This is a continuation of a tradition that he began at age 70, when he, his son, and a friend biked 70 miles to mark his 70th birthday. Next fall, to celebrate his 75th birthday, he’ll cycle 75 miles, along with 15 local and out-of-town riders.
Gaines began cycling when he moved to Bucks County in 1989. In a typical week, he’ll take three rides of 40 miles, or 120 miles altogether, or more than 6,000 miles a year.
Before taking up cycling, he swam laps for five years, and before that he was an avid tennis player and runner, but had to quit the latter sport because of a herniated disk. At 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, he weighs the same as he did in his early 30s.
“I’ve been consistent about exercise and keeping my weight stable all my life,” Gaines says proudly.
About two years ago, while serving as a mentor to the fitness director at his health club in Florida, Gaines began contributing articles to a fitness blog and newsletter. Friends urged him to compile his pieces into a book, and that’s exactly what he has done.
His self-published book is titled Fitness Beyond 50: Turn Back the Clock (Langdon Street Press, $15.95). It features more than 125 testimonials and success stories from various friends and acquaintances and contains plenty of helpful advice and useful information. Gaines was careful to have the science in his book reviewed by several experts, some of them tops in their fields.
Gaines calls it a “why-to” rather than a “how-to” book. That’s because the point is to motivate, encourage, and inspire readers, acquainting them with the benefits of regular exercise and good nutrition rather than prescribing specific programs.
The other day, I spoke to Gaines about his book, and I can report that in addition to embracing the fundamental principle of optimal fitness — consistency — he also displays another health- and life-enriching quality — enthusiasm.
The book covers a wide range of topics, so I asked Gaines to select four that he considers most important and enlightening. Here is what he offered:
•Exercise and the brain: “Ten years ago, the understanding about the brain was that it didn’t regenerate new brain cells. After you turn 20 or 30, it’s downhill from there,” Gaines says. “But new research has shown that by doing aerobic exercise, you can generate new brain cells. That’s a big deal. By taking action now, we can defer if not eliminate Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The only treatment that has any impact is exercise, and people who are fit and do aerobic exercise on a regular basis have a much lower incidence of dementia.” In short, through exercise, you can buff your brain as well as your bod.
•Interval training: High-intensity interval training or sprint interval training — short bursts of activity at 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate — can produce better results (burning more calories, controlling fats in the blood, and improving cardiac health) in less time than aerobic work at lower intensity. “Intervals hurt,” Gaines says. “While intervals can vary in length and recovery time, they should be long and intense enough to be uncomfortable. Otherwise, they’re not intervals.”
When cycling, Gaines tries to do eight to 10 intervals during a 40-mile ride. “I stand up on the pedals and go as hard and fast for as long as I can.” Interval training not only increases your basal metabolic rate, but also retards the loss of fast-twitch muscle fiber, another victim of aging.
•Strength training to fatigue: There’s nothing wrong with lifting a 5- or 10-pound dumbbell 25 times to keep yourself toned. But if you wish to build muscle and grow stronger, you need to challenge yourself with resistance that’s heavy enough to bring your muscles to fatigue or exhaustion by the end of a 10- or 12-rep set.
“Doing strength training to fatigue breaks down muscle cells,” Gaines says. “It’s like pruning a tree; it grows back stronger. What you don’t want to do is jump in and start lifting heavy weights immediately. The idea is to build up progressively over time.”
•Support groups: “Being part of a support group can make a big difference in successfully sticking with a program over a long period of time,” Gaines says. “Setting goals and telling others is part of being held accountable.”
At his Florida health club, an eight-week support-group program, “Living a Healthy Life,” has produced “terrific” results,” Gaines says, with participants losing an average of eight pounds, reducing their body fat, and performing better in basic tests — sufficient improvement to keep them motivated to continue.
“A support group can be as small as two people, and those who play an active role in the group tend to be the most successful.”
For more information, visit www.fitnessbeyondfifty.com. Harry Gaines will appear on an episode The Doctors, an informative medical program that will air on CBS3 Thursday.
“Well Being” appears every other week, alternating with Sandy Bauers’ “GreenSpace” column. Contact Art Carey at email@example.com. Read his recent columns at www.philly.com/wellbeing.