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Giving the hours for a healthier heart
Posted Oct. 6, 2012
Ten years ago I began to get pains in my shoulders and upper arms. I started lifting heavier weights and the pains went away. Fifteen years ago I would get out of breath from going upstairs. That doesn’t happen anymore. These days, at the age of 66, I do a brisk 33-minute cardio routine that feels challenging but not exhausting. I also do jumping jacks and plyo, which I started only a couple of years ago. Recently my feet, which had given me trouble for years, have started to improve. Is it the impact exercise I have been doing? Who knows?
Exercise can accomplish truly amazing things. If it were a drug, everyone would want to take it. It’s safe (apart from the occasional injury), doesn’t interact with foods or medications, and has lots of collateral benefits, like counteracting depression and improving sleep. The downside to exercise is that it requires actual work. Being in good condition at my age is a luxury; spending 8-9 hours a week working out is the way I pay for it. (Side note: When I first starting trying to get into shape I used to exercise 12 hours a week doing a less intense routine. By gradually increasing the difficulty of my workouts I’ve been able to cut back the time while still improving my condition.)
I started this personal fitness project 12 years ago as a way of avoiding statins [drugs for the treatment of heart disease], which my doctor had recommended because of my high cholesterol. In those days, when I would work out on the cross trainer, my heart rate would max out at 125 beats per minute and I would never break a sweat. I think that my muscles simply weren’t strong enough to work any harder. Later on I started taking a protein supplement and proteolytic enzymes and gradually found that I could do more. Technology has accustomed us to believe that results should be instant and life should be user-friendly, but that’s not the way the body works. The human body has its priorities (mainly ensuring its own survival and comfort) and it is not going to be rushed. If you’re older and have a slow metabolism like me, that’s true in spades. When I start a new exercise program I don’t expect to see results for at least a month. If there are no changes after six weeks, I conclude that I’m on the wrong program and try something else. To work into P90X so that I could finally do all the classes (mostly) took two or three years. It has taken 12 years to get to my present level of fitness.
One of the unfair aspects of exercise is that some people have to work a lot harder than others in order to see results. I am naturally muscular and strong, so you would think I could do less. Instead, I have a physique that you really have to hammer on in order to see results. (I suspect that may be true of muscular people in general.) Walking, even brisk walking, and swimming do absolutely nothing for me, and with the cross trainer, my heart rate needs to be over 80 percent of maximum in order for me to maintain my current condition. In order to see improvement I need to be working near the upper edge of what I can do. It’s a delicate balance: too much and it’s tiring and too hard on my body, too little and I put on weight and feel sluggish.
Developing a fitness routine is a process of self-discovery: it’s important to try different types of exercise to find out what works for you. It takes time, persistence, and patience, but the potential rewards are huge: feeling better than you ever have in your life and being totally comfortable in your own body.