Saturday, October 26, 2002
Steamboat Springs Sven Wiik is on a mission to persuade more Americans 50 and older to stay in shape. And he's firmly convinced the best way to reach that goal is with a pair of ski poles in your hand. That goes for summer as well as winter.
Wiik's credentials are impressive; at the age of 81, he's the reigning world champion in cross country skiing over 10 kilometers.
That would be in the 80- to 85-year-old age group. He is a professor emeritus at Western State College and a former U.S. Olympic coach.
"When people become 50, they become comfortable," Wiik said. "They slow down and they think they're supposed to slow down. It's a natural thing. They shouldn't be worried. They should be active and try to accomplish the goal of total fitness."
Wiik was an assistant professor of health and physical education at Western State from 1948 until 1969.
He had studied business during college in his native Sweden, but studied physical education during summer school.
"I feel fortunate to have been in this field for my entire life. And I'm still learning by observing my own body when I'm out walking, hiking and skiing."
Wiik is rarely without a pair of poles in his hands when he is exercising. That's because the use of poles turns simple walking and hiking into a complete form of exercise, he said.
"We would like to maintain our muscle strength. We would like to maintain our flexibility. We would like to keep our endurance. And the most neglected objective is balance."
Wiik says the only sports he knows of that accomplish all of the goals of total fitness are swimming and cross country skiing (or walking/hiking with ski poles).
That doesn't mean people shouldn't work other sports they enjoy into their regimen, he added.There is more to fitness than the obvious physical aspects, Wiik said. Learning the technique of a new sport engages the brain in a different way than reading a book does.
The ongoing effort to maintain overall body coordination keeps the mind sharp, he said.
In a perfect world (like Steamboat) fitness is a goal that should be pursued outdoors in fresh air.
Too many people begin a new fitness program by punishing their bodies, Wiik believes.
He calls that furious pace that many aging athletes pursue during the first week of a fitness regimen a "hell spell."
And predictably, after a week, it's all over.
"You don't need to come home sweaty all the time," Wiik said. "It's fine to feel tired in a pleasant way. But you don't need to exhaust yourself."
People over the age of 50 should let their state of mind guide the intensity of their workouts.
Simply walking with proper technique, and using ski poles to push off, will provide an adequate workout, he advises.
When you feel up to it, use your poles to charge up a hill. When it doesn't feel good any longer, slow down.
Too many people take walking for granted, Wiik said. Almost 15 years ago, he was beginning to lose interest in hiking because his knees bothered him so much.
He began to study walking motions and found that when he walked with a more upright posture, and made a conscious effort to walk with a heel toe motion while moving downhill, he was able to shift the stress off of his aching knees. Within months, the pain had disappeared and he was back in business.
"There is a technique to walking," Wiik insists.
Wiik will be teaching cross country skiing at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center again this winter, as he has for many seasons. Anyone who is persuaded that fitness doesn't end at age 50, can look him up.