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JODY HOLTON — Modifying your fitness routine, Part II: Getting your best workout

As we accrue more birthdays, our bodies change.

Some of the things we used to do with ease have become more difficult, if not impossible. It is important to keep moving but it is even more important to modify what you are doing to accommodate the changes in your body.

Last time we looked at some the moves you should drop. This is the second of a two-part column; this week we will look at the exercises that will work best for you and that you should incorporate into your fitness routine.

You can find any number of great exercises to do, in or out of the gym. The following four offer the most benefits with the least risk of injury:

Walking: This is one of the most important activities for folks, because they sit so much of the time. It gives you everything you want from an exercise:

  • It gets you off your chair or couch.
  • It’s a natural movement and one that encourages good posture, with your shoulders back and your lumbar spine in the correct position.
  • It gives continuous work to the muscles and connective tissues responsible for stabilizing your feet, ankles, knees and hips.
  • It burns calories. The more you walk, the faster you go. The more hills and steps you climb, the more you burn. It’s also an exercise that you probably can’t get too much of.

Is walking on a treadmill just as good? Not really. A motorized treadmill does too much of the work for you.

You need to elevate the walking surface a few degrees just to match the effort of walking on flat ground. Mainly though, using a treadmill takes away one of the biggest benefits of walking: Getting outside, where you can enjoy sunshine and fresh air.

Squats: Unless you spend a lot of time on steps or hills, walking isn’t going to do much to increase your lower-body strength, or to preserve the vital muscle tissue that disappears with age and inactivity. That’s where the squat comes in.

It’s a simple exercise — you push your hips back, as if you’re about to sit in a chair, and then straighten your hips and knees as you return to the standing position — with countless variations.

If you belong to a gym, you’ve probably seen a bunch of them, starting with the impossibly strong young men who squat with hundreds of pounds on their backs. Obviously, that’s not the right choice for you. (Or for anybody who isn’t young and injury-free.)

The best way to start is by sitting back until your behind touches a box or bench that’s about 18 to 24 inches high. From there, you simply rise and repeat. Just make sure you start the movement by pushing your hips backward, rather than bending your knees and shifting your weight out over your toes.

Your feet should stay flat on the floor while your chest stays up, pointing forward. If you need to make it harder, hold a dumbbell with both hands right under your chin.

Pushups: This exercise works the same muscles as the chest press, but it also stretches them while training the core muscles to stabilize your torso and protect your lower back. Not many older people can do traditional pushups, with your hands and feet on the floor.

Fortunately, you can make it easier without losing any benefits by elevating your hands on a box, bench or step; a kitchen counter; or even a wall.

Rows and lat pulldowns: As with squats, there are lots of ways to do rows. But the one you’ll see most often in a gym is the seated row, using a cable machine.

It’s usually part of an apparatus that includes a lat pulldown station. With both exercises, the movement is pretty simple: Use the muscles in your upper and middle back to pull a bar to your chest. Hold it in that position by squeezing your shoulder blades together, return to the starting position, and repeat.

These exercises are just a sample. Folks often underestimate what older people can do. Sometimes the seniors sell themselves short by sticking with the simplest exercises when there are so many better choices. But keep in mind what many have discovered the hard way: Just because an exercise is simple, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

As always, before starting or changing your fitness routine, consult with your doctor. Step away from the sofa and make the move toward a healthier life.

Jody Holton writes about health for Port Arthur Newsmedia. She can be reached at jholton3@gt.rr.com.