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Up until I was around 63, I was in excellent shape. I swam, rode a bicycle, and worked out on the weight machines.

However, I have had many back problems (to the point where I am now limping slightly because of nerve damage) and also problems with my knees. Now at 67 I am working out at the gym. I alternate upper body on the wieght machines one day and "running" on the orbital machines the next. The orbital machines do not hurt my back and knees.

When I am on the Life Fitness orbital machine, I do the random program at level 10 for 30 minutes. I have a few questions:

(1) The heart rate monitor says that after about 20 minutes my heart rate is around 155, and by the end of the workout it may get to 170. This is way over the supposed maximum for my age, but I feel fine, and it is a good workout. I doubt that there is any problem, and my blood pressure is generally below 120/80 when I check it afterwards (unless I start to think about the perfidious French). Is there likely to be a problem with getting my heart rate so high?

(2) Does anybody have any idea how accurate the calorie and distance readings are on those things? Do the calories vary with the rate at which you "run"? They do vary with the level of difficulty. I generally keep it as 60-65 RPM. It would seem that since the stride is fixed, 30 minutes at that rate should be just about the same "distance" on any of the machines. But it varies between 4 miles in 30 minutes and 2.7. I guess the distance part is up for grabs.

(3) At this point I am doing Random Level 10 for 30 minutes. Should I increase the time of the level of difficulty. Go to Random 11 for 30 minutes or stay at Random 10 and go for 35 minutes? My first inclination is to increase the time and work up to a full hour.

I am sure I should be asking a doctor such questions but I have had really bad experiences with doctors. I went to a "sports medicine" guy after a long bike ride because I had weakness in my right hand. It was from a badly adjusted bike - I was putting too much weight on my hands. The guy at the bike shop fixed things up, but all the doctor could say is, "Why would anybody want to ride 35 miles on a bike?", and tell me to stop. In another few months I was doing 2 50-mile rides a week-end without any problem, no thanks to the doctor. There are a few other stories I could tell, but the fact is that so far I have never found a doctor who shared my goal of being able to work out vigorously, or who looked like he had ever done that himself. The sports medicine guy, for instance, was at least 50 pounds overweight.

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