Originally created 09/26/00

Senior strength



Ann Machovec is dedicated to her workout. At least three days a week she is in the gym before the sun comes up, working every muscle group in her body.

Her daughter calls her a "gym rat." Onlookers in the gym call her an inspiration. Mrs. Machovec is 70 years old.

Mrs. Machovec said that fellow gym-members frequently approach her to ask how old she is and how she stays so active.

"And they always say, `If I could just get my mother, or my wife, to do this,"' she said.

But she didn't start out as strong as she is now. In May 1998, Mrs. Machovec was told by doctors at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center that she had to begin an exercise program and lose weight or be faced with an unpleasant alternative.

"It was that or else I would be carrying around an oxygen bottle in another two years," she said.

Mrs. Machovec was 40 pounds overweight and had several other health problems. Among the most serious were diabetes, arthritis and scoliosis - which was so severe her spine was curving into her right lung and diminishing lung capacity. Her back also was cause for concern. She had undergone four back surgeries, including a spinal fusion and the insertion of two rods in her spine. She worried that her body wouldn't tolerate exercise.

"I told the pulmonary doctor that I've never done anything like this. I don't know if I can do it," she said. "But the decision to take charge of my health problems in 1998 was one of the three most important decisions of my life."

(The other two were the day she became a Christian in 1960 and marrying a "tall, handsome Marine in 1953.")

She immediately began a low-fat, low-calorie and low-sodium diet to lose weight. From May to December of 1998, she lost 20 pounds. Encouraged by her doctors, husband and daughter, she joined Gold's Gym under a three-month trial membership.

Mrs. Machovec started out under the training of her daughter Kim Rogers, who is a marathon runner and weightlifter. She began with light weights and single sets of lifting. She quickly began to feel the effects.

Mrs. Rogers gave her a one-year membership for Christmas 1998. "How could I not keep it up then?" Mrs. Machovec said.

These days Mrs. Machovec, who is 40 pounds lighter, is in the gym by 6 a.m. After a 30-minute warmup on the treadmill, she lifts weights for about an hour, working every muscle group.

Her breathing capacity is close to normal (with a little help from inhalants). She has no problems with her arthritis as long as she keeps up her program, and her diabetes is under control without medication.

Seniors can benefit from exercise in many ways.

The U.S. Administration on Aging has reported that with exercise - bones, particularly in the joints and spinal column - rebuild and repair themselves as they should. Without regular exercise, they tend to become thin and porous, a condition known as osteoporosis.

Aerobic exercise also will strengthen the heart, help maintain lung capacity, and improve the function of the liver, pancreas and other vital organs.

Weight training increases the strength of ligaments and tendons so that less stress is placed on joints.

Tom Jackson, medical director for Medical College of Georgia Center for Senior Health, said seniors who don't exercise get caught in a cycle of inactivity.

"One of the causes of disability when you are older is being sedentary," Dr. Jackson said. "Not only do you become weaker, you have trouble balancing and walking."

The more active seniors remain, the better able they are to do basic things to take better care of themselves, he said.

Besides checking with a physician before beginning an exercise program, Dr. Jackson recommends starting extremely easy.

"You want to start out at so little that you laugh at it," he said, "so little that it doesn't hurt the next day and do that for a while. There's no rush."

But Dr. Jackson said his best advice is to exercise with friends.

"Do it in a social setting. It's probably the most important thing to be successful at it," he said.

Avery Villines, director of operations at the Family Y, said some may not be comfortable jumping into a regular exercise program and may find aquatics classes make the transition easier.

"I think the water is a very good way to begin," she said.

Ms. Villines teaches senior classes and finds that members of her classes prefer the softer impact of water exercising.

"They are getting little successes in the water that they may not get as quickly on land. The buoyancy of the water takes the body's weight off of joints."

Ms. Villines' basic advice to seniors is to move. "If you don't move, you won't move," she said.

Senior fitness classes

Most local health clubs, gyms and colleges offer classes for seniors. Other places to look are:

The Family Y offers two classes. Fitness after 50 is a low-impact class with chair aerobics, strength training and stretching. Twinges in Your Hinges is an aquatics class held in an indoor heated pool. Both classes require physician's consent and Family Y membership. Call 738-6678 for more information.

The Augusta Aquatics Center holds an ongoing senior water exercise class for $20 a month and a beginning swim class for seniors for $35. Call 261-0424 for more information.

Personal trainer Pam Ludlow specializes in training those over 50. She also teaches a step-aerobics class at First Baptist Church at 8:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Classes are $2, less if paid for in advance. Call her at 855-2147.

Getting physical

1. Here are some tips for seniors getting in shape from the Web site, www.agenet.com

2. Always check with your physician first.

3. Start off slow to avoid overexertion and accidents.

4. Warm up for about five minutes before workouts and cool down after exercises to avoid excess strain on the heart and injury to muscles. Never abruptly stop exercising; sudden stop in motion can cause lightheadedness or muscle cramping.

5. Don't attempt strenuous workout during hot, humid weather.

6. Wait at least two hours after eating to engage in moderate to heavy exercise.

7. Warning signs of overexertion include inability to talk, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, pain in chest, upper back, left shoulder or arm. If you experience any of these, check with a physician as soon as possible.

Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332 or lisalohr@augustachronicle.com.