Never Too Old

Specially tailored exercise programs can mean benefits for people of any age.

Most of Donna Hughes' clients don't run marathons or win Olympic medals. Their successes are considerably more basic.

"Two of them are women in their 80s," says Hughes, a personal trainer who works out of her home in Germantown. "One told me she can now pick up her grandson and climb the stairs. There are so many simple things they can do now that they couldn't do before, and they just feel younger."

Hughes has several clients in their 30s, but the majority of them are over 40. "They come to me because they've gotten soft, they've lost some strength and mobility, and they want to feel better and they want to look better."

She explains that a special regimen is required once anyone reaches 40. "Someone in their 40s just can't move the way they did when they were 20," she says. "Your muscle fibers have changed, so it's more important than ever to maintain what you've got, because things can break down so quickly."

With older clients, Hughes first begins with a physical assessment to determine their general state of health and exercise. "I learn even more when we begin our first workout, because that's when someone may tell me their shoulder hurts, or their knees ache, and then I can tailor a program to work on that."

A medical assessment is critical, because certain conditions are affected by exercise. Anyone with diabetes, Hughes explains, needs to avoid weight-lifting in a head-down position, because the stress can cause retinal bleeding. In addition, medication side effects may limit what that person can do.

Hughes' exercise programs, which usually last one hour several times a week, use elastic tension bands, free weights, treadmills, and a variety of other equipment. Her favorite device is the kettlebell, which looks like a cannonball with a cast-iron handle.

"Kettlebells are good for any age," she says. "You can do more with them than regular dumbbells because they don't stay in place when you're gripping them in your hand." She demonstrates by grabbing a 36-pound one by the loop and hefting it over her head. "You see how it moves as you lift it? It's almost as if it's alive. And with kettlebells, you can really get your heart rate up, while improving your muscle tone, strength, and flexibility."

Society has changed the way people use their bodies. "Throughout human history," she says, "people did hard work and rested, hard work and rested — all their lives. But now, lots of people don't really do much physical labor, so what we want to do is condition ourselves so we have our full resources available when we need them."

All trainers have different approaches, but Hughes believes that less reps — or repetitions — with more weights or resistance is more effective than lots of reps with less resistance. "Jogging is a great cardiovascular exercise," she says, "but it doesn't really build muscle, and it can even damage your joints, especially if you are older."

Diet is critical, she says. "There's a lot of misconceptions about health. You just can't eat oatmeal every day and stay healthy. Believe it or not, but your body actually needs some fat to work properly. Your liver, for instance, is mostly fat and can't function without it."

The main thing, she says, is to read labels and eat natural products. Fatty oils from coconuts, olives, and nuts are good for you. "But you need to avoid Canola oil or anything that says 'hydrogenated' because those are often processed fats, and are bad for you."

Her regimen also includes massage, biofeedback, dietary supplements, and the use of something called a bio-modulator. This is a handheld electrical device which can help pinpoint areas of the body that need special treatment, and can actually re-energize those cells with pulses of electrical energy.

"If you take care of things early, you don't have to worry about them later," Hughes says. "I have the attitude, 'I am not getting old,' and I try to pass that on to my clients."

For more information: Donna Hughes, 901-754-0452.

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