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Originally published Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 7:01 PM

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Over 55? Stay active to enjoy summer (and life)

Fitness expert Dave Patania offers five fitness strategies for the 55-and-older crowd.

Special to The Seattle Times

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This is the third in a series of columns aimed at helping readers get fit for summer fun.

Rock music legend Tom Petty prophetically said it best in a song, that "if ya never slow down, ya never grow old."

Those words have become backed by science as most experts now agree that the best way to avoid or manage most common problems associated with aging is to stay physically active. In our youth-oriented society, it is the norm to view any age over the age of 40 as that dreaded time of life when you "take it easy" and slowly fade into the sunset.

That is absolute nonsense. Now, more than ever, people well beyond the age of 55 are realizing there is a big world out there to explore and that being healthy will allow them to do so with a high quality of life and independence.

A great example is 82-year-old Martha Adams of Bonney Lake, Pierce County, who goes to the gym and lifts weights three times a week. She is passionate about working in her yard and says that being strong and fit allows her to keep her yard in as good of shape as her body.

For aerobic work, she walks up and down her stairs at home and says her workout routine "keeps me goin' strong." Take a page out of Martha's book and keep going strong, too — there is no reason you can't build and maintain a fit and active lifestyle at any age! Here are five ways to make it happen:

1 Keep it simple.

A simple walk, hike or other activity can keep your heart and lungs working on a consistent basis. Getting your cardiovascular system healthy is a great way to keep yourself out of the danger zone of problems such as heart disease and stroke, as well as helping you shed and keep off excess weight. Simply walking 10 to 15 minutes away from and back to a designated spot can be a great start. Don't make it harder than it has to be, the human body is an amazing machine that will adapt and progress as long as you give it the opportunity to do so with consistent exercise.

2 Power up.

Basic resistance training exercises will strengthen, tone and condition your muscles, which translates to strong bones as well. Consistent strength training will challenge your muscles and effectively help you build and maintain the amount of muscle mass and density needed for optimum health, body function and independence. Once you learn the basic exercises, form, techniques and body positions, you may be able to work up to levels of strength and conditioning you never thought possible — it is all within you. Go to your local gym, community center, YMCA or parks and recreation department for information on getting started.

3 Stay loose.

Pursue activities that increase your flexibility. This improves and maintains the range of motion of your joints, muscles and connective tissues. Outside of medically diagnosed problems, losing range of motion is more due to a lack of activity than aging, so get involved! Increased flexibility also helps to avoid injuries such as strains and sprains, and even aids with strengthening your muscles. Have a trainer show you a basic stretch routine you can do at home or the gym, and try activities such as Pilates and yoga.

4 Stay engaged.

Join community-oriented programs that offer interaction with others, emphasizing health, fitness and wellness. The Puget Sound region has amazing programs that rival any in the country. Here is a sampling of a couple:

Enhance Fitness: This award-winning, community-based fitness program for older adults is offered through Senior Services. It covers all aspects of fitness training and has a supportive and inspiring group of leaders. It can be paired with another program called Enhance Wellness. Info: 206-448-5725 or www.projectenhance.org.

Sound Steps: This walking program for adults 50 and older, offered free through Seattle Parks and Recreation, is geared toward lifelong recreation, not just occasional exercise. It matches your ability to other walkers and offers tools to measure progress. You will receive support from volunteer walk leaders who truly want to help others to live a healthy life. There are weekly group walks from numerous locations, and even training to participate in 5K, 10K and half-marathon walking events. Info: 206-684-4664 or www.seattle.gov/parks/seniors/SoundSteps.htm.

5 Balance your power.

Participate in skill-oriented activities that help your coordination and balance. The fitness industry has made a big push into activities called "functional training" geared toward building and maintaining motions of everyday life or moves that replicate specific sports or activities. Any fitness facility will have staff that can direct you to basic programs. I met a 74-year-old man in Kirkland who takes a cardio tennis class three days a week and loves his newfound strength, balance, endurance and level of hand and eye coordination.

Dave Patania, a certified personal trainer with a master's in sports management, has hosted and produced fitness videos for PBS, the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control. A former TV fitness expert for network affiliates in Indianapolis and Cincinnati, and former fitness columnist for Gannett News Service, he recently moved to Seattle. Email: punkfitness@yahoo.com.

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