Focus on the core
By the time you hit the gym, you may be so intent to pound through that cardio routine that you forget to work one of your body's most essential muscle groups — your core. No longer synonymous with simple tummy tightening, core training strengthens all the muscles between your rib cage and pelvis to help you achieve greater stability, balance, and control in your spine, legs, and shoulders. “All movement starts from the very center of your body — what I call the pillar,” says Mark Verstegen, founder and president of Athletes' Performance training centers with locations in Arizona, California, and Florida, and co-author of Core Performance Essentials (Rodale, 2006).
As you age, not only will a weak core translate to less power when it comes to sports, but it also may inhibit range of motion and hip stability. What's more, your core supports your back, so keeping it strong will help protect against herniated disks in the decades ahead. “This is really prehab,” says Verstegen, “because it builds the kind of strength that helps you do all of your favorite activities — dancing, surfing, golfing, or anything — with less risk of injury and more power.” Many gyms offer Pilates, which strengthens the core through slow, repetitive movements. Or try a core-conditioning class that uses props such as stability balls to increase balance and range of motion. After you gain more confidence, check out instructional DVDs, such as Abs Conditioning: Yoga, BalanceBall, Pilates (Gaiam, 2003).
Next Page: Walk every day, Make time for yoga
Walk every day
For nearly a decade public-health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have urged Americans to take 10,000 steps — the equivalent of about 5 miles — every day. But we're falling woefully short. The typical American woman takes just 5,210 steps — roughly 2.5 miles — a day (men take around 7,000), according to Catrine Tudor-Locke, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Upping your daily mileage can boost more than just weight loss — at least that's what a group of Danish researchers recently concluded. Their study, published this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that when a group of healthy men reduced their number of daily steps from 6,203 to 1,344, within two weeks the subjects' insulin levels rose by nearly 60 percent, putting them at risk for diabetes. Likewise, abdominal fat increased by 7 percent even though subjects didn't gain any weight.
If you need extra motivation, consider investing in a basic pedometer — available for around $25 in athletic stores — to help keep tabs on exactly how many steps you are or aren't taking. Then work in activity by choosing a lunch spot that's a few blocks away instead of eating at the restaurant across the street; building social visits around a walk in the park; visiting the museum more often; and thinking twice before you drive a few blocks to a friend's house. Or plan a vacation using the America's Walking list of the most walkable cities (pbs.org/americaswalking/travel/travelmost.html).
Make time for yoga
Here's a convincing reason to finally check out yoga: It can help you walk faster. Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia examined the gait and postural stability of 24 women enrolled in a yoga class designed specifically for women 65 and older. At the end of the nine-week program, participants had faster strides, increased flexibility in the lower extremities, and better balance, which can reduce the risk of falling.