Exercises for boomers (and why they’re so important)


A year and a half ago, Elliott Haimoff could barely walk down the street without losing his breath. He weighed 285 pounds and, as a busy documentary filmmaker whose job involves lots of travel and sedentary editing work, he rarely took time to exercise or to think about the food he ate.

“I was just so out of control and my eating habits were poor and I wasn’t exercising regularly,” said Haimoff, 60, who lives in Beverly Hills and attends Congregation Mogen David, a Modern Orthodox congregation on West Pico Boulevard. “I just got to a point where enough was enough. … I said, ‘This is it. I’m going to make my last stand.’ ”

So Haimoff began working with a personal trainer, Betsy Mendel, who advised him on ways to improve his diet and started him on an exercise routine. He cut out fried foods, wheat and processed sugar (no more fried chicken, pasta or dessert). He also began working out about three times a week, combining cardiovascular activity — walking or hiking — and weight-bearing exercises using resistance bands and kettle bells. 

Today, Haimoff is 90 pounds lighter and feels several decades younger, too. Instead of just walking to the end of the street, he now enjoys hiking for several miles through the Santa Monica Mountains.

“I feel like I’m 30 again, I just have all this energy, I’m raring to go,” he said. “It’s just made a tremendous difference in my life. I feel like a different person. I definitely think I’ve put some time back on the clock.”

Elliott Haimoff, 60, has lost 90 pounds since changing his diet and starting on an exercise routine. Photo courtesy of Elliott Haimoff

Eating well and exercising are important at all stages of life. But for people 50 and older, diet and exercise become less about looking good and more about staying healthy and improving quality of life, according to Mendel, a Santa Monica personal trainer and author of “Move a Muscle, Change a Mood: The Transformative Power of Exercising, Eating Healthy & Thinking Positive.” 

Mendel, who attends Shabbat services at Nashuva, a Jewish spiritual community based in Brentwood, said exercise after 50 can help counteract some of the negative aspects of aging, such as decreased strength, reduced flexibility, balance problems and poor posture. Exercise also reduces the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, and it increases your chances of living longer. Boomers shouldn’t expect to do the same intensity of exercise as they did in their 20s and 30s, but they can still make dramatic improvements to their health, Mendel said. 

“The endorphins alone — the feeling you get when you work out — you sleep better, eat healthier, are less stressed,” she said. “The goal of exercise after 50 is health and well-being; it’s not physical prowess.”

To get the most from your fitness routine, Mendel recommends incorporating exercises that target five areas: cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, balance and core strength. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise regime, she said, but here are some basic tips to get you started.

Cardiovascular health

Get moving. Cardiovascular exercise can be anything that gets your heart pumping: bicycling, hiking, walking briskly, swimming. Running is not recommended unless you’ve been a runner all of your life, Mendel said. Cardiovascular exercise reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes, lifts your mood and can help with weight loss.

Mendel recommends 30 minutes a day, five to seven days a week, but if you can manage only two days a week, begin with that. “Anything is better than nothing,” she said. 

Strength 

You don’t need fancy equipment or a plush gym membership to work out your muscles. Strength training exercises can be performed using simple items available in sports or department stores, such as dumbbells and resistance bands. You also can use your own body weight. 

Strength training after 50 isn’t about gaining big muscles. Instead, it’s about building muscle mass and strengthening your muscles so that you can continue to do the things you do every day like climbing stairs, carrying groceries and picking up your grandchildren. Building muscle also helps improve posture and increase metabolism, which slows as you age, Mendel said.

She recommends strength training three days a week for at least 30 minutes. Exercises should target both the upper and lower body. For the upper body, she recommends bicep curls, tricep extensions, lateral raises, rowing and pushups. Pushups can be done against a wall if you have trouble doing them on the floor.

For the lower body, Mendel recommends squats and lunges. If you use weights, she recommends women start with 3- to 5-pound weights, and men with 5 to 10 pounds.

Guidelines for all of these exercises can be found online, in many exercise books or by consulting a personal trainer.

Flexibility 

Call it flexibility training or stretching. Like strength training, stretching will help with regular daily activities, such as getting in and out of a car or bending down to pick something off the floor.

“If you haven’t been exercising, you definitely get stiffer as you get older,” Mendel said. “Better flexibility reduces the risk of back pain and muscle pulls. … It just makes you feel more limber.”

A good stretching routine could include arm circles, neck rolls, touching your toes (you can do this while sitting on the floor), calf raises against the wall, hamstring and quad stretches, and side stretches. Mendel recommends stretching for five to 10 minutes every day.

Balance 

Improving balance is key to preventing one of the biggest problems people face as they age: falling. Our sense of balance decreases as we get older. In fact, more than a third of adults ages 65 and older fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Balance exercises can help prevent this problem.

Mendel recommends spending about two to three minutes each day working on balance. This could be standing on one leg while holding onto the wall and then letting go of the wall. Or you could stand on your tiptoes and hold for a few seconds. Yoga poses such as the tree pose also are good for balance, Mendel said. 

Core strength

Working your core means strengthening your abdominal and back muscles and the muscles around your pelvis. Strong core muscles make it easier to do many daily physical activities such as lifting. It also can prevent back pain and help with balance.

Core exercises recommended by Mendel include: crunches, reverse crunches, planks and bicycle exercises on the floor in which you touch your elbows to your knees in a cycling motion. Consult a trainer or exercise book for more guidance on how to do these exercises.

Mendel suggests incorporating core exercise into your workout regime five to seven days a week. Most importantly, whatever exercise you choose, make sure you do it and stay consistent, Mendel concluded. 

“Basically, my philosophy for fitness is really simple: It’s get up and get out and get moving. Anything is better than nothing,” she said.

“Get off your butt.”

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