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‘Don’t pump up like Arnold, stay within limits’

Hollywood veteran Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest workout video on Instagram, where he pumps up his muscles despite being 74, may be goal-setting and inspirational. But does that mean all 70-year-olds should push their limits, even if they have been on a somewhat consistent fitness regime?

Of course, Schwarzenegger, having acquired a public image courtesy The Terminator series, may want to look invincible and has been posting similar intense activity videos such as cycling. “But that ‘me-too-can-do’ formula doesn’t apply to the fittest senior citizens. As a person ages, the physical condition becomes a major determinant of duration and intensity. Those who are accustomed to a fitness regime and have no other physical limitation can continue to exercise at previous levels. But they have to be vigilant about certain protocols lest over-enthusiasm triggers cardio-vascular events. For example, they should give adequate time for warming up and cooling down and avoid sudden movements. Any undue breathlessness or chest discomfort should be followed by de-escalation. People with a previous history of disease should always go for a supervised exercise programme,” says Dr Parneesh Arora, Director, Interventional Cardiology, Cardiac Sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj.

Your exercise limit depends on your heart rate

Now comes the question about intensity of exercise in relation to age. “To estimate your maximum age-related heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, for a 50-year-old person, the estimated maximum age-related heart rate would be calculated as 220 – 50 years = 170 beats per minute (bpm). For people who have NO pre-existing cardiac pulmonary ailments, the above mentioned criteria holds but within safe protocols. Others have to choose a moderate intensity exercise routine where the heart rate achieved is 85 per cent of the target rate (220-age in years). Remember that high-intensity exercise is usually meant for athletic training, professional athletes or those who have been doing it from an early age. So a medium level is what applies to others,” says Dr Arora.

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Some form of exercise is good for the heart

Multiple studies have established that exercise training reduces the risk of ischemic heart disease. “For cardiac benefits, the exercise must be of some duration and of some intensity. The duration for cardiovascular benefits is as low as 70 minutes of high intensity or 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. For most people, exercising over the 85 per cent heart rate is difficult. Even maintaining that level is possible only through sustained training,” says the doctor.

Safety protocols while exercising

It must also be kept in mind that a 30-minute window after an exercise session ups the risk of sudden death. “Therefore, warm up and cool down very gradually to let the body adjust,” says Dr Arora.

He even suggests a self-check method. “While exercising, minimise speech. If you have to talk at all, stick to words and not sentences. At the end of the exercise, you should be pleasantly exhausted and not down and out. So calibrate your periodicity and intensity accordingly. Vary your exercises. Aerobics confer more cardio-vascular benefits. So opt for walking, jogging, swimming, athletics, golf and so on. Muscle-building through weight training is more of an anaerobic activity though light weights confer additional benefits in addition to aerobic activity. The duration of exercise again depends on previous training,” suggests Dr Arora.

Studies have shown that most older adults need about two-and-a-half hours of aerobic exercise, like brisk walking lasting 30 minutes every week. Usually endurance exercises like walking, dancing and playing tennis help your breathing, heart rate and energy. And in a country with a lived yoga tradition, easy body stretches keep you supple and flexible. Even simple things like standing on one foot, walking heel-to-toe or practising yoga can keep you steady and prevent falls.

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Dr Arora suggests that the focus should be on strength training that, in old age, prevents you from losing muscle mass and strengthens your bones. Swimming, he feels, is a good option as water exercises make it easier for you to support your weight and help you lubricate your joints.

Schwarzenegger had shared a greyscale picture of himself working out before he attended an event. The actor, captioned the post: “Getting pumped earlier for Austrian World Summit.” The comments section of his post was filled with comments lauding the actor for his fitness regime, callng him a “hero” or “Amazing Arnold” and complimenting him for having the “best biceps 50 years later.”

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