By Shiloh Woolman, Contributing writer
The process of aging has taken Read Harris from a college football championship to a yoga fanatic in 30 years.
Harris was on the Wittenberg University Division III championship team when the Tigers defeated Ithaca in 1975. He ran track for Wittenburg, too, following a high school athletic career. After school, Harris joined the Army.
It doesn't sound like a resume that leads to this:
"I also do Bikram yoga. The room is 105-110 degrees. You feel totally cleansed. You sweat like there's no tomorrow," Harris said.
As Harris hit 50, he had to find better ways to work out than "running 'til your knees fall off," he says. An orthopedic surgeon told Harris all of that running had done wonders for his heart and lungs, but was doing no favors for his joints.
His were aching, and then he had a collision in a swimming pool that injured his shoulder and sent him looking for new workouts.
"I find that the routines I go through at 50 aren't the same as at 20 because it isn't always joint-friendly," Harris said. "I decided I needed to change my exercise habits to age well. I hooked up with a personal trainer, told her I wanted to be lean, strong and develop an exercise routine I can grow old with."
It's a position many baby boomers find themselves in. They're used to doing whatever they want, and often excelling. But age slows the body, and now they're looking for alternatives.
You Can Still Do It
Some boomers may feel that their marathon or tennis championship days are over, but that isn't necessarily the case.
"I think people have in their minds (when they) hit 33 or 35 or 50 or whatever the magic number is, 'I can't do it.' That's not true," said fitness trainer Rick Rick III, of Premier at Sawmill Athletic Club in Columbus, Ohio. "The body is an incredibly adaptive unit. The human body can adapt to almost anything you put it through as long as you don't overstress it. Progression is the key."
Rick guides clients through a progressive workout based on their goals. Whether it's keeping up with the grandchildren, taking an adventure vacation or improving a golf game, the first step is to define success and then map a plan to get there.
"Have a goal for each workout. Rather than just, 'I'm exercising.' Don't stagnate. After four to six weeks, it's time for something new," Rick said.
Arleen Cauchi agrees. She created a set of workouts for gyms called Boomer Fitness that uses progressive workouts.
"What happens -- especially for baby boomers -- they find something that works for them and have a routine and that's all they do over and over," Cauchi said. "They see improvements for six months and then don't see improvements anymore."
Cauchi, building on her own boomer experience and working with a team of doctors and trainers, has regimented programs that promise to improve golf, tennis and skiing skills. Her most popular program is general fitness and fat reduction.
"A lot of people at menopause have found it's harder and harder to keep the weight off and they're trying to understand a better way," Cauchi said.
Rick said the best approach is just to try something -- anything -- you think you'll like and stick with.
"You can ease into these things. The workout doesn't need to be an hour long -- it doesn't even have to be a half-hour long. You can work up," he said.
Protecting The Joints
Many Boomers grew up exercising. They came of age in the running boom. But for some, arthritis may be setting in. Cauchi and Rick recommend supervised workouts for those just starting a routine or for those, like Harris, who are retooling their activities. That way, you learn the proper way to lift and bend without hurting yourself.
Don't think you like exercise? After all, if you did you'd be doing it by this age. University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension educator and registered dietitian Carol Schwartz suggests changing your attitude, then adding a reward.
"Increase your enthusiasm for physical activity by changing how you think about it. Think of it as an indulgence for your body. Give yourself permission to indulge in a new and exciting activity; then reward yourself with something special like a hot stone massage," Schwartz said.