Whatever Rows Your Boat

(Melina Mara/twp - Twp)
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

"A youthful mind in a youthful body." It's a slight spin on an old saw -- and it's what keeps Alexandria dancer and choreographer Jayne Letsche on her toes at 85, just as it brings oarsman Bill Cox out onto the Potomac, skimming through the early-morning mist at age 63. They are living proof of what the research tells us: that no matter what your age is, physical activity fosters feelings of well-being. For active men and women like Cox and Letsche, being old is a state of mind -- and one they are not ready to adopt.

Todd Galati, a kinesiologist with the American Council on Exercise, says that "adults on average are losing about a half a pound of muscle a year." And it doesn't take much to slow the loss. "Some type of strength training -- like two days a week -- can help maintain some of that muscle mass," he says, allowing us to continue to lead independent lives.

No need to explain that to Cox, an engineer from Bethesda who begins most days with an elite crew of rowers (including his favored rowing partner, Cindy Cole, 50) at the Potomac Boat Club, whose members take to the river even through the winter chill.

Cox, who rowed in college, turned to sculling in his 50s when other forms of exercise took their toll. "Before that I ran and biked. The running, after many years of it, I was starting to feel it in my knees and other points. Rowing is non-impact; it's excellent exercise; it works all of the muscle groups. It's also very technical -- it's like any other sport, you have to get very good at it before you get efficient. It's relaxing, at the same time very strenuous," he says.

"And what's not to like about getting out on this river at 6 in the morning?" he asked as he pulled up to the dock around 7:30.

On the same late-November morning, Shawn Fenty was combing the trails of Rock Creek Park with a small group of runners -- led by his mayor-elect brother -- at a steady seven-minute-mile clip. At 41, Shawn Fenty, general manager of the running-shoe store Fleet Feet in Adams Morgan, says he already feels some of the strain that comes with age. "Yes, it does take longer to recover from an injury," he admits. But the exercise makes him feel good, and endurance runs in the family. "We had my dad as an example, and you tend to do what you are naturally inclined to do."

Fitness is unique to each body, but some of what might be lost with age can be saved, Galati says. First, strength training (that is, a minimum number of reps using weights, a cable or the body) helps maintain muscle mass; second, balance and cardiovascular training (aerobics, tennis, running, swimming and biking, for example) help the flow of blood to vital organs; and third, flexibility training (stretching and yoga) maintains your joints' range of motion.

As Cox, Letsche (who is director of the Diamonds, a senior tap-dancing troupe in Alexandria) and Edmund Cooke, 63, a labor attorney who sets aside time as to practice karate at DC Self Defense Karate Association in Mount Pleasant know: If you're engaged, doing what you used to do or what you could have done when you were young, you're not going to feel old.

-- Meaghan Wolff

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