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Get up and move for physical, mental health

Jeri Stallings, 56, left, and her sister Dee McKee, 59, demonstrate a squat with leg lift, with the starting position on the left. The sisters are visiting their mother in St. Petersburg. Stallings, who lives in Fort Myers, works out with dance, weight, stretch and step classes. McKee, from Indiana, usually gets her daily exercise by walking on a treadmill.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Jeri Stallings, 56, left, and her sister Dee McKee, 59, demonstrate a squat with leg lift, with the starting position on the left. The sisters are visiting their mother in St. Petersburg. Stallings, who lives in Fort Myers, works out with dance, weight, stretch and step classes. McKee, from Indiana, usually gets her daily exercise by walking on a treadmill.

“Age happens. Getting older is unavoidable, but falling apart is not," according to John Ratey, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

It is said that our genes are only 30 percent responsible for how we age; our lifestyles dictate the rest. The new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, released by the Health and Human Services Department in October, are based on the first thorough review of scientific research about physical activity and health in more than a decade (Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, January).

The recommendations are for people of all ages and physical conditions. "It was so thorough, and there was so much evidence of the benefits of physical activity," says Dr. Miriam Nelson, vice chairwoman of the expert panel. "It's hard to believe more people don't realize this. People have to wake up."

According to the review, physical activity reduces the risk in adults of early death, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer and depression. It also helps prevent weight gain and promotes weight loss when combined with a reduced-calorie diet.

Introducing more movement into your life can improve the ability to participate in activities needed for everyday living and can improve older adults' thinking ability.

Several new studies just in the past month have found more evidence of the strong connection between levels of physical activity and the health of the brain. Researchers at the University of North Carolina used brain-scanning techniques to compare long-time exercisers with sedentary adults. "The active adults had more small blood vessels and improved cerebral blood flow," said J. Keith Smith, associate professor of radiology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

These findings further point out the importance of regular exercise to healthy aging. "You can accumulate this activity in many different ways," says Nelson. "There's an infinite variety of combinations of activity, including everyday activities. You don't have to put on your sneakers and go for a run. You can dance, walk your dog, participate in sports, take the stairs at work."

New guidelines for physical activity

To receive the most benefit from exercise, adults should get a minimum of 2 ½ hours a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, water aerobics, ballroom dancing, gardening or 1 ¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps. Moderate activity is defined as enough exertion that you can still talk, but can't catch enough breath to sing. (Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, January.)

To receive more extensive health benefits, five hours of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 2 ½ hours of a vigorous activity, are recommended weekly.

Adults should include muscle- strengthening activities at a moderate or high intensity level for all major muscle groups two or more days a week, including exercises for the chest, back, shoulders, upper legs, hips, abdomen and lower legs.

Seniors should follow the guidelines for other adults, if able. If not, they should be as active as their condition allows. If they are at risk for falling, they should include exercises that improve balance.

Adults with disabilities and those with chronic conditions also should follow the guidelines if they are able. When unable to meet the guidelines, engage in physical activity according to your abilities; avoid inactivity.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Write to Sally Anderson, a trainer, in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Squat with Leg Lift

Works buttocks, inner and outer thighs, quads (front of thighs) and hamstrings (back of thighs). Begin in a squat position, arms extended forward, palms facing downward. As you stand up, extend arms to the sides, slightly below shoulder level and lift one leg diagonally, with knee bent, across lower body. Pause, then return to squat position and repeat movement 8 times on each leg. Tips: Have toes of lifted leg turned out so inner thigh is more open. Tips: Repeat movement slowly. If you need help with balancing, place one hand on a sturdy support.

Overhead Press AND Side Leg Lift

A balance exercise that targets shoulders, arms and hips. Holding weights, lift one leg to the side, knee facing forward, as you lift arms overhead, palms facing forward. Return leg to side or hold leg off floor, if you are able to balance well, as you lower arms to near shoulder height. Repeat 8 to 10 times each side. Tips: Contract abdominals to help with balance and exhale as you lift weights upward. Try to stand straight and not lean to the side.

Lunge Twist

Works abdominals, buttocks and quads. Stand, holding one weight, with feet hip-width apart, elbows at waist and knees slightly relaxed. Lunge forward with right leg and rotate torso and arms to the right. Push off right foot as you return to center standing position. Perform 16 repetitions, alternating lunges and torso movement. Tips: Maintain a straight back and try to keep hips facing forward as much as you can while rotating torso.

debunking

3 myths

1. I'll be sore after every workout: Many people assume exercise must "hurt'' to be effective. The "no pain-no gain" theory is a common fitness myth that became popular in the 1980s and has absolutely no validation. "You should only be sore for the first few days of a new exercise routine, because your muscles aren't used to the activity," says Wayne Westcott, fitness research director of the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass. "If you exercise consistently, feeling sore means you've overextended yourself — you've gone above and beyond where you need to go."

2. Strength training will make women develop big and bulky muscles: Women will not bulk out but they will improve strength and muscle tone. Women generally do not have enough of the male hormone testosterone, which is needed to build bulky muscles. Weight training is actually one of the best ways to stay trim. "The more muscles you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day," Westcott says.

3. It's too late to begin lifting weights: Studies have shown that people in their 80s and 90s have shown significant gains in strength.

Get up and move for physical, mental health 01/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 9:54am]
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