Health & Fitness

By 40, you’ve got to get moving

Brittany Wallman runs south on State Road 7 during morning training for a half marathon in Plantation.
Brittany Wallman runs south on State Road 7 during morning training for a half marathon in Plantation. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Most mornings, well before sunrise, Plantation resident Brittany Wallman is running through the dark streets of suburban Broward.

Wallman, 47, has a full-time job as a reporter for the Sun Sentinel and is raising two children, an 18-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. She also teaches Sunday school. But staying fit is a top priority for Wallman, who was inspired by an aunt who exercised daily and frequently told Wallman “as you get older, you have to pedal faster to stay in place.”

After mastering 5ks and 10ks, Wallman is now planning her first half-marathon next month. Wallman already has a plan for her 50th birthday, a true milestone: her first marathon.

“God willing, I’ll live another 40 years, and I didn’t want to spend all of that time watching my body fall apart,” Wallman said. “I see older people in their 60s and 70s at these races and it’s so inspirational to see them running at that age. They’re aging gracefully and I hope to do the same.”

Wallman is part of a new generation of middle-aged people who are determined to stay fit as they age. By running, walking, swimming or doing other forms of exercise, they hope to keep their bodies running like well-oiled machines, forever shattering the image of the old lady or man stooped over with a cane or relegated to a rocking chair.

“There are a lot of great things we can do as we age, and exercise is No. 1,” said Dr. Dalia McCoy, a family medicine practitioner at Cleveland Clinic in Weston. “You can swim, you can walk, you can do yoga, you just have to make sure you do 30 minutes, five days a week. That way you can prevent chronic illnesses, such as high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.’’

Doctors cite exercise, along with nutrition, as the most-important steps people can take to maintain their health as they age and head toward their so-called golden years. Exercise has been linked to a reduction in many diseases, including arthritis, cancer and dementia.

Additionally, according to a recently released study led by a University of Miami public health physician-scientist, exercise has been shown to reduce falls and injuries among middle-aged adults. The study, published online in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, was one of the few to focus on adults 45 to 64, who are perceived as less vulnerable in falls and injuries than seniors and therefore do not receive preventive interventions. Falls are the third-leading cause of accidental death among middle-aged Americans.

Aventura lawyer Ivy Ginsberg is well aware of how exercise can keep her fit and heart-healthy. Ginsberg, 53, plays tennis every Saturday and Sunday, and supplements that regimen with nightly, two-mile walks with her dog, Mr. Bear.

But that’s not enough for Ginsberg, a divorcee, who is looking to join a gym.

“As you age, your knees and joints don’t work as well as they used to,” noted Ginsberg, who has suffered injuries to her shoulder, thumb, knee and elbow over the years. “But most of all, it’s important to stay healthy by exercising and eating right so that you avoid having a heart attack.”

Ginsberg has a father with severe heart disease and is hoping to beat the genetic link.

Excercise, coupled with eating healthy, can reverse negative health lines. One of McCoy’s recent success stories: a female patient who was pre-diabetic and had borderline high blood pressure. She took McCoy’s advice on starting a daily exercise routine, eliminated sugar and carbohydrates from her diet and starting competing in triathlons, which combine swimming, cycling and running. Within three months, she lost 30 pounds and threw away her medications.

For others who suffer from a condition called peripheral artery disease, walking is not only recommended but essential. The disease causes a buildup of plaque in the arteries of the leg that can inhibit proper circulation.

In the past, surgery or a catheritization was required in such cases. Now, walk therapy is the first line of treatment, said Dr. Bernard Ashby, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Heart Institute.

Dr. Natalie Sanchez, a primary care physician at Baptist Health Medical Group in Miami, encourages her patients to exercise for 30 minutes three times a week. She also encourages her patients to take small steps on a daily basis, like using the stairs, parking far away from their destination and participating in a family recreational activity.

“It can be swimming, walking or biking — something to get their heart rate up, so that they feel short of breath,” she said. “I tell them, find something you enjoy. It shouldn’t be torturous.”