This Month’s Main Event: Sound Advice From A Medical Expert.

In Part Two I’m going to focus on fitness and heart health, the latter particularly important to me as a favorite nephew of mine who’s only 49 suddenly ended up in the hospital two days ago having a stent put in due to a 100 percent blocked artery. I may have company soon on my fitness journey! My primary doctor, internist Anne Chang, who’s the medical director of women’s health primary care at UCSF, one of the world’s leading hospitals, took time out of her busy schedule earlier this week to call me and answer some questions I e-mailed her recently about health and exercise. Read on.

Dr. Anne Chang, UCSF's women's health primary care medical director, offers sage advice. Credit: UCSF
Dr. Anne Chang, UCSF’s women’s health primary care medical director, offers sage advice.
Credit: UCSF

Rose Marie: How important is it for people over 50 to check with their doctor before they embark on a fitness program? And why? Dr. Anne Chang: Probably most of the time, it’s wise for seniors to check with their doctors before starting a fitness program, primarily to check the cardiac risk factor. Are they having symptoms? Does it take effort to lift a bag of groceries or climb two flights of stairs? Things to watch for are shortness of breath, lightheadedness, chest pains, or palpitations. On their doctor visit, the doctor needs to take a good history of their health. Seniors who want to continue skiing or get back into it should proceed with caution or perhaps reconsider the sport if they have any back issues or problems—such as arthritis—in their hips, knees, or ankles.

RM: I had a couple of bone density tests when I was in my 50s. Should I have another one? AC: Yes, you should. The guidelines for these tests have been refined quite a bit since your previous tests. Now the recommendation for women with no documented risk factors is to get their first bone density test at age 65; depending on what that test shows, the recommendation for their next test is anywhere from two to five years later. For men the recommended age for their first bone density test is 70, with the same subsequent test recommendations. You probably didn’t need to have those tests when you were younger, but you should have another one now. [I’m scheduling it next week!]

RM: What, in your mind, are the three most important things for a 50-plus individual to do before he or she begins a fitness program? AC: The first thing is to talk to your doctor. Second, based on how fit you are, make sure that the fitness program fits your activity level going in. If you’ve been really sedentary, you don’t want to start off, for example, in one of those more aggressive fitness programs. Finally, choose a fitness program that fits your particular needs and goals. [Note: for skiers and boarders, those would be exercise programs that focus on cardio, muscle stretching, strength, and balance.]

RM: There have been a lot of conflicting recommendations out there regarding how much and what type of exercise someone needs to do weekly as a minimum to reach a healthy level of fitness. What do you say? AC: I go by the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily, such as fast walking.

When asked about which is more important on one’s road to fitness, diet or exercise, Dr. Chang said they are equally important. “Doing one without the other won’t bring you the results you want.” When asked about electronic measuring devices, such as FitBit or iPhone apps, Dr. Chang said, “Anything like that is good because it engages your attention.” When she said that, it struck me that those devices are to your physical fitness what nutrition labeling on food is to your diet! Speaking of diet, that will be my topic of discussion next month, and hopefully I will have made greater strides with that half of my fitness plan. As the good doctor said…!

Correspondent Rose Marie Cleese goes to the Senior Center in Golden Gate Park for free exercise classes. Credit: SFP&R
Correspondent Rose Marie Cleese goes to the Senior Center in Golden Gate Park for free exercise classes.
Credit: SFRecPark

Speaking of my fitness plan: here’s the straight skinny as of today. I have a long way to go before “skinny”—I’ve lost only two pounds since I posted Part One of my journey to fitness four weeks ago—but I’m undaunted. At least I’m going in the right direction and haven’t backslid. The exercise part of my plan is going really well; I’m continuing my mix of four exercise classes a week, and I’ve missed only one during this 11-week session. I’ve lost an inch all around since I last measured (the usual three measurements plus my stomach and thighs) two months ago. Several people have commented, unsolicited, about my looking thinner. Plus I’m able once again to wear a pair of black jeans that have been in the drawer for quite some time.

A parting exercise tip: you know how hard it is to remember when you’re supposed to inhale and exhale when exercising? I’ve come up with a easy way to remember! Think of the “3 ex’s”: example: exertion means exhale. You’re welcome…and again, I welcome any and all comments and suggestions.

Editor Note: You go girl!  Keep it up, Rose Marie!


  1. John Barker says:

    Thank you for giving us an incite to how and what other older skiers or non athletic types can be doing . Not just to live longer, but live longer better.
    Looking forward to part three.

  2. Keep up the good work, the most important part is you are moving, and I imagine feeling better. It is a long slow process, but keep heading in the right direction. Try an added walk on the days you don’t go to class, remember, more energy out, equals more calories spent. Keep us updated.

  3. a modest fitness suggestion: yoga has found an permanent and valuable place in my fitness routine. balance, muscle tone, concentration all improved since starting yoga.

    • Rose Marie Cleese says:

      I totally agree that all seniors (and everyone, for that matter) should do yoga (the trick is finding the right teacher and right level for you). When I worked at this publishing company a few decades ago, I had a woman come in every Thursday evening after work and up to 10 of us would do an hour of yoga on this spacious carpeted area. This went on for nearly 10 years and I’ve really missed it. Right now I have so many exercise classes going that I didn’t want to add yoga to the mix, but plan to do so in the fall and I will write about it then and why it’s so good for seniors. Not a modest suggestion at all!! Thanks.

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