Updated: Jul 15, 2022
"Incorporating movement into your life is a way of embracing who you are and who you can become."
Exercise is the closest thing to a cure-all that exists. Unfortunately, only 23% of us get enough of it to keep us healthy.
During the pandemic, the daily number of steps taken by people has plummeted by 20%! We have become so sedentary that standing itself is now seen as a form of exercise.
Before I get into my personal exercise system, I want to talk about why it is so important to embark on an exercise program.
Our bodies evolved to be active. Through activity, either in the form of work, exercise or leisure activity, our bodies retain proper muscle, organ, and brain function. Even our moods are largely dependent on how active we are. The sedentary life-styles we have adopted in modern society, and exacerbated by the pandemic, work to diminish our physical and mental capacities. The best and possibly the only way to counteract this diminishment is to move and move often.
How exercise helps
"Deciding to exercise is a powerful way of taking charge of your life!"
Feeling Good - there are many reasons to exercise but one that stands out for me is that it makes me feel better. When I’m active, I feel less anxious, less distressed. Exercising makes me feel energized, happy, and confident. The intentional act of moving resets my mind and body to a place of active contentment. I feel more connected to the people around me, more grounded.
Physical Health - in the tool kit of methods to support physical health, exercise is at the top. Regular exercise promotes healthy cardiovascular, endocrine, skeletal, and muscular systems. It prevents heart disease, strokes, diabetes, some cancers, reduces anxiety, depression, and dementia, while mitigating the effects of aging, among many other conditions. Regular exercise is your secret weapon in maintaining a robust health into advanced years.
Exercise is an intentional act to use your body in a natural way that connects you with who you are and who you can become.
Brain Health - exercise also keeps your brain healthy. Regular exercise, by increasing oxygen levels in the brain, reduces your risk of mental decline and dementia. Moving consistently fosters the development of new brain neurons, increased connectivity between those neurons, while minimizing age related brain shrinkage. Depression, anxiety, and other emotional issues can be diminished or alleviated through regular exercise. Consistent exercise can also play an important role in minimizing the possibility of degenerative brain diseases.
It’s not a stretch to see movement and exercise as key parts of your emotional fitness.
Functionality- Being able to perform daily tasks is essential to living a healthy and satisfying life. The capacity to walk up and down stairs, to reach up to a shelf, to lift grocery bags, do gardening, and feel steady on your feet are all necessary to retaining joy and satisfaction in living. Even if you are not at an age where this is an issue, it behooves you to maintain muscle functionality as a way of keeping frailty and dependence to a minimum.
Deciding to exercise is a powerful way of taking charge of your life!
"I’m going to be 74 and I’m still exercising!"
Growing up I remember my dad and uncle having weightlifting contests in the backyard. Everywhere we lived, there was always an exercise space. Once, when we lived in a small apartment, my bedroom doubled as a home gym. We even had a chinning bar across my doorway. My dad would often make his own exercise equipment. In high school, I lettered in track and even challenged my dad to a race around the local reservoir. It didn’t happen but it shows how important being in shape was for us.
I’m going to be 74 in July 2022 and I’m still exercising. I hope some of the ideas and experiences I convey in this article will be helpful and inspire you to take action, to take charge, to care for your self in a profound way.
Last month, I was on a walk with one of my sons along the edges of the town’s bird sanctuary. He turned to me and said “Dad, you’re shuffling. Pick up your knees.” I had to admit he was right. I could actually hear myself shuffling along. Gosh, isn’t that what old people do? Now, when I walk, I make a concerted effort to pick up those knees. It helped. Immensely!
On another occasion, I was discussing ideas for fitness articles with another son in my living room. Before I could say much he said: “Look, here’s some advice. To make progress, people need to know that they have to do things consistently. Especially, as they get older.” Immediately, I realized the wisdom of this. It‘s absolutely true in my own life.
There are two lessons here:
Body Awareness – it is essential, especially as you get older, to be aware of how your body is reacting to the stress and movement under which you are placing it. As you exercise, do you feel stress anywhere? Is there pain or fatigue? Is your lower back feeling strain? As you age, it’s more important than ever to know how your body is reacting. When I became aware of how I was shuffling my feet, I started to lift my knees and walk properly. Shuffling is bad for the knees, ankles, and hips while potentially causing serious injury by falling. Every joint and muscle can be injured if you are not aware of how that body part is reacting to specific movements.
Persistence - keeping in shape as we age depends to a great extent on consistency. The notorious New Year’s resolutions that are broken within a month of being taken underscores the need to be persistent in your choices. In your 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond it takes no time for your conditioning to regress. I know, it’s not fair. But it happens. It’s best to find activities and exercises that you can sustain. Having to start from scratch every time you want to get in shape is demoralizing.
Persistence and consistency pave the way for years of health and strength. It takes much less effort to stay in shape than to get in shape.
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"Fitness is essential to healthy aging."
The two experiences with my sons got me to thinking how important it is to become highly conscious of our selves, our bodies, and our states of mind as we age.
Fitness is essential to healthy aging. Unfortunately, with less than 25 percent of Americans getting the recommended amount of exercise per week we are aging less than gracefully. This lack of activity can lead to years of health problems that could have been avoided.
The US government recommends 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise every week. It also recommends anaerobic, muscle strengthening exercise twice per week.
For me, fitness consists of three main areas: aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness, and flexibility and balance.
What is it?
Aerobic exercise is any activity that uses oxygen to complete its task. It increases heart rate and the body's use of oxygen. Jogging and walking are examples of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is your best way of conditioning the entire cardiovascular system and reducing the possibility of heart and lung related diseases.
What I do
To keep my cardiovascular system working properly, I normally do brisk walking three times per week for 40-45 minutes. Brisk walking is one of the best and simplest exercises for health and longevity. Walking is a natural human activity. It’s easy to do and not very expensive. All you really need is a pair of good walking shoes. You can start with a 10 minute walk around the block or around your apartment. A neighbor of mine walks for a few hours a day. You decide what your level of commitment is.
There are many low impact aerobic activities that are very effective. You might want to try swimming, rowing, jogging (if your joints can handle it), cycling, water aerobics, dancing, hiking, stair climbing, ellipticals, etc. I don't normally do high intensity interval training (HIIT) because of the possibility of injury. If you try it, be careful and do all movements properly.
I've listed below aerobic resources that will give you all the basics to get you started on an effective training program.
Anaerobic Exercise (resistance training)
What is it?
Anaerobic activity is any movement that uses glucose as fuel rather then oxygen. The demand for oxygen surpasses the supply. Anaerobic activity is usually very intense and of short duration. Weightlifting, sprinting, and high intensity interval training are good examples. Anaerobic exercise is the best way of increasing strength and power and staving off the age related wasting of muscle (sarcopenia).
What I do
I usually do a full body workout 3 times per week. I cover each body part with a properly designed resistance movement either with weights or resistance bands. Occasionally, I will add calisthenics in the form of pushups and body weight squats. It’s important to know the proper form of performing each exercise. Resistance training is great for the muscular system, and cardiovascular systems while improving joint function.
I concentrate on squats to strengthen my hips, legs, and core. Dumbbell rows strengthen my back. I take care of my upper body with bench presses. curls, lateral raises, and triceps presses.
Anaerobic training makes life a lot easier.
The resources below cover most of what you need to know about creating a resistance training program and monitoring your progress.
Flexibility and Balance Training
What is it?
Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move through a full range of motion. Balance is a state of having weight spread equally so as not to fall. Flexibility and balance are often neglected in overall fitness efforts. This is especially unfortunate as you get older and your joints stiffen and your balance begins to wane. Flexibility training helps restore balance to muscle groups that are overused, corrects posture, protects against injury, and provides a full range of motion for joints and muscles.
There are many ways to improve flexibility and balance. Yoga, Pilates, Essentrics, and Tai Chi are excellent ways to practice various forms of flexibility and balance training.
What I do
Yoga is my go to system for balance and flexibility. It’s an ancient system but highly adaptable to modern living. I will usually do at least two sessions of yoga each week that last for 35-45 minutes. I emphasize postures that open up the hips, IT band, stretch the lower back and open the chest. These stretches counteract the negative effects of sitting and being hunched over a computer. I also stretch each morning for 10 minutes. Recently, I have incorporated what is called primal or Asian squatting into my morning routine.
Yoga and Flexibility Resources
"Exercise can be a boon to your mental and physical health."
Gauging your fitness level - it's important to ascertain your current fitness level. By doing so, you can create a fitness program that suits your needs. Here are a few simple ways of gauging your level of fitness:
Standing from a cross-legged position. This test demonstrates your muscular strength and balance capacity. Try it.
30-Second sitting to chair test. Here your lower body strength (legs and hips) is evaluated.
Calf-raise test. The calves are the muscles that atrophy quickly as we age. Keeping them strong is a must.
One leg balance test. Balancing on one leg can predict longevity.
Mental health - exercising consistently is a potent form of self-care. All forms of exercise positively affects your mental status. It may even stave off the onslaught of dementia. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. A regular exercise regimen will raise mood, decrease anxiety, help tackle depression, and promote states of well-being. With the rise of Covid, addressing your mental health needs has become a central aspect of fitness. Emotional self-care is essential to any fitness program.
Comprehensive guide to exercise and mental health.
10,000 steps - there is no scientific evidence that walking 10,000 steps per day is better than 8,000 steps or 12,000 steps. It’s an arbitrary number. You need to find out what’s best for you and what meets your lifestyle and health needs. Whatever number of steps you decide on is better than none.
Ten thousand steps per day? What is the science?
Weight loss - losing weight is an obsession with most of us. Exercise can assist you in losing pounds and keeping them off. Exercise, however, is not the main way to lose weight. Diet remains the primary weight loss strategy. See Part 1 of this series for diet advice.
Motivation - One of the keys to successfully keeping with an exercise plan is motivation. It’s not easy to maintain interest and enthusiasm over time. There are things you can do:
choose a variety of possible activities, if you don’t feel like walking, do yoga. If yoga is out, do some resistance training or go swimming.
Find ways of rewarding yourself for doing a session. For some of us it's sufficient to feel good after a workout. For others extrinsic rewards work better, like getting a healthy snack after a workout.
Connect with a group of like minded people. Groups can help to keep you motivated.
Create a contract with a friend that can stipulate you to meet specific goals.
Hopefully, over time, your motivation will turn into a habit.
Tips for staying motivated from the Mayo Clinic.
Embracing limitations - most of us suffer from some limitations that curtail the kind of exercise you do or the duration and intensity of exercise you can perform. Take seriously your current condition. If you are out of shape, take it slow. If you have heart or other health conditions such as joint and spinal degeneration, consult with your physician before committing to an exercise program. But don’t let limitations stop you. Find what fits your situation and embrace the path.
To gym or not to gym - the decision to join a gym is an important one. Gym membership can be expensive and time consuming in terms of travel time and time spent away from home. Tolerating some of the attitudes found in a typical gym may also be a deterrent. However, joining a gym offers you a plethora of equipment, coaching, fellowship, and motivation. Not bad. Some research has shown that gym goers exercise more than those who exercise at home.
Personally, I have mostly opted for a more solo approach. I have always had a home gym. Presently, I have a weight bench, a set of dumbbells, a dumbbell rack, resistance bands, an exercise bike, two barbells, and barbell plates in excess of 200 lbs. It’s convenient, always available, and provides me the privacy I enjoy.
The decision is yours. What’s best for you is the right decision.
Deciding to incorporate movement into your daily life is a way of embracing who you are and who you can become. Through movement you transform your relationship to yourself and the world around you. The commitment to move and exercise intentionally places you on a new path of personal and social discovery.
As humans, we need movement to be who we are meant to be. Even the most humble beginnings can change us. The first step is to simply say “I will spend time today moving my body.”
I try and move each and every day. When I wake up to when I go to sleep. The more I move the more I want to move.
It’s important to balance the type of exercise you do between aerobic, anaerobic and flexibility training. Find exercises or activities you like and be consistent in performing them. Make an effort to find activities you can sustain over time. Things you enjoy doing. You can start by committing yourself to move in some way, each day. That might mean walking around the kitchen table, standing up from your desk, stretching over your head every half hour.
If you are short on time, do ten minutes of exercise a few times a day. Stretch when you are sitting. Get up and walk around for a minute or two.
From humble beginnings can come great things.
But don’t overdue the exercises. Stay clear of injuries. Use proper form and moderate intensity. Find ways that motivate you to continue accomplishing your goals.
As you get older you will need to modify your fitness activities. Consult such websites as Senior Exercise Central and LiveStrong. Being fit staves off numerous chronic diseases, improves your immune system while maintaining proper joint function. It can help sustain proper weight and help with overall weight loss efforts.
Exercise can be a boon to your mental and physical health. Give it a shot.
Get up and move, move, move!
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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to diagnose or treat any disease. Consult your physician or health advisor regarding medical conditions or treatments.