Made to Last
Fitness helps us stay strong, flexible, and playful at any age.
by Bill Donahue

A popular YouTube video begins with a man named Stephen who recalls how, at the age of 59, he wanted to “be fit again” by the time he turned 60. The three-minute video, which is more or less a promotion for GMB Fitness, explains how Stephen tried some high-intensity workouts he ultimately wound up steering away from and found a routine that worked for him. 
At 65, Stephen became fitter, stronger, and more flexible than he had been in years. He did so, in part, by discovering a safe and “enlivening” fitness routine that incorporated play, creativity, and exploration. In other words, fitness became fun again.
Fitness becomes essential in our 50s and 60s, as the human body undergoes progressive changes in muscle tone, bone density, and other aspects of physiology. Increasing physical activity also has the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke as we age, according to a study published in the April 2020 edition of the European Heart Journal.
Researchers found that people who went from being inactive to moderately or vigorously active at least three times per week experienced significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular problems. The level of activity needed to reap the benefits amounted to approximately one hour of running per week, and the benefits extended to people who were disabled or contending with chronic health issues. 
Researchers performed two consecutive health checks on more than 1 million men and women 60 years of age and older, from 2009 to 2010, and then from 2011 to 2012. During each health check, study participants were surveyed about their lifestyle and physical activity, which helped researchers determine any health changes between intervals. Researchers found that approximately 20 percent of inactive seniors at the first check had increased their physical activity by the second, and experienced an 11 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease as a result. Also, 54 percent of participants who reported exercising at least five times per week at their first screening had become inactive by the time of the second. These individuals increased their risk of cardiovascular problems by 27 percent.
An exercise routine for Americans ages 65 and older should incorporate 150 minutes of moderate endurance activity each week, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This routine should include exercises such as walking, swimming, and cycling, as well as daily activities to improve strength, flexibility, and balance. While fitness may be the key to a long and healthy life, health experts emphasize the importance of starting slowly, especially for individuals coming from a largely sedentary lifestyle. 
The Healthline website,, details dozens of exercises to help senior improve their fitness levels, even if they don’t have ready access to a gym. A starting fitness plan may include strength-building exercises such as abdominal contractions, wall pushups, and heel raises, plus balance boosters, such as single leg balances and shifting one’s body weight from one foot to the other, plus various stretches to maintain one’s flexibility.
As for Stephen, the subject of the YouTube video referenced at the beginning of this story, he’s focused on “training to last.” Put another way, he believes his fitness routine will enable his body to “age differently” into his 70s, 80s, and even farther down the road.

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, March 2021.