Dear Barb,

I haven’t exercised in 10 years and I am in my 50’s. Is it too late and will I do more damage than good to my heart or my health?


Striving For a Healthy Heart

Dear Striving,

Everyone, including athletes, lose aerobic capacity by midlife; your ticker pumps less forcefully, and cells throughout your body absorbs a bit less oxygen with each heartbeat.

Think of the analogy of a brand-new box of rubber bands. When you stretch them, they snap back. Stick them in a drawer for 10 years and what would happen? They’re stiff and they’ve lost elasticity. That’s what happens to the heart’s left ventricle, which pumps oxygenated blood back into the body. 

A study showed that those in their 50’s can increase their heart muscles elasticity by 25 percent with just four 30-minute workouts and a one-hour workout per week. This would simply equate to mowing the grass or vacuuming your car or whole house, shoveling, raking or kayaking or any physical exercise that makes you sweat.

Start out slowly for 15 minutes and increase a little each day by five minutes until you have a regular exercise routine or activity for half an hour. It can be done easily and is absolutely necessary for longevity and to help prevent Alzheimer’s, as well as preserve your bone density. Bones break easily without good bone density.

It is not too late! Be careful to use low impact movements and quality shoes. Listen to your body, but don’t baby yourself. That last hardest push is usually the most effective part of your workout. Look for an exercise partner to team up with and talk with while doing activities. To have a healthy brain and body when you are 70, you need to eat right and exercise when you are 50. 

Dear Barb,

I’ve heard that there are mood-boosting benefits from owning a pet when you are in your 50’s and 60’s. Is this true? I am alone but not lonely. 


Open to a Furry Friend

Dear Open,

Most of us have heard about the benefits of a dog to calm a child or an elderly person. But don’t underestimate the power of having a cat in your home. Of 47 million U.S. households with a cat, one in three owners are in their 50’s and 60’s according to a 2017 national survey. Cat owners who were in their late 50’s had half as many diagnosed health conditions and took 30 percent fewer prescribed medications as did their counterparts who didn’t own a cat. 

There are key points someone might be able to use to argue why having a cat could be considered better than having a dog. These comparisons were actually meant to be funny, not serious. Both cats and dogs have many benefits.

  • Dogs need to be walked; cats don’t.
  • Dogs have to be let out to potty; cats don’t.
  • Dogs will eat as much food as you give them; cats don’t. They eat a little bit several times a day, eat less overall and their food is typically less expensive.
  • Most dogs have to be bathed and groomed on a regular basis. Cats are very clean and keep themselves groomed for the most part.
  • Most dogs will help themselves to a sandwich left on the coffee table for a bite; cats would never.
  • Dogs bark loudly; cats meow.
  • Dogs require you to interact with them; cats would prefer that you do not.
  • Some dogs eat their own poop. Cats? Not so much.
  • Dogs will bark at people who stop by for a visit. Cats just ignore them.
  • Dogs will try to sniff your crotch. Cats wouldn’t dare.

If you decide to adopt a furry friend then the best way to decide is to look at your lifestyle and decide who you want to live with. Dogs are like toddlers — they need lots of time and attention. Cats are like teenagers — give ‘em a roof, food and a warm place to sleep and then let them come to you. 

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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