Doctor urges staying fit after turning 40

Doug Gulasy
| Thursday, July 5, 2012, 1:01 p.m.

Donna Paukstys works long hours at a law firm on the 29th floor of the U.S. Steel Tower.

She also knows the importance of staying fit, so she became a member of the PNC YMCA at U.S. Steel Tower three years ago. Since then, she's taken advantage of the facility's closeness and its variety of programs.

“It's convenient because I come down on my lunch hour,” Paukstys, 49, of Crafton Heights, said before a recent Zumba class. “That way, I get my workout in, and I can go home and not worry about working out in the evening.”

Paukstys is one of millions of Americans over the age of 40 who have to balance work, family and other obligations each day.

With busy schedules, staying fit can get lost in the shuffle. But doctors and fitness professionals say it's important for people over 40 to make exercise part of their daily routines.

Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine and founder of a program to keep adults fit, says people shouldn't consider turning 40 a “black birthday” in terms of working out.

“This is a fantastic part of life,” said Wright, who testified about fitness after 40 before the Congressional Fitness and Wellness Caucus on June 19.

“For men, 40 is prime time. You know who's winning the triathlons and marathons right now? It's 40-year-old men — it's not the kids anymore. So it's actually a really positive time of life. The brain trust of our country, in terms of workforce, is in its 40s and 50s.”

Wright says people just need to find something that works for them — and methods for adult fitness are plentiful in Western Pennsylvania.

The YMCA operates 19 branches in the region. The U.S. Steel Tower location tailors its group exercise programs like yoga, Pilates and cycling to workers' schedules, offering most of them around lunch or in the evening after work, and many businesses do the same.

Municipalities, too, offer many classes.

“We offer a less expensive alternative because we are a municipal government, which is one of the benefits,” said Pat Cannon, Mt. Lebanon recreation program manager. “We might not have the newest facilities and we don't have all the bells and whistles ... but at the same time, if you go to a yoga studio, you might be paying $12 or $15 per class. If you signed up for a whole session with our recreation department classes, it might only be just over $6 a class.”

Wright founded the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes Start program, geared to help adults gain a more fit lifestyle, in 2007. It is run from the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine facility in the South Side.

By the end of the 12-week program, participants take part in a 5K run.

The next cycle begins later this month, leading up to the Great Race.

“In the last five years, we've trained hundreds of people,” said Wright, who wrote a book, “Fitness After 40.” “And by training them in the Start program, we get them off the couch and train them up to a 5K.”

While there aren't any typical fitness activities for people over 40, doctors suggest an aerobic activity that works the heart. Wright suggests four types of exercise — flexibility, aerobic, resistance training and balance.

“The general recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week,” said Dr. Indu Poornima, a cardiologist at Allegheny General Hospital. “You don't really need to run those five miles every day, but as long as you can do moderate intensity exercises, even just walking, for 30 minutes five times a week, that's all that's required.”

Zumba, a Colombian dance fitness program developed in the 1990s by Alberto Perez, has been especially popular, fitness expert said. The exercise calls for constant movement through various dance styles.

“It's fantastic for cardio — you work your heart muscles, you work every muscle in the body,” said Ashley Douglas, a Zumba instructor at the U.S. Steel Tower Y who was surprised by Perez during a class last summer. “You're engaging everything the entire time — legs, arms, core. They say, on average, you can burn 600 to 1,000 calories an hour.”

Poornima said if people aren't sure what's right for them, they can consult a physician.

Wright said while genetics determines 30 percent of aging, people control the other 70 percent.

“The bottom line is, age is not a deterrent of activity,” Wright said.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or

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