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it's never too late to get in shape

According to The National Institute on Aging, less than one-third of Americans over 55 are physically active. But those who have adopted a regular exercise program are living longer and enjoying their years to the fullest.

In fact, regardless of age or state of health, older adults can significantly slow the deterioration of both body and mind by engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training. Research shows that older adults who exercise have a lower risk of coronary heart disease; lower risk of hypertension; decreased blood pressure; control of late-onset diabetes; relief for arthritis pain; increased bone density; reduced risk of fractured bones; better balance; ability to avoid accidental injuries; maintenance of personal independence; and can engage in active activities such as skiing, running and cycling.

Trainer and track competitor Bill Collins is proof that an active lifestyle promotes good health throughout your life. At age 53, Collins holds the world age group record in the USA Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships as well as the 200-meter record in three different age groups. He's won 10 World Masters titles and more than 70 American Masters crowns, and he hasn't been beaten in years! His world records in the 100, 200, and most recently, 400 meter races, make him the fastest runner alive for his age. No one in his age group anywhere in the world has run as fast.

Collins should inspire anyone who leads a sedentary lifestyle, especially older adults who, at 50, are slowing down or feel it's too late to start an exercise program. Collins has no intention of slowing down. Presently, he is only a 1/2 second off his best running time achieved at age 18. In fact, he ran faster at age 50 than when he was 40 -- thanks in part to a healthy exercise plan.

For those who are older like Collins and want to get in shape, the American Academy of Family Physicians offers these tips for starting an exercise program:

•Wear comfortable, well-fitting clothing and sturdy shoes with good arch support, and an elevated and cushioned heel to absorb shock. Collins friends call him "X-man" for the conditioning tights he wears. It's a new technology that allows runners of all ages to maximize their performance because it supports muscles and joints and reduces fatigue. Collins wears them while running, biking, and hiking.

•Check with a doctor first, then start slowly with exercises that are most comfortable. People who do this will be less likely to injure themselves and it will prevent soreness. Start with walking. As people become used to it, they can increase the intensity of their workout.

•Engage in some type of aerobic activity (walking, swimming or bicycling) for at least 30 minutes every day, and resistance or strength training two days per week.

•Warm up for five minutes before each exercise session by walking slowly or stretching. Cool down with more stretching for five minutes (longer in warm weather).

•People shouldn't exercise if they feel under the weather, have a cold, the flu, or another illness. They should wait until they feel better. If more than two weeks pass between exercising because of illness, be sure to start slowly again.

•If muscles or joints are sore the day after exercising, individuals may have overexerted themselves. Next time, exercise at a lower intensity.

•If pain or discomfort persists; if a person has chest pains or pressure, have trouble breathing or have excessive shortness of breath, are light-headed or dizzy, have difficulty with balance, or feel nauseous while exercising, they should discuss the situation with their doctor.

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