It's never too late to start exercising

February 10, 2012 2:56:03 PM PST
People say that 60 is the new 40, and that many of us are in better shape even as we age.

The good news is that if you're 60 and want to look 40, exercise may be the answer.

Muscle turns to fat faster the older we get, and it's never too late to start exercising, one cardiologist said.

You may have to check with your doctor to make sure how much you should do and how fast you can do it, but for one octogenarian, exercise is now a way of life.

Joan Fisher is 81 years old.

She's a runner and started at age 54 by simply walking.

With a shelf full of trophies and medals, it's clear that running became a major part of Joan's life.

Why start exercising after age 50?

"Because I wanted to stop smoking and I couldn't live with the dichotomy of being a smoker and being a runner," Fisher said.

No longer a smoker, Joan relied on her doctor's advice to start a healthier life by starting slowly and building up gradually.

It can reverse your risk of life threatening disease.

"After five years without smoking, your risk of having a cardiovascular event is back down to that of a non smoker," said Dr. Allison Spatz, Pearlman Heart Institute.

A cardiovascular event means a heart attack or a stroke.

What makes this story even more interesting is that a couple months ago, Joan had open heart surgery to replace a damaged heart valve and had a pacemaker put in.

Even 10 years ago, the open heart surgery would not have been attempted on someone of Joan's age.

Doctors thought it would be too risky.

But she and other older athletes are physically younger.

"She got through that surgery so well because she was in such good shape going into it," Dr. Spatz said.

It's not just physical good shape; Joan says running is her anti-depressant.

The 5k charity "Cupid's Race" was her goal after her surgery and cardiac rehab.

Joan has some important advice for other seniors.

"Start walking and walk a little faster, just try it. You're outdoor, it's beautiful, it's all win-win," Fisher said.

Win-win several times over, with weight loss as another benefit, and even getting off medication for type 2 diabetes that may come along with overweight.

Doctor Spatz reminds older people who want to start exercising to have talk to their doctors to see if any testing is needed before they begin to work out.

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