Fitness Over 50

Louis Weintraub, who turned 100 in January, works out at a gym in Sacramento, Calif., on Feb. 21, 2014.

I recently had an “aha!” moment. At the end of December, I took two weeks off from teaching my classes (eight a week), mostly to give my older-than-57 knees a little break. I was still working out, but not as much and not at the level I am used to.

On the afternoon of the second day of not doing any physical exercise, I noticed something. I was feeling foggy and was having a hard time doing my job. I could not think straight. Something felt way off.

And then it occurred to me: By that time of the day on a normal week, I would have already taught three classes.

My body needed the break, but my brain was mad. I am convinced that my fogginess was related to no physical activity, not getting super sweaty and not getting my heart rate up like I am used to.

It is possible a good part of this is completely in my head (yes, I said in my head!). But as I researched a little, I found there is real science behind this. Last summer at the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center, a study was done on 101 adults who were not on any exercise plan. They were all 65 or older and had no cognitive issues.

The first group continued with no exercise plan. The second group walked briskly for 75 minutes a week (that’s 30 minutes, 2.5 times a week).

The third group walked briskly for 150 minutes a week (30 minutes, 5 times a week). The fourth group walked briskly for 225 minutes a week (30 minutes, 7.5 times a week). Results were tracked for 26 weeks.

The researchers found improvements in the subjects’ endurance and aerobic capacities – which they expected to find – but they also found small improvements in cognitive skills, particularly in the areas of focus and attention.

Even though these changes are small, is that enough to make you get up and move? It should be.

Combine those small changes with the aerobic function and the endurance improvement, and you have a recipe for better overall health.

The majority of people can walk at a brisk pace for 20-30 minutes. If not, there are other ways to achieve this, such as swimming or biking. Also, remember that exercise is cumulative If you have a demanding schedule, split up your exercise.

Why do we have such a hard time understanding this correlation? Technology is partly to blame. It is supposed to make our lives easier, but it often makes us lazier. It can even make some people obsess over their new devices to the point of inactivity.

If you look at people who live to be 100 and are healthy and vibrant and still have their noodles, they often live in what are referred to as the Blue Zones. These zones are:

• Sardinia, Italy

• Ikaria, Greece

• Okinawa, Japan

• Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

• Loma Linda, Calif.

(If you are surprised about Loma Linda, it is home to a large Seventh Day Adventist population who do not drink or smoke and who eat very healthfully.)

The populations in these zones typically do a lot of physical work and eat a plant-based diet.

They do not use technology as a shortcut like we often do. They don’t have electric screwdrivers; they use the old-fashioned ones. Remember those? They do not depend on cars to get around; they walk. They are very active way into their 90s.

This is not a coincidence. Activity is good for us at all ages, but especially as we are aging.

Activity is your friend. Say hello to your friend. Now go out and make 2016 an active year!

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and manager of the Oxford YMCA. And she’s over 50. “Fitness Over 50” is published the third Sunday of each month.