You have the knee of an arthritic 80-year-old woman.” Now that’s a compliment you don’t hear often. Yet that was what Dr. Jim Duke, my orthopedic doctor, was telling me that fateful day almost three years ago. The reality of the situation was right there in black and white — well, more like gray and white — on my X-ray. He showed me where all my years of running, combined with the unusually early signs of osteoarthritis, had worn away the cartilage in my knee. Duke said that because of my condition, I would need to give up my long-term relationship with my favorite sport: running.
Apparently I’m not alone. This type of condition is becoming more common as our population is aging and we’re all trying to stay healthy and active.
“If you can decrease the stress on the joints as much as possible,” Duke explains, “you’ll increase the life of your joints.” Duke recommended Rob Coutu, the executive director of Mid-Florida Physical Therapy and athletic trainer and therapist.
“People who aren’t running need to maintain good quadriceps strength,” Coutu explains. “You need to do exercises that are varying in their nature, varying in their speed of movement, and varying in the amount of resistance that’s applied.”
So armed with my new level of consciousness of taking care of what’s left of my precious cartilage, I discovered a few cardio options to keep me in shape. Maybe, just maybe, there can be life after running.
Think Lance Armstrong — sleek bike with skinny tires that can go really fast on the road. Don’t forget to wear a pair of padded bike shorts, grab your bike helmet and gloves, and consider some kind of hydration system if you’re planning on a long ride. At some point, look into clip-on shoes to make pedaling more efficient.
“Road biking is a low-impact sport that still delivers a high return,” says Santos Bike Shop Owner Dawn Phelps. “It’s an awesome way to build cardio.”
For a road bike, you’re going to have to shell out a few bucks — a decent one will set you back about $650. A good bike store will make sure the seat is the right height, the handlebars are the right height and the right distance from the seat, and the bike itself is the right size. Having a bike that fits you properly will make the miles zip by.
But if road biking isn’t your thing, take to the trails!
You’re in luck because we have one of the best mountain bike trails in the state right in our own backyard — the Santos Bike Trail/Cross-Florida Greenway. The best way to ride it is on a mountain bike, the kind with fat, nubby tires. (No, I’m not referring to your mid-section!)
“Mountain biking to me is even more relaxing because you can ride in a safety zone,” says Phelps, “and if you want to get the competitive juices flowing, there are all kinds of races and events in the cycling world.”
Decide you like it and a decent mountain bike costs about $350. It’ll have an aluminum frame and front-end suspension. Don’t forget the helmet, gloves, a water bottle or some other form of hydration system, and the ever-popular bike shorts. Remember, it’s all about comfort on a bike, not necessarily looks!
So you’d rather not tempt fate on the trails, but still want a good bike workout? Try a spin class. “What’s that?” you ask. A spin bike is like a stationary bike but with a major speed element to it.
John Jernigan is a certified spin class instructor at the YMCA and says the spin bike is good option for former runners looking for cardio options.
“You’re alleviating the impact of running,” he says. “As far as your heart rate goes, you can take it up as high as you used to get it doing sprints, but instead you’re doing intervals on a spin bike.”
Jernigan has some tips for getting the most from your spin class.
“Show up to class a few minutes early,” he advises. “A good spin instructor will take the time to fit you on the bike if it’s your first time. Always know that you can go at your own pace no matter what the rest of the class is doing.”
He says going three days a week is a good start and adds that a good pair of bike shorts will go a long way to making you comfortable in a spin class that can last from 45 minutes to an hour. (I know, again with the padded bike shorts!)
“You can create hills, flats, sprints, burn-outs,” he says. “Once you get on that bike and start going, you’re going to have fun!”
A great overall workout, easy on the joints, works all body parts and, if you swim at a fast pace, it can really get your heart rate going. You can go online and find all kinds of swim workouts that start out with a few easy drills and build up to longer more intense workouts. CFCC has a great master-level swim class where the coach writes the workouts on a board you can see from the pool.
I have to admit when I first read about Nordic walking I thought it was kind of lame. It doesn’t look like it would do anything more for you than just regular power walking, except maybe make you look a little ridiculous.
You carry two poles in your hands that make you look like you’re a snow skier who took a wrong turn and ended up in Florida instead of the Alps. But it beats regular walking because you use an average of 20 percent more energy and can burn about 400 calories an hour, compared to about 280 calories per hour for normal walking.
“The poles get your whole body involved,” says Certified Nordic Walking Instructor Laura Croft from Kissimmee. “You’ll walk faster and your stride will be longer so you’ll burn more calories. It’s a total body workout.”
The cost of the equipment isn’t bad either. You can get starter poles for under $100 (usually with an instructional DVD) and you’re on your way.
So maybe I’ve found the perfect cardio workout once again. But do me a favor. When you see me Nordic walking with my poles, please don’t ask, “Where’s the snow?”
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Comparing your exercise options.
Type Of Exercise Advantages Disadvantages Cal. Burned
Running not hard to learn stressful on body 800
Road Biking quite a rush a little pricey 1035
Off-Road Biking no cars to deal with all the dirt 730
Spinning intense workout membership dues 900
Swimming a cool sport sometimes too cool — literally 700
Walking easy to do can be boring 280
Nordic Walking better than walking “Where’s the snow?” 400