Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Interval Training, How Old is Grandma?

In my latest screenplay, I had a 60 year old woman climb down a ladder into a manhole.  A 20-something reader wrote me that he didn’t think a woman that age could handle it.  I’ve got my social security card. I’ve got an artificial hip.  And I wouldn’t hesitate to go down that ladder to rescue one of my grandchildren (like the woman in the story.)

But, I contacted my friend Jean, who is 8 years older than I am.  No, she wouldn’t go down that ladder. And no, she doesn’t think she could have when she was 60, either.  So, the boy who needs to be rescued in my screenplay is only 6.  Grandma just lost 10 years.  She’s now 50.  Jean thinks she could have climbed that ladder when she was 50.

This raises an interesting question – why can I do what other women my age cannot?

I think it all started back in elementary school.  I was the kid nobody wanted on their team.  I was the only kid who had to do P.E. for homework.  I always had the sense that exercise was easier for everybody else than it was for me. I never did get good enough that anybody wanted me on their team.  But, I’m competitive.  So, I did my homework. And it became a habit. 

The kids to whom running and jumping and climbing came easily just took it for granted. For me these activities were and are hard-won prizes.

I got my hip replaced after being hit by a car while riding my bicycle, because I could no longer get on my bicycle. And I couldn’t walk without a cane.  But after I got my hip replaced, I still couldn’t get on my bicycle and I still couldn’t walk without a cane.  I asked my surgeon to write me a prescription for physical therapy.  My PT said I was one of very few of his clients who actually did the homework exercises.  I didn’t tell him – I’ve spent my life doing PE for homework.

The more I asked him to help me do, the more homework I got.  Elliptical, treadmill, floor exercises, ball exercises, stair exercises, stationery bike exercises.  This was okay for 2 or 3 months while I was officially recovering from surgery – but not for the rest of my life.  I like exercise, but I want to get out of the gym in half an hour, or maybe 45 minutes. I want to get back to my life, ride by bicycle to work.

So, I asked Google how to maximize my exercise time.  And Google delivered “interval training.”  The claim is that 12 minutes of interval training is as good for my body as 30 minutes of regular exercise.  Interval training is short spurts of hard exercise (intervals) with longer periods of comfortable exercise in between.

For example, on the elliptical, go at a comfortable pace for 2 minutes, then speed up for 30 seconds, repeat.  Do 3 to 5 cycles.

I checked with my PT.  He said to do it “no hands” to improve my balance.  And do the same thing with the Helix.  The Helix is like a standing bicycle on which the pedals go sideways.

I even added intervals to the treadmill (but I keep my hands on the bar when the speed is over 2 miles per hour.)  I’m not supposed to run on my new hip (so it will last).  I was having a jealousy attack when I watched other exercisers run during their treadmill time.  But then I found http://www.fedel.com/mets/  Which shows how much real exercise I’m doing based on the slope and speed of the treadmill. When I’m doing 3 miles per hour on a 6.5 degree slope, that’s 6 METs (metabolic equivalents).  When the person next to me is running at 6.5 miles per hour on no slope, that’s also 6 METs. Since I’ve been doing this for several years, at least once a week, I can now do 5 mph on a 15 degree slope, which is 15 METs, Okay, I only do it for the 1 minute interval, and then I slow it down to 2 mph on a15 degrees for the comfortable pace.  But since 15 METs is the recommended fitness level for climbing Mt. Everest, I’m pleased that I can do it at all.

I haven’t figured out how to do intervals going sideways or backwards, but I do those no hands at a much slower speed.

Bottom line: The gym has lots of equipment.  I rotate what pieces I use on different days and I do interval training on them. I go before breakfast.  I’m out of there in 30 to 45 minutes. And I could go down a manhole ladder if I need to.


  1. I'm 60. I could go down a ladder into a manhole. My husband is 67 - so could he. Fitness came to me late in life, but now I pursue it rigorously. I know many people who are 60 and could do that. Perhaps your 20 year old has a skewed sample of 60 year olds.

  2. Yay, Allison! I'm glad there are more of us fit over-60's!

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