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How Fitness Goals And Methods Change as People Age

by Debra Melani - Scripps Howard News Service

Howard Wallin looks like a water skier balancing on one ski. His toned runner's legs are bent at the knees, one foot firmly planted, the other perched in the air inches above the gym floor.

His arms are outstretched, his body bent slightly forward, as he clutches two handles on a long cable anchored to a weight machine.

Wallin stares straight ahead, his expression determined, as his trainer encourages him to maintain his precarious pose.

Many other 52-year-olds would be shaking in their sneakers. But Wallin has maintained a fitness focus throughout the decades.

The following profiles of Wallin and two other fit-focused people illustrate how exercise philosophies can change as we age.

Young adults

At 24, Britney Holt knows why she works out with the fervor of a toddler just given free rein on her parents' big, bouncy bed: appearance.

"I want to shape up and look good, of course," said Holt, a Denver resident who runs, golfs, in-line skates and pays a trainer to push her hard during weight-room workouts.

Most people under age 35 exercise chiefly for better body image, fitness experts say. Sometimes they overexert themselves and ignore important fitness aspects, such as core-strength and flexibility exercises. But they have age on their side.

"Younger people can get away with overtraining and bounce back quicker," said Linda Burris, athletic director a Denver fitness club.

Lack of time accounts for much of the younger set's narrowly focused, high-intensity exercise, experts say.

"Right now, I'm working three jobs. It's hard to find time to fit workouts in," said Holt.

Many young adults also face the time constraints of new parenthood, Burris said.

Many clubs, including hers, have responded with pre- and post-natal workouts and total-body, 30-minute lunchtime classes.

Lifestyle, goals and fitness level all help define workouts, experts say. With Holt, a payroll accountant who sometimes spends 12-hour days in front of a computer, warding off repetitive-motion injuries and weight gain from hours of inactivity could be a focus.

Personal trainer Kenneth Moulaison incorporates circuit training in Holt's routine, which alternates quick bouts of strength and cardiovascular exercises for a fast, total-body workout. He does it both for efficiency and to keep her interested.

Regardless of their resilience or high-intensity goals, the younger set still should vary workouts, stretch, warm up and cool down, experts say.

"The industry has evolved," Burris said. The days of nothing but high-impact running and aerobics should be gone, she said. "We are learning all the time the things we did in our 20s and 30s, just pulverizing moves, aren't the best things to do."

Midlifers

Howard Wallin stands on a rubbery half-sphere called a BOSU, a tool increasingly used in fitness clubs and studios to fine-tune balance and build core strength.

A baby boomer, Wallin, 52, has heard repeatedly from his trainers: Keep the back and abdominal areas strong or face the aches and poor body mechanics that plague his age group.

"Close your eyes," his trainer instructs Wallin, who so far has maintained his balance while performing arm exercises on his unstable platform. He obeys and immediately pitches forward, his eyes springing open as he throws his arms out to catch himself.

Having her older clients close their eyes while performing balance moves works on something called proprioception -- the body's ability to know where it is in space, says Taryn Gilbert, Wallin's trainer.

Balance and proprioception decline with age but can be preserved and even regenerated with exercise, she said.

While Wallin has always been fit, the Denver resident's workouts in midlife have transformed.

"My standard exercise routine used to be to run five miles a day," Wallin said. "And I didn't spend a lot of time stretching."

Wallin still runs. But knowing his muscles are losing their elasticity and his body is more prone to injury, now he focuses more on stretching.

He also gave up racquetball and alternates running with mountain biking and using low-impact cardiovascular machines at the club to protect his aging joints. And he focuses on core-strength exercises to keep him on his feet.

When people near midlife, their focus on looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Madonna switches to wanting to stay active, Gilbert said.

"When they reach their late 30s and 40s, they start coming to me because they want to feel good; they want to alleviate back pain," she said.

Golden-agers

Jack Lawrence has a motto: Take it slow.

That's how he eased himself into running 24 years ago -- when he was 58. That's how he does his stationary bike and weight-room routines at the local YMCA three times a week. And that's how he manages training for the 10-kilometer Bolder Boulder footrace every spring.

Two years ago, he finished first in his age group in the annual 10K. He was 80.

"I've never believed in doing something until it hurts. Do it until it feels good," said Lawrence, now 82, a Boulder, Colo., resident.

Fitness experts echo Lawrence's philosophy when working with seniors.

"We start out slow. We go with the range of motion they can handle," said Marybeth Idoux, associate fitness director at the Boulder YMCA. "We use lighter weights."

Assuring that seniors do a full range of motion during weight-lifting is crucial so that they can retain that range in daily life, Idoux said. Maintaining strength, balance and range of motion are key in the senior age group, in which falls are the No. 1 cause of injury.

"They just want to be able to keep doing the simple things," Idoux said, recalling a woman who was thrilled to report that after years of being unable to start the lawn mower, she now could manage it.

Lawrence, a retired Navy officer and former elementary school custodian, has a loftier reason for staying healthy. "My goal used to be to live to be 100," said the talkative father of six, grandfather of 11 and great-grandfather of one. Then his mother lived to be 101.

"And I said, 'My goodness, lots of people live to be 100. I guess I'll go for 110.'"

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