Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterFall 2011

Motivation Is Key to Keeping Fit

How many times has your doctor encouraged you to exercise? Studies show that regular physical activity is the single most important determinant of healthy aging: regardless of age, chronic medical problem, or disability.

Go to: Vitality newsletter index

And yet, many of us still don't get enough. Why?

According to Rosemary Agostini, MD, chief of Group Health's new Activity, Sports, and Exercise Medicine Department, the first step is to identify any obstacles. "Your doctor's role is to ask the right questions so we can tailor a plan for you," she says. "Are you afraid of falling, aggravating an existing condition, or being out on your own? Do you have a problem getting to classes? Was bicycling taboo for girls when you were young?"

It may be a matter of not having the right exercise equipment. "I asked one patient who wore flimsy shoes to try walking in her husband's sneakers," says Dr. Agostini. "She immediately bought new shoes, and is now walking three times a week."

The next step is to find out what motivates you. For Joan Weisberg, 61, it was "abject fear" after she developed blood clots as a result of weighing 225 pounds and smoking three packs a day.

"My doctor urged me to stop smoking and lose weight, and I finally got scared enough to take action," she says. "I started running. My very first run was only about 10 yards because I became so short of breath." Today she runs marathons, rides her bicycle, swims, and competes in triathlons.

Weisberg discovered she's driven by a competitive spirit. Others, like Larry Fauquet, 74, are drawn by the outdoors and a love of cycling. "I enjoy riding my tricycle along the interurban trail," he says. "It's a good workout, it's fun, and I get to see a lot of people and nice places."

Fauquet's wife, Jennie, 74, is inspired by her friends. A year after she had both knees replaced, friends invited her and her husband to join their aerobics class. That was more than 10 years ago.

"We live in Shoreline, but drive up to Silver Lake three times a week because we've gotten so attached to people in our class," she says. "Even when we don't feel like exercising, we go to see our friends, and end up getting a good workout."

Some prefer to go it alone. "I like the freedom of walking whenever I want to," says Barbara De Anda, 74, who manages her diabetes naturally. "Sometimes it's a drag to get moving, but listening to music on my Walkman gets me out the door."

One of the biggest deterrents to exercising is fear that it could worsen a chronic condition. It's important to discuss this with your doctor. As Barbara Keyt, 82, has found, any physical movement is usually beneficial — especially for someone with severe arthritis.

"It's amazing how many people think they're going to hurt themselves by exercising," she says. "I admit that sometimes when I go to SilverSneakers in the morning, I hurt like the dickens and find it hard to get going. But afterwards I always feel better."

Other sites: Providers | Producers | Employers