ó Dr. Jamie Peters counsels his patients on fitness for the
aging, and Denis Nagan is the model patient.
69, has been active in sports or fitness since grade school.
Peters is a sports medicine specialist caring for aging
athletes and other older adults wanting to preserve or improve
advises older people to stay active, with at least three days
a week of moderate activity, intensifying the effort if
possible to the point of not being able to carry on a
conversation. He advocates cross-training to spread the stress
of exercise among different muscles. Itís particularly
important to exercise the core muscles, he said, because a
strong core will diminish the kind of awkward gait people
adopt when compensating for joint pain. But when
cross-training isnít possible, Peters advocates walking ó
itís better than not walking.
has found his own path, on the brink of qualifying as a
septuagenarian, to most of what Peters prescribes. Fitness has
been an integral part of his life since he joined a swim club
as a kid. But in his late 60s, he found himself adapting his
regimen to meet changing physical and mental health needs.
biked throughout his life ó for transportation, for fitness
and to compete, culminating in the 1,200-kilometer
Paris-Brest-Paris ultramarathon bike tour. He was a runner for
the same reasons, to the point of logging 50-kilometer
training runs with former Olympians. But these days heís
more likely to move at a pace that fits his age and lifestyle,
something that many older adults can emulate.
walk for utility and I walk for aimlessness," the
northeast Minneapolis resident said. A trip to pick up an item
at Home Depot? Thatís a two-and-a-half-mile walk. A walk
downtown to the library, or to catch the Blue Line to the V.A.
hospital, is 7 or 8 miles round trip.
been very beneficial both mentally and physically," Nagan
said. Walking lacks the cardio intensity of biking and
running. Sometimes heíll jog up a hill, just to push his
heart rate and get some of the cardiovascular benefits Peters
legs are strong and I can hike all day," said Nagan.
"I just canít go as fast as I used to, and I donít
know that thatís important. Thereís no reason to go fast
other than you did at one time go fast."
greater challenge, Nagan tackles the physically demanding ups
and downs of the Superior Hiking Trail, a trail edging Lake
Superior in northeastern Minnesota. "If Iím in the
city, I call it a walk. When Iím in the country, I call it a
many walkers, Nagan eschews headphones. That leaves his mind
free to operate on two tracks. "Iím very aware of whatís
going on around me. Iím always aware of whoís around, whatís
around, whatís going on. Iím always tuned into the
immediacy of the moment." That includes the temperature,
the breeze, the surface heís walking on. "Itís always
different even if youíre going the same route."
his mind is working subconsciously. "All of a sudden I
might have a solution to a problem Ö The subconscious part
of your mind is back there grinding away."
mindfulness is a carry-over from Naganís meditation and yoga
practices, something Peters also prescribes for building core
strength and balance. Why is yoga better than, say, pushups
and situps? Yoga can be modified by a capable instructor to
avoid positions that might impose undue stress on the body.
athletes inevitably will find themselves making adjustments,
with performance beginning to diminish after 40 or 45 years
old. Peters recommends age-group competitions as a healthy
adjustment for people driven to maintain high levels of
fitness. "I think the healthy attitude is you set
expectations that you can achieve," he said.
finds other benefits from a less punishing exercise regimen.
"The biggest is youíre not beat up all the time."
When he ran hard, "Youíre always sore ó thereís
always something thatís sort of semi-broken. It feels good
to not have to be worried about how fast youíre doing
issues are a common concern for aging athletes. The older a
person, the greater the chance for joint pain caused by
degenerative arthritis (i.e., thinning cartilage lining in the
joints). Peters still emphasizes the importance of exercise,
even for patients suffering from stiff or aching joints.
Peters points to solid evidence that movement prolongs joint
life by keeping the synovial fluid healthier and the cartilage
better nourished. Here, too, it can help to emphasize core
strength ó a stronger core prevents exercisers from adopting
one of those strange gaits, prone to cause even more problems.
One low-impact way to exercise with arthritis is riding a bike
or a stationary bike with mild to moderate resistance for 35
to 40 minutes a day.
can also be addressed by relatively inexpensive steroidal
injections. These can relieve discomfort for several months,
Peters said. That relief makes exercise easier while allowing
for a more normal gait and diminishing the chance of further
big issue for older athletes is losing muscle mass, which canít
be replaced once lost. Peters recommends resistance activities
such as weight workouts for all his patients, but especially
those over 60.
Nagan, Peters at 61 has a stake in preserving a high level of
fitness for his age. "I want to keep being able to hike
high up in the mountains," he said from Colorado, where
heíd just finished a daylong hike at altitude. He runs
weekly, which is as much as his knees allow, but also bikes
both on the road and on a stationary bike, works out on roller
skis for dryland training, and skate-skis during the winter.
Petersí patients embody the benefits of workout regimens
like his. "I have the honor of taking care of a lot of
octogenarians who are healthy and doing well," Peters
said. "They have a lifelong habit of staying