Part II -- Aerobics


Aerobic exercise—any exercise that increases oxygen use—is the perfect complement to your back stretching, stabilizing, and strengthening workouts.

The many benefits of aerobic exercise include strengthening your heart muscle, improving circulation, and reducing blood pressure; conditioning your lungs and strengthening muscles involved with respiration, improving your breathing; working muscle groups throughout your body; and reducing stress, which can cause tight and painful back muscles.

Aerobic exercises generally are done at moderate levels of intensity over time. A brisk walk over a long forest trail is aerobic; a 50-yard all-out sprint down a beach is not. Examples of aerobic exercises include jogging, cycling, brisk walking, cross-country skiing, swimming, jumping rope, singles tennis, and aerobic dance.

My aerobic exercises include mt. biking 50-70 miles a week, swimming pool laps for half an hour once a week, kayaking on San Francisco Bay an average of 7 miles once a week, and walking the dog 1-1.5 miles 5-7 times a week with my wife.

A bit much, maybe, but that’s just how I’m put together. If I’m not moving, I’m stewing in my juices. A totally efficient, and perhaps more realistic, schedule for aerobic exercising would be 30–60 minutes of one or more activities, 3–5 times a week.


As exotic as some of these aerobic exercises sound—kayaking and aerobic dance, for example—none may be any better than one of the most basic human activities: walking. If you’re on the short side of the aerobic equation, consider walking as the complement to your strengthening, stabilizing, and stretching. For a low-impact, easy-on-your-back aerobic exercise, you’d be hard pressed to find a better activity.

Walking’s natural to us. Get to our age, few of us would consider ourselves novice walkers. Been there, done that, what’s to know? That said, here are a few pointers to get the most from a brisk walk:

•Stand up straight (think tall), ears and shoulders inline with your hips.

•Avoid leaning forward or backward; this puts extra stress on your lower back.

•Keep your chin parallel to the ground.

•Relax your shoulders.

•Swing your arms back and forth—elbows bend, arms close to your sides, hands not clenched—so that they parallel the stride of the opposite leg.

•Roll from your heel at the beginning of a stride to your toe at the end, pushing off from the ball and toe.

•Increase your speed by taking more steps, not lengthening your stride; increase the cadence of your arms to match that of your steps.

Nordic Poles

If losing weight is on your to-do list, a brisk walk will help by burning calories. If you want to burn even more calories—up to 20 percent more—and improve your upper body strength, use Nordic Poles.

I discovered Nordic Poles the hard way. No surprise here: I threw my back out. Midway through a long mt. bike ride miles from home, I bent and twisted to the side to pick up my bike. Bending and twisting, particularly to pick up a heavy object, is not a smart move.

Suffice it to say, by the time I managed to limp home, I was a wreck. To make matters worse, Sandy and I were leaving in 2 weeks for a long-overdue vacation to Buenos Aires (married at the time 34 years, we’d never had a honeymoon; this was going to be it).

Long story short, after 2 weeks of resting, dousing myself with anti-inflammatory chemicals, trips to the chiropractor, acupuncturist, and physical therapist, I was able to stand, but not quite upright. Walking was still a challenge.

With 2 days left before departure, a friend said Nordic Poles might help. I bought a pair, and they did. The first week in Buenos Aires, I used them everyday. Less the second week. Our vacation ended with me boarding the plane under my own power without assistance.

I put the poles aside and forgot about them. Two years later, Sandy had a successful hip replacement. Advised by her surgeon, she bought a pair of Nordic Poles to help in her remarkably speedy recovery. I pulled my pair out and joined her on the trail for our daily dog walk.

Both of us still use Nordic Poles when we walk the dog and have no plans to give them up. Occasionally, we even take our Nordic Poles shopping. People stare, ask where the snow is, but frack ‘em, we’re staying healthy and having fun.

Target Heart Rate

Regardless of the aerobic exercise you do, proper pacing is important to get the most benefit, especially if you’re just starting out. An aid to help you properly pace yourself is your target heart rate.

Your target heart rate is an indicator of your fitness level. By monitoring your target heart rate over time, you can see what progress you’re making. The goal of aerobic exercise is to stay within your target heart rate for at least 20 minutes.

Your target heart rate is 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. Generally speaking, your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. As I write this, I’m 66 years old. So my maximum heart rate is somewhere around 154 (220-66 = 154).

Immediately after your aerobic exercise, count your number of heart beats for 15 seconds (to feel your heart beats, place the first two fingers of one hand just below the corner of your jaw or on the large veins near the junction of your other hand and wrist). Multiple the number you count by 4 to determine your heart rate. Find the age category in the chart below closest to your age, then compare your heart rate to the range of numbers in column 2.

When you start an aerobic exercise program, you more than likely will be closer to the lower heart rate (50 percent of your maximum heart rate). Gradually increase the intensity of your exercise so your heart rate increases, but never exercise beyond your comfort level—if you’re breathing hard early on, you’re probably working too hard.

As an example, after 3 months of regular exercise, your heart rate may reach 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. After 6 months, it may reach the upper limit of 85 percent of your maximum heart rate (btw, a high heart rate is not necessary to remain fit).

Stretching and Strengthening Muscles in Your Lower Legs

Your legs are involved in most aerobic exercises, not just brisk walking. You’ve already learned stretching and strengthening exercises for your upper legs. What follows are Active-Isolated Stretching (and gentle strengthening) exercises for your lower legs.

You can use these exercises prior to your leg-intensive aerobics as a warm-up or after as a warm-down.

Achilles Tendon

1.Sit on the floor, one leg straight out, the other bent at the knee (your exercising leg).

2.Pull the foot of your exercising leg as close to your butt as you can.

3.Grab hold of the bottom of the foot of the exercising leg with both hands.

4.Exhale your foot up towards your body, keeping your heel on the ground.

5.Assist the end of the stretch with your hands.

6.Inhale your foot to the starting position.

7.Repeat steps 4-6 five to ten times.

  1. 8.Repeat steps 4-7 for the other leg.


Calf Muscles

1.Sit on the ground with one leg straight out (the exercising leg) and the other bent at a 90° angle with it’s foot flat on the ground.

2.Loop the rope around the foot of the exercising leg.

3.Exhale your foot toward your body, pivoting on your heel.

4.Assist the end of the stretch by gently pulling on the rope.

5.Inhale your foot back to the starting position.

  1. 6.Repeat steps 3-5 five to ten times.

  2. 7.Repeat steps 3-6 for the other foot.

Muscles in the Front of Your Lower Legs

1.Sit with both legs straight out in front of you.

2.Place the foot of the exercising leg on your thigh just above your knee.

3.Grasp the foot of the exercising leg with the hand that’s on the same side as your nonexercising leg; rest your other hand on the knee of your exercising leg.

4. Exhale and flex your exercising foot forward, assisting the end of the stretch with your hand.

5.Inhale your foot to the starting position.

6.Repeat steps 4-5 five to ten times.

7.Repeat steps 4-6 for the other foot.