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Weight gain jeopardizes Sugar Land man’s hip replacement surgery

Manny Cortez has always enjoyed working out — but it was never his top priority in his 30s and 40s.

“Fitness was an off and on thing,” the Sugar Land resident said. “You get busy with your work and life, and you let it go.”

Now, at age 51, Cortez can often be found at Planet Fitness in Mission Bend. He goes at least two hours a day, three to four days a week, mixing cardio with strength training.

When he’s not at the gym, he walks around the block or goes to the park. “All the little things you do, it adds up,” he said.

Age and the problems it brings are actually what drove him to become a fitness fanatic.

Cortez has osteoarthritis in his hips, which doctors discovered when he was just 30. The condition did not bother him until 10 years later.

“I hit 40 and I started to feel some pain,” Cortez said. And it only got worse over time.

“It’s like bone on bone,” Cortez said. “Sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed. The pain was just terrible.”

He had a total replacement of his right hip in 2009.

Then, in November 2021, he was set to undergo a left hip replacement when he hit a snag. Cortez gained weight – up to 230 pounds.

His doctor told him that he would need to lose a few pounds before surgery would be an option.

“Then I remembered Planet Fitness,” Cortez said.

He was a member in Nebraska before coming to Houston in 2012. He rejoined.

“I love the gym because of the feeling I get there,” he said. “There are people my age, young people, big people, small people, all different people.”

Today, Cortez weighs 184 pounds. “To me, it’s just wonderful,” he said. “And I’m ready for operations. I’m healthy enough to do it now.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physical activity declines with age—with only 21.6 percent of individuals between the ages of 50 and 64 meeting the recommended guidelines for fitness.

It’s a statistic Cortez never wants to fall under. He is addicted to exercise.

“It helps preserve and gain muscle mass,” he said. “It increases longevity, helps metabolism and it just makes you feel good.”

Cortez hopes others will follow suit.

“Fifty is the new 30,” he said. “Go there and live.”

Fitness after 50

Margie Young, a trainer at Life Time Champions, agrees. “I feel very strongly about that,” she said.

She leads the ARORA program at the fitness center, a personal training course designed specifically for ages 55 and older that includes classes, workshops and social events.

At age 52, Young also knows firsthand the benefits of fitness after 50.

“It’s definitely not time to give up — because you’re 50,” she said. “In fact, if you keep moving, you’re golden.”

Young’s experience with spine surgery prompted her to become a physical trainer after building a career as a gymnastics and cheerleading coach. Helping others regain their balance, mobility and strength became her passion.

Young usually starts by asking older clients if there are certain problem areas or pains to address. Answers range from knee problems and hip or shoulder pain to difficulty getting up from the floor.

Young finds the root of the problem – building muscle is the antidote.

“We start losing 20 percent of our muscle a year in our mid-40s,” she said.

Exercise is necessary not only to maintain strength, but also to maintain balance and agility and to prevent pain. Young said fitness is also key to heart strength, digestive health and cognitive function.

“You’re either going to invest in exercise now — or later through your health care,” she said. “Don’t go to the gym because you want to lose weight. Go to the gym because you want to feel good.”

Young recommends finding a trainer who can create a specialized program for an individual’s physical difficulties and ability.

Senior programs build muscle and community

Life Time is affiliated with SilverSneakers, a wellness program offered at no additional cost to seniors over 65 on eligible Medicare plans.

“SilverSneakers are amazing,” Young said. “I’m so grateful for that, and I’ll only be affiliated with clubs that do that.”

Locations for the Medicare program include the Downtown YMCA, 24 Hour Fitness, the Health Club at Travis Place, LA Fitness and Planet Fitness.

Some health care plans cover the cost of gyms. For example, UnitedHealthcare members with eligible Medicare plans include Renew Active, which provides complimentary access to Life Time, Club Gladiator, Pure Barre, Orangetheory Fitness and Planet Fitness, among others. Tivity Health offers Prime and American Specialty Health Fitness has a Silver and Fit program.

The city of Houston offers a number of fitness programs for seniors, all free.

Nikia Lewis, division manager of community center operations for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, explained that there are walking clubs, aerobics programs, tai chi and seated fitness opportunities in addition to weight rooms in the community.

Line dancing and pickleball are especially popular options for seniors, Lewis added.

“We want to keep individuals active,” he said. “We want to offer a wide range of fitness opportunities that suit the needs of that age group.”

In addition, Lewis said there are virtual programs for seniors that include yoga, stretching and mindfulness, as well as gardening, art and quilting classes.

“We focus not only on physical health, but also mental health,” he said.

The Memorial Athletic Club, known as the “MAC,” offers a “Good Life Program” specifically for adults 60 and older.

Carrie Gimmestad, member engagement director for the fitness center, said classes offered at lunchtime for retirees include chair exercise classes, cardio conditioning, strength training and water aerobics. There is also tai chi, yoga and a pickleball court.

Trainers at the MAC specialize in working with seniors. Gimmestad recommends letting group instructors know if you’re new – and they can help you through classes.

“Try yoga or strength training; see what works best for you,” she said. “You can pick and choose what you do.”

Gimmestad, now 56, began teaching senior adult fitness 30 years ago. She saw a need to address muscle growth and balance, as well as cognitive decline, through exercise.

She asks: “What do you want to be when you are 70 – fit or frail? Do you want to be the grandmother who gets on the floor with the children?”

Participating in fitness today, in your 50s and 60s, can ensure a healthier golden age. Being strong and maintaining movement and heart function can help prevent accidents and reduce the effects of disease, Gimmestad said.

“We have to be strong so we can continue to do things on our own,” she said. “And it’s never too late — that’s what’s so great.”

Linday Peyton is a freelance writer.

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