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February 27, 2008

The care & maintenance of the after-50 athlete

Mbenga at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

People in their 20s and 30s mostly work out to train for a specific sport or to look good in a bathing suit. People in their 40s mostly work out to stave off admitting they're middle-aged. But people in their 50s not only have more varied reasons for working out, but they also have a variety of physical problems that need to be considered. Some just want to maintain a level of fitness and health so they can stay active along with their teenage children (or young grandchildren). Some want to continue the camaraderie of playing softball or racquetball or tennis with their longtime friends, but still remain competitive. Even after 50,  no one wants to be the last one picked (maybe especially after 50).

Cardio (short for cardiovascular) exercise is the cornerstone of any good fitness routine. Lots of people get caught up in the glamor of pumping a lot of iron to get those muscles big and bulging. But if they have to haul all that muscle weight up and down a shopping mall with the family, or jump in a pick-up game of basketball, they're soon bent over huffing and puffing. If you're looking to keep a healthy heart and stay as active as possible for as long as possible, balance any weight training with a solid cardio routine.

After the jump are four suggestions. Remember to select according to your own level of fitness, taking into consideration any physical ailments you may have.

Jumping rope. Jumping rope is my first choice for best overall cardio workout. I've been jumping rope for 30  years and, though the image of a 7-foot-2 man jumping rope may make you smile, I assure you that it keeps me in great shape. Not only does it burn more calories than many other cardio exercises, it improves your balance, agility, foot speed, and hand-eye coordination. Jumping rope at 130 revolutions per minute is equivalent to running at 6 miles per hour or cycling 12 miles per hour. Ten minutes of jumping rope at that pace is like running a mile. Also, you can adjust the intensity of the workout to your own level of fitness. If you are in good shape, you can jump longer and faster. If you're a beginner, go slow and steady. 

Important tips: (1) Be sure to use a jump rope that is the proper length for your height. Stand on the middle of the rope; the handles should be the same height as your armpits. (2) Jump on surfaces with give, such as wood, carpet, or mats (avoid concrete). (3) Keep your jumps to an inch or two in height. Keep your elbows close to your sides and use the wrists to turn the rope. Keep your eyes on a fixed point straight ahead and breathe through your nose. (4) To improve heart and lung fitness, you need to do this three to five times a week. (5) Caution: This exercise is not recommended if you have hip or knee problems.

Running. Yes, this old standby really works. The benefits of running have been preached by the faithful since James Fixx's "The Complete Book of Running" (1977) transformed this from a simple fitness exercise to some kind of spiritual awakening. People extol the virtues of running for its effects on the mind as well as the body. You can decide that for yourself. For me, running is a great way to burn calories (300 per 30 minutes for a 145-pound person), doesn't require membership in a gym, and allows you to get some fresh air. Also, if you have small children, you can run while pushing them in special strollers. Or, if the children are older, you can run with them as a family outing. Running also reduces stress and reduces muscle and bone loss caused by aging.

Elliptical trainer.  This low-impact exercise is perfect for fitness beginners and veterans alike. Not only does it build endurance, it burns calories at the rate of 300 per 30 minutes for a 145-pound person, the same as in running, but with less physical stress on the body.

Swimming. This is another low-impact cardio exercise that offers a variety of benefits. One benefit is that it can be continued throughout your life, regardless of many minor injuries or ailments. Also, while it's building your cardio capabilities, it's also building muscle strength. It's also excellent for weight loss: swimming the breast stroke for 30 minutes burns about 400 calories.

As with any new exercise routine, approach with caution and common sense. Start light until you feel comfortable with the exercise, then slowly increase your intensity and duration.

That's how we over-50 athletes let everyone else know that a little gray hair doesn't mean we're not still in the game.


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Thanks for the tips, Cap!

I'm not in my 50s yet, but I'll keep these in mind.

Bob Louie

Hi Kareem:

Thanks for the fitness tips, but I really want to say Thanks for all the great years you and the Lakers gave to Los Angeles. You were a truly great player and, more importantly, a great guy. Keep on playing and, please, keep on blogging.


David Witham


What's a good source for longer jump ropes? I'm 6'7, and I'm having trouble finding one with enough length for me.


Bob Barabe

I will be turning 60 this March and fitness has been something that I have been diligent about most of my adult life.
Cyling is my thing, with racing as the motivator. I do about 20-25 races a year. Some are 15 miles in length while others are up to 100 miles.
I do pushups and situps, along with hour long run/walks to mix things up.
You look like you are in pretty good shape. I remember when you were playing ball towards the end of your career and how strong you looked then.
Keep up the great work that you are doing. I have always been a fan of yours because of the way you lived your public life.
Take care,


I don't write on blogs too often but had to say that this is a friggin TERRIFIC blog. Just had to be said. - Jeff, national pro basketball analyst


Thank you for giving me more ammo against lifting weights. i maintain that the four items you listed are just as effective if not more. And please tell me you don't still wear those shorts

Neil K


Thanks for the blog. It's always good to hear your thoughts.

On the excercise topic, have you ever used an indoor rowing maching (Concept II is the standards). It's an full body workout emphasizing the legs.

On the blog topic, do you believe that people's perception of you would have been dramatically different if the Internet and blog had been prevelent from the beginning of your professional career?

Thank you,


Carolyn Arabia

Thanks for the common sense advice on exercise. I'm well over 50 and remember fondly the good days when you were a Laker. I'm glad you're back and your steady influence is appreciated.

Thank you!

Tim Goss

Thanks Kareem. I had forgotten all about jumping rope as a form of exercise. I played basketball at USC just before you entered UCLA. We jumped rope every day as a part of our warm up. 42 years later I bike daily but will give jumping row a try.

I eventually transferred to UCLA. My fondest memories of you were seeing you standing outside the library at noon in silent protest with other classmates and staff. Your sense of pride and dignity left an indelible impressioin on me.

The best to you,



I've started running on the treadmill. I believe it's easier on my knees, plus I can use my ipod. (My martial arts sense tells me it's not a good idea to wear an ipod in most public places - too easy for people to sneak up on you!).



Didn't know you were a jump rope fan. I'm turning 50 this year, and have been jumping rope almost every day (about 1/2 hour) for the last 26 years. I used to run but found this to be easier on my joints. I also find that body weight exercises (pull ups, chin ups, push ups, etc.) are a great addition to the cardio

Norm Gold

Just turning 62 this month, and recall watching ALL your freshman (and later) games at UCLA. Whatta thrill! A former nerd and bookish type, I now cycle most days, do several century rides every year, including parts of the grueling "Death Ride" in the Sierras. My buddies and I have done four major tours in Europe -- all self-supported on our bikes. The latest was in France: the Alps to Provence, and over to Mt. Ventoux - 750 miles in 3 weeks, with 78,000 feet of climbing. I started cycling seriously only in my mid-40s. Never too late to start. Guess I am still a nerd, but an athlete, too. All the best to you! Thanks for your inspiration.


Hi Kareem. Your comment about being picked last made me laugh. I'm 62 and still playing ball with guys half my age, but I'm lucky to get picked 10th out of 10. It has been an education to watch my skills erode, year after year, but also a realization of the divine gift of still loving to play. Nothing brings me more pleasure, so I figure I'm a lucky guy to still be out there. Something tells me you never get picked last, eh? - Doug

Xeno Muller

Hello Kareem,
I accidentally found your article by searching "indoor rowing." AND Coincidentally your name came up today at my indoor rowing gym in Costa Mesa. We have a very nice woman who rows with us, who mentioned your upcoming audio CD. If you are in the area one day, I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Xeno and I am married with soon four children. I won an Olympic gold and silver medal in the men's single scull. You can see my race on google video. You might really enjoy and do well on the rowing machine. There are local and international rowing competition on that machine. You most likely would need a longer rail in order to fully extend your legs when you row.
I hope to meet you one day.
All the best,

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Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been appearing on various radio stations and TV shows, as well as the most relevant websites talking about his life and his new audio book, On the Shoulders of Giants.

All images are property of www.iconomy.com unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

Come meet Kareem at the NBA Store on 5th Avenue: Friday, May 16th, from 3:15pm - 4:15pm.

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Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is the 2008 Honorary Chair Library Card Sign-up Month, which takes place in September. He will also appear at the American Library’s National Convention on June 28th and 29th at the Long Beach Convention Center to sign his poster.

To purchase Mr. Abdul-Jabbar's poster and to view the entire line of Celebrity READ Posters, please click here. now!

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ESPN names Kareem The Greatest Player In College Basketball History

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