Never Too Late—Getting Healthy With a Little Help From Your Friends

Never Too Late—Getting Healthy With a Little Help From Your Friends

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CHICAGO--Even in your 50s, 60s and beyond--even if you are seriously overweight, have already developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes; even if you've indulged in a steady diet of bad habits or have never set foot in a gym or walked further than necessary to get to where you parked your car, it's not too late.

With regular exercise, such as dancing, swimming or hitting th gym, you can still become stronger, healthier and more energetic while slowing the effects of aging.

Sharon Conte of Chicago is living proof that it's never too late to change. At the age of 58, she was overweight, had high cholesterol and hypertension, and had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and Graves' disease.

"I did not know how out of shape I had become," she said. "I was depressed and always hurting somewhere." In March of 2013, she decided to change all that. But like many who are new to physical activity, it was hard to know where to start.

Knowing Where to Start

Knowing where to start is a common problem, according to Chris Hylton, a certified personal trainer and owner of River West Family Fitness in Batavia, Ill.

"I think the hardest part as you get older is that you're so used to doing nothing that it seems insurmountable," he said. "The best thing you can do is try something out of the norm and get out of your comfort zone."

Conte's first step was to simply dance to her favorite music for an hour before work each day. Three months later, she felt a little better, enough to that she was able to stop taking pain pills.

This tracks with results of research by Rebecca Ann Lorenze, PhD, RN, and colleagues examining the effect of dance on joint pain and stiffness, and on the use of pain medication. They found that study participants experienced a reduction in pain and stiffness, and the reduction was most pronounced among those who attended more dance sessions during the study. The dancers reduced their use of pain medication by 39 percent; in the control group that did not dance, medication use increased by 21 percent.

As Conte continued to feel better, she was able to exercise more, and added moderate weight training to her regimen. She also adopted a more healthful eating plan and added foods that helped reduce her inflammation.

"By the end of the year, I knew I needed to do more than dance and use dumbbells and leg weights," she said. She joined an online fitness group that provides challenging at-home workouts, coaching and peer support.

The Payoff?

The support of others can be invaluable to those who are putting a new, active lifestyle in place. Hylton said for those who have good intentions but can't seem to get an at-home exercise program off the ground, it helps a little to work with others.

"It's harder to do it on your own," he said. If you're not sure where to begin, getting out of the house and taking advantage of fitness activities in your community, whether at a local gym, YMCA, park district or senior center, might get you started.

"On most days now, I have my workouts to look forward to," Conte said. "I challenge my eating and physical movement daily."

The payoff for all this effort? As of this spring, Conte has lost 39 pounds and her cholesterol is back to normal. With her physician's blessing, she's on track to lose another 39 pounds before the end of the year and may no longer need blood pressure medication.

"I'm not yet where I plan to be," she said, "but I could not be where I am without starting somewhere."
And that, perhaps, is one of the biggest obstacles people face when they make the decision to become more fit. It's one thing to understand that exercise is the key to improving numerous life-threatening conditions and improving your quality of life. It's quite another to know where to begin.

It may take some effort to get started, but according to Conte, the effort is richly rewarded, along the way and in the future.

"By the end of this year," she said, "there will be a toner, lighter, stronger me. Exercise has saved my life."

Dawn Williams wrote this story for Senior News 50 and Better with support from the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowships, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.