116 -- just 4 pounds above my college weight.

When I'm away from the gym, I really feel the difference. Getting out of a chair takes longer. Clothes grab me around the middle. I have to lean against a doorjamb to put on pants. Fortunately, I don't let anything keep me away for long.

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My doctors look at my charts and can't believe my age. (Forget it, I'm still not telling you.) When my internist tells me, "You don't have the blood pressure or enough cholesterol to be a great-grandmother," I can't wait to get back to the gym, grab a couple of weights, and give it my all.

Oh yes, there is something else -- or I should say someone else -- who keeps me faithful to my workout routine. I plan to be up for a game of catch with Edward Charles Foley III, my brand new great-grandson, just as soon as he knows the difference between a bottle and a baseball.

Kit Snedaker is a Los Angeles freelance writer who cut gym in school because she hated the green uniforms. She's been making up for it ever since.

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