Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Seniors, COVID-19 and exercise 

Published August 14, 2020

“We do not stop exercising because we grow old–we grow old because we stop exercising.” ~Dr. Kenneth Cooper

When I turned 40, I made an appointment with my doctor for a complete physical. I was traveling extensively, eating poorly, getting very little exercise, dealing with the pressures of my job and trying to be a good father to our five children. There was never enough time for everything. Sound familiar?

When the doctor reviewed the results, he asked, “What do you do for exercise?” I responded, “Well, I play some golf and a little tennis.” Then he said, “No, you don’t understand …what do you do for exercise?”

He gave me a book that explained the aerobic principle and strongly urged me to develop an exercise routine to counteract the bad tendencies that had become part of my lifestyle.

One of the key principles of aerobics is to engage in an exercise like walking, outdoor or indoor cycling, swimming, etc. that gets your exercise heart rate up to a predetermined level. I decided to try walking. I walked religiously every day. As my heart became healthier, I had to walk faster and faster to maintain the desired heart rate. Then I had to jog and suddenly I was running. 

The bottom line is that I ran just about every day for the next 20-plus years. It became a necessity. Some days it was hard work, some days I would experience the “runner’s high” and the rush of adrenaline was exhilarating. 

Then one day while running I felt a sharp pain in my right hip. The x-rays showed that the cartilage was gone. I had to stop running. Eventually I had both hips and a knee replaced. Had I known 40 years ago what I know now, I would have cut back on my running routine.     

Importance of regular exercise

But I still believe strongly in the aerobic principles. I just overdid it. The message I emphasize is the absolute importance of regular exercise, especially now during the pandemic. The forced isolation and sheltering-in-place makes it easy to rationalize reasons why we can’t exercise.

For those of you who have already made exercise a part of your routine, congratulations! For those who are still on the fence, let me review some myths that might help to change your mind. 

These myths are described by, a nonprofit health and wellness organization whose mission is to provide empowering, evidence-based information to help you lead a healthier life. 

Myth 1: There’s no point to exercising. I’m going to get old anyway.

Fact: Regular physical activity helps you look and feel younger and stay independent longer. It also lowers risk for a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure and obesity.

Myth 2: Exercise puts me at risk of falling.

Fact: Regular exercise, by building strength and stamina, prevents loss of bone mass and improves balance, reducing the risk of falling.

Myth 3: It’s too frustrating: I’ll never be the athlete I once was.

Fact: Changes in hormones, metabolism, bone density and muscle mass mean that strength and performance levels inevitably decline with age, but that doesn’t mean you can no longer derive a sense of achievement from regular exercise. The key is to set goals appropriate for your age. And remember, a sedentary lifestyle takes a greater toll on athletic ability than biological aging.

Myth 4: I’m too old to start exercising.

Fact: You’re never too old to get moving and improve your health. In fact, adults who become active later in life often show greater physical and mental improvements than their younger counterparts. If you’ve never exercised before, the good news is that there aren’t as many miles on your odometer. Just begin with gentle activities and build from there.

Myth 5: I can’t exercise because I’m disabled.

Fact: If you face challenges, consider light lifting, stretching, or chair aerobics to increase range of motion, improve muscle tone and flexibility and promote cardiovascular health. 

Myth 6: I’m too weak or have too many aches and pains.

Fact: Starting an exercise program can help you manage pain and improve your strength and self-confidence. The key is to start gently.

What kind of exercises should you consider? Below are links that can provide options.  

Focus on exercise that you can safely do during the pandemic. Check out, an online Catholic community that integrates body and soul in prayer. They have sessions for each of the Mysteries of the Rosary as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Movement offerings can be easily adapted for those with injuries or disabilities.

Partner with a fitness buddy

One really great opportunity is to partner with friends, relatives or fellow church members to participate in joint exercise programs. Consider working with a “fitness buddy” even via teleconferencing if you can’t meet in person. Agree to keep one another accountable by sharing goals and encouragement. Don’t forget the option of teaming with your children or grandchildren to motivate one another and stay connected.

Be sure to inquire if your parish has senior exercise programs. There is a group of seniors at St. Thomas Aquinas who remain active and engaged in an exercise program led by the energetic Carol Hopkins, who is 87. 

“I have exercised my entire life including when I was a professional ballet dancer. In the parish, I use the Body Recall program to assist, teach, and train older people in the practice of lifetime fitness,” said Hopkins. “When the pandemic brought about the sheltering-in-place order, I continued my daily exercise routine by riding my exercise bike, walking and working on my balance and stretch. I live with no pain. When I am on the phone, I pace back and forth just to keep moving. My rug will need tending to after the virus is under control.” 

Contact your doctor before you begin an exercise program to ensure that your preferred exercise is appropriate for your physical condition. Remember to drink plenty of water and avoid the heat by exercising early in the day. A brisk morning walk, or other exercise, is a great way to start the day. I use my walk as time to pray the rosary and talk to God. 

I urge you to make a commitment to use this forced isolation time to pay more attention to God’s gift of body and soul.

Bill Clarke, former business executive and teacher, emerged from his third retirement to serve as associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send your thoughts to Bill, email