The Cheapest Cure for Aging
When it comes to physical activity the more you do, the more you can do. Here, the top 10 things to start you out on the road to better health.
“We do not stop exercising because we grow old – we grow old because we stop exercising.” – Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the Father of Aerobics
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Ryun, former world-class track athlete
When it comes to physical activity, it is self-evident that the more you do the more you can do.
But then of course you already knew that, didn’t you?
You either knew because you’re a fitness fanatic who lives to move, incorporating exercise into your daily routines and reveling in the way it makes you look and feel, or you remember how great it was and how wonderful you felt back in the day when you were vigorous and active.
Yet despite the fact that anybody who’s ever worn a pair of running shoes knows we need exercise to remain healthy, most of us don’t get the amount we need, and we’re paying for it in innumerable ways both physiological and psychological. According to Statistics Canada, a mere 13 per cent of adults aged 40 to 59 and 11 per cent of those aged 60 and above meet the guidelines for moderate to-vigorous physical activity, defined as 150 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more, this in addition to “muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least two days per week.”
The price tag for not paying this exercise bill is enormous, both to individuals and society; we’re aging faster, getting sicker more often and for longer periods, and constantly staving off — if not outright depression — a low-grade sense of guilt about the fact that we are neglecting our bodies, and that not a good thing, because as the entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn put it, our bodies are the only place we have to live!
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are many enjoyable and relatively easy ways to incorporate exercise into our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and the benefits of doing so are enormous.
Regular exercise can significantly lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, and it can prevent and control risk factors for a variety of disease aggravators including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. It can control obesity, boost energy levels, reduce stress, and improve both sleep and digestion.
People who are physically active feel better about themselves and have higher self-esteem, often leading them to take better care of themselves in innumerable ways, including making the right kind of lifestyle choices, such as eating better, and avoiding overeating, smoking, or excessive alcohol consumption. Exercise also releases endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good chemicals – leading if not to the “high” many athletes claim, at least a sense of well-being.
And there are social benefits as well. Isolation is often a consequence of aging, and one of the most debilitating from a psychological point of view because of its role in depression. Exercise can bring us into contact with others, people who can both encourage and reinforce our healthy choices, and broaden our social network.
There are clubs and organizations dedicated to almost every exercise discipline you can imagine, from cross country skiing and canoeing to hiking and bird watching. The internet makes it easy to find kindred spirits in almost any discipline – just type the activity into Google along with word “club” and the place you live and invariably something comes up. These clubs are run by enthusiasts who meet regularly and warmly welcome new members.
Despite the fact that many aging Canadians have chronic health problems and legitimate concerns about injuries and falls, the major barrier to getting enough exercise is typically psychological.
Aging Canadians have what a salesperson would think of as “objections” to exercise: I’m too old to benefit from it now, I need to save my strength, I might fall and get hurt, I’m wheelchair bound and can’t do anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Research indicates that individuals of any age can benefit from exercise, and because exercise increases strength and stamina, reduces bone-mass loss and improves balance, it can significantly reduce the risk of falling!
NEXT: 10 Tips to Get Started
Have I convinced you yet? Of course I have, but after a decade or more of sitting on the sidelines the prospect of getting started is intimidating. Well, to help you on your way we present the top 10 things you can do to start out on the road to better health by incorporating exercise into your daily routines.
- Check with your doctor if you have any concerns. Discuss the kinds of activities you’d like to engage in and the potential impact on any pre-existing conditions.
- Start slow. Overdoing it at the beginning is the number one reason people give up. Pay attention to signals your body is giving you. If it hurts, don’t do it. If it makes you dizzy, stop. Don’t underestimate the power of walking; it’s inexpensive and remarkably therapeutic.
- Choose activities you enjoy doing. If you hate the idea of marching on a treadmill don’t do it. Despise running? Don’t run. Me, I love to ride a bike. I joke that it is both my gym and my psychiatrist. Even if riding it did not make me fit I’d ride it anyway, so I’m really just fit by default.
- Establish some kind of routine. Commit to exercising three to four days a week for two or three months. Over time you will feel the benefits and it will become part of your lifestyle; you will look forward to it.
- Manage your goals. The object is not to look in the mirror and see the person you were 40 years ago, the object is to look in the mirror and see the best person you can be now. You aren’t going to drop 50 pounds in a few sessions at the gym. This is a long-term project, see it that way and the pounds will melt away.
- Find partners. Having a little company on your walk/ride/swim/hike or whatever can be both inspiring and make things a lot more fun. Join a club.
- Contact your local community center. Most have programs directly aimed at older Canadians ranging from swimming and aerobics to Tai Chi and walking groups. These programs are inexpensive and attending them can help establish routines and habits, not to mention bring you in contact with kindred spirits.
- Consider working with a personal trainer. A personal trainer can assess your needs and work with you, providing encouragement and guidance.
- Keep your fitness equipment visible and available. I keep a tennis ball next to where I sit to watch television; because it’s there I squeeze it all the time. It doesn’t have to an exercise per se to count – yard work and house cleaning can be just as beneficial.
- Believe in yourself and have fun. Over time the benefits of fitness will reveal themselves, and you will enjoy discovering them. Now get up and move, because although exercise is not a cure for aging, engaging in it will certainly get you to the finish line in style.
Ian MacNeill is the author of The Beginning Runner’s Handbook, the internationally bestselling guide to running without injury, which has been translated into Spanish, French, and Korean. His plan is to die with his (ski) boots on.