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Fitting Fitness Back in Your Life
In the good old days before you were married, had kids, got the promotion, bought the house and did the yard work, you really worked out.

Hard, fast, regularly. Back then, you could run a five-minute mile. Or bench press your weight. Or sweat through that 90-minute advanced aerobics class.

These days, are you spending more time feeling guilty about not working out than working out?

If so, you're probably the kind of lapsed boomer President Bush was talking to when he recently declared war on being fat and sedentary. No wonder you weren't invited along on that three-mile fun run with him and his staff.

But you have plenty of company. You've joined the 4-in-10 adult Americans of all ages who admit they are not physically active at all, according to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

Exercise experts like Richard Cotton and Cedric Bryant have heard it all before -- busy boomers complaining that, between carpools and van pools and making ends meet, they barely have time for a movie, much less a regular exercise routine.

Cotton is an exercise physiologist and also a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, Calif., an organization that certifies instructors and oversees exercise research. Bryant is the chief exercise physiologist for the council.

They both specialize in motivating inactive people to become involved in exercise programs. They inspire woefully out-of-shape, middle age lapsed exercisers or never-exercisers to consider the benefits of incorporating workouts into their however-hectic-or-sedentary routine, convincing them that the stress-reduction and disease-risk reduction benefits are worth the effort.

Here are some of their best tips.

  • Blot out that "hard body image" memory. It's normal to have a mental image of yourself when you last exercised regularly, says Cotton. If your image is from high school, you could be in big trouble. Even if it was from last year, forget it. "Try to have as little memory as possible of what you used to look like and do," Cotton says. "Be in the present."

  • Start slowly. "Do much less than you think you are able to," Cotton suggests. Take a 10-minute stroll if you're newly back to workouts. Clients tell Cotton, "It's not enough." No, he replies, it's not, "but it's a start." Consider walking as a good way to get back to exercise.

  • Know the risks of too much, too fast. "Go too fast and you're likely to get injured," Bryant says. That could set you back to square one.

  • Prepare. Plan your workout wardrobe so you'll be comfortable. Consider the weather you will be walking in and decide: long pants, long sleeves, shorts, hat?

  • Don't skimp on shoes. A good pair of shoes should cost about $70, says Cotton, and they'll help ensure good shock absorption and cushioning. Which type? "If you are walking with the hope of jogging eventually, buy running shoes," says Cotton. If you plan to walk as your main exercise, get walking shoes.

  • Don't overlook good socks. Best for workouts: Socks with some synthetic fibers (rather than all-cotton) because they wick away sweat better. When you try on exercise shoes, wear your exercise socks.

  • Increase your duration of exercise in small increments. "Spend one week minimum at each phase," Cotton says. Exactly how long you will walk in each phase will depend on your stamina and your doctor's advice. But you might begin with as little as a 15- or 20-minute walk, then work up, Cotton says. Add duration before speed. You can increase the length of the walk each phase, by perhaps five minutes a phase. Soon, you'll be at the recommended 30 minutes (or more) a day, five or more days a week. "Accept yourself where you are," Cotton says.

  • Do the talk test. If you can't talk with ease as you walk or jog, you're going too fast and trying to do too much, Bryant says.

  • Remember to stay well-hydrated. "The thirst mechanism is less sensitive by age 50," Bryant says.

  • Add strength training to the cardiovascular routine. But only when you are ready, Cotton suggests.

  • Consider getting an exercise buddy. That could help increase your faithfulness to your new routine. "An exercise buddy is always nice," Cotton says, "especially if you can latch on to someone who already has the habit. That's a free ride."

  • Be realistic about the payoff. You might notice looser waistbands but no difference on the scale. "As you get up into the 35-, 40- or 45-minute walks that are brisk, you can expect weight loss," Cotton says. "But figure it takes six to eight weeks to transform your body. And even if you do not lose a pound, you are healthier if you exercise."

    And quite possibly, that might put you higher up on Bush's invite list, should he host another run.

    What To Do

    For more information on exercise and age-related weight gain, see the American College of Sports Medicine. For information on staying fit, see American Council on Exercise.


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