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Olympically Fit After 40

CBN.com - Four-time Olympian Dara Torres has made headlines with her amazing comeback at the age of 41 to make the U.S. Olympic swim team. After a 25-year swimming career crowned with hundreds of medals, including four Olympic gold as well as setting American records, Torres had earned the right to sit back and settle into middle-age.

But after her daughter’s birth in 2006, Torres started swimming to get back into shape and made the decision to attempt an unbelievable feat of competing in her fifth Olympic competition. In an interview with ABC, Torres said she hopes to inspire other middle-age adults: “I’d like people to say, ‘This is fantastic that a middle-aged mom can be doing this.’”

Not only did she make the team again, but she did it in spectacular style; she is already .06 seconds faster than her gold medal performance in 2000 and she beat competitors twenty years younger than herself.

Although few middle-aged adults will go on to compete in competitive sporting events, getting in shape and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is something everyone should be concerned about.

Terri Watkins, group fitness manager at Gold’s Gym, explains, “It doesn’t matter how old you are, how athletic you are, or even what physical restrictions you may have -- everyone can and should be healthy and fit.”

Watkins said there are a wide range of fitness options available today that can accommodate almost any physical requirement, and each person should explore his or her options. “Whether you have exercised most of your life, are just starting out, or recovering from surgery, there are fun and effective exercise options that will get you motivated, moving, and on the road to fitness.”

The fitness options available in gyms, over the Internet, or by DVD can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of Web sites offering fitness programs designed to tighten your abs, shrink your waist, burn cellulite, tone muscles, and strengthen your core. Gyms offer an extensive range of classes designed to do the same, in addition to free weights, pools, various workout machines, and the benefit of personal trainers.

The problem is choosing which option is right for you. Watkins said while home-based programs are good for those who are disciplined, there are benefits to a gym membership: “There are great programs people can do on their own at home if they will stick to it, but a gym membership offers a wide variety of classes and activities, as well as professional support, and its weather proof, which eliminates one barrier.”

Watkins also said clients attending classes get to know one another and can encourage each other to be consistent in attendance and in persevering to achieve their goals. Most gyms offer a wide range of membership options from monthly to yearly that can fit any budget, and classes are offered on varied schedules beginning usually as early as 5 a.m. or as late as 10 p.m.

While doctors encourage most middle-aged patients to participate in regular exercise, Dr. Dan Munton, sports medicine physician with Texas Sport and Spine Clinic, warns there are certain precautions that should be taken. “Remember, you aren’t as young as you once were, and most likely, not as strong as you were in your twenties,” he says. “Start slowly and gradually build up your strength and endurance.”

Dr. Munton said regardless of which fitness program you choose, you should develop the four components to physical fitness: cardio-respiratory endurance, core muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility.

Once you have established a consistent routine, you will want to challenge yourself by gradually increasing intensity and difficulty. According to Watkins, many people are hesitant to sweat or uneasy about being out of breath; both of which are part of increasing endurance, strength, and lung capacity.

It seems that for most people, starting a fitness regimen is the easiest part – keeping it going is the hardest. Boredom is often a major hindrance to long-term fitness, so keep your workout interesting and fun by varying exercises and trying new things.

Most experts agree that the key to a successful fitness plan is consistent movement and doing something you truly enjoy. Don’t get a high-performance road bike if the thought of miles on a small seat causes dread. Think about the activities that energize you, and chances are there is a fitness program that involves it. Whatever gets you up and moving will prove to be the best fitness option for you.

Both Watkins and Dr. Munton offer suggestions to resuming a safe fitness program:

  • Consult your physician if you have physical restrictions or conditions.
  • Consult a personal trainer or gym personnel to evaluate your options.
  • Explore fitness options in your area – select something you will enjoy doing.
  • Set realistic goals, such as how many days a week to exercise or a specific activity goal (walking 2 miles or swimming 30 minutes).
  • Start at the beginning and go slowly – you aren’t 20 anymore, so don’t try to automatically pick up where you left off before.
  • Be consistent and develop the habit of movement.
  • Challenge yourself to the point of discomfort – it’s OK to sweat and be out of breath. They are part of developing endurance.
  • Make changes in your diet – even small changes added with exercise will reap long-term rewards.
  • Variety – try something new and rotate routines. Keep exercise interesting and fun.

Try These New Fitness Trends*:

  • Body Vive – A low-impact fitness class that offers a total body workout that includes cardio, strength, core training, and stretching. Perfect for those who are new or returning to exercise after a long break or someone looking for an all-around good, low-impact workout.
  • Zumba – a fusion of Latin music and dance-based fitness movements that creates a fun, exciting, and effective workout. Good for those who are already in a fitness program.
  • Body Attack – High intensity class that caters to all fitness levels focusing on cardio, upper and lower body building, and strength building. Good for those in a fitness program.
  • Body Combat – Exhilarating martial-arts based class that improves heart and lung function, tones muscles, builds core strength, and burns calories. Good for any fitness level.
  • Body Pump – A toning and condition class for any fitness level. Focuses on strength training with aerobic workout. Good for any fitness level.
  • PiYo – Evolutionary class that combines Pilates and Yoga in a progressive format to challenge all fitness levels.
  • Cycling – There are several indoor-cycling classes to challenge every fitness level.
  • Aqua – Classes designed for low-impact with emphasis on cardio and strength. Good for any fitness level and perfect for those with joint problems or arthritis.
  • Kick Box – Martial-arts based for all fitness levels.
  • Cardio Jam – High intensity, fast-paced aerobic workout. Good for those in fitness program.

* NOTE: Classes are based on what’s available at your local Gold’s Gym. Check your other major fitness facilities for comparable classes.


First published in the Abilene Reporter News on Tuesday July 15, 2008.

Dara Torres was featured in the August 4, 2008 edition of TIME Magazine.

 

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