March 2007 - Column:

Getting stick-to-it-ivness is sticky matter

Everyone knows that exercise is important. The problem is sticking to a regimen – especially as you age. Dr. Knopf says he has a plan that older adults can easily follow for the long haul.

“All it takes for older adults to stay fit and live a more active life,” says Dr. Knopf, “is 30 minutes of walking three times a week, a bit of stretching, and lifting small weights two times a week.”

Regular strength training, he says – which can take the form of water exercise classes, working with resistance bands or even repeatedly lifting a can of beans – can mean the difference between spending your last years in a nursing home and spending them traveling, enjoying your family and doing recreational pursuits.

Wall Street Journal: Can strength training combined with cardiovascular exercise really slow down aging?

Dr. Knopf: Yes, I think exercise truly is the fountain of youth. There is plenty of scientific evidence that the intervention of sound, sensible and prudent exercise can slow down and possibly reverse the effects of aging.

WSJ: A lot of older people would balk at the idea of lifting weights for fear of injury. How can people get over the fear of weight lifting?

Dr. Knopf: Strength training isn’t about lifting weights. The proper term is progressive resistive exercise.

It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you increase the load. Start out lifting a simple TV Guide magazine and move up to “War and Peace”. Progressive resistive exercise can be anything that progressively works the muscles.

WSJ: We hear a lot about cardiovascular exercise. Is that not as important as we’ve been led to believe?

Dr. Knopf: In the 1970’s, it was all about cardio. When people ask, “What’s the most important muscle of the body?” everyone is engrained to think: the heart. But when you get older, it’s the legs. If those legs go, so does your ability to maintain your independence. Cardio is one component of an exercise program, and it’s important. But strength, balance and flexibility are very important as well.

Taken in part from the 2/5/07 article in the Wall Street Journal with Dr. Karl Knopf, a 54 year-old author and professor of adaptive physical education at FoothillCommunity College in Los Altos, Calif.

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