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An overweight senior with asthma plans to become more fit through exercise

Betsy Lowrey is overweight, but she's determined to develop good exercise habits.
Betsy Lowrey is overweight, but she's determined to develop good exercise habits.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

It was only five years ago, Betsy Lowrey remembers, that she could easily walk three miles a day around the big circle in her Springfield neighborhood.

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Now walking a mile requires that she sit down along the way to catch her breath. Her blood pressure has soared; she controls it with medication. She has asthma. At 210 pounds, she is 60 pounds overweight.

Lowrey sees the trend and fears for her future if she makes no changes. "At 66, I have another 20 years ahead of me. I don't want to be in a decrepit state as I get older," she says. But she knows she needs help restarting her exercise regimen safely and finding a structured program.

"I need somebody I have to report to," she says. "I need a swift kick."

The decline began when Lowrey went back to work in 1995 after raising five children. She has worked a series of sedentary desk jobs, including her current post at the Pentagon, where she is a security specialist for the contractor CSCI.

Lowrey gets a half-hour for lunch, but the gym is a 15-minute walk away. There is an enticing selection of fast-food joints nearby. She goes in early and leaves by 4 p.m.

"By the time I get home, I don't even want to walk around the neighborhood," she says. "I'm exhausted."

Lowrey's outlook is not as bleak as it may seem, says Pamela Peeke, a Bethesda internist and author of "Fit to Live" (Rodale, 2007).

The first step: a full checkup by her physician, who must monitor any exercise program Lowrey begins. It's not just Lowrey's risk for cardiovascular disease, Peeke says; her medications may need to be adjusted as she regains fitness.

Next she has to carefully choose a fitness professional knowledgeable about working with older, out-of-shape clients. Peeke, spokeswoman for the American College of Sports Medicine's "Exercise Is Medicine" program, recommends the list of certified trainers on that organization's Web site (http://www.acsm.org).

This doesn't mean spending a lot of money; some of the best people are at the YMCA or your local gym, Peeke says.

A pro will test Lowrey's endurance, strength, core strength, balance and flexibility, and take a series of base-line measurements: height, weight, body fat percentage, waistline and hip size, Peeke says. And he or she will start her very gradually, coordinating with her physician each step of the way.

But where will Lowrey's motivation come from?

"It's an awakening," Peeke says. "It doesn't come from doctors. I ask people this question: 'What gives you joy?' When they answer that question, I ask: 'Are you doing it?' "

-- L.B.


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