When it comes to physical activity, the more you do, the more you can do. Perhaps you’re already aware of that because you’ve incorporated exercise into your daily routine and revel in the way it makes you look and feel. Or maybe you believe those days are behind you, and you simply remember how wonderful life was when you were vigorous and active.
Even though we know we need exercise to remain healthy, most of us don’t get the necessary amount, and we’re paying for that in countless physiological and psychological ways. The cost of this exercise deficit is enormous, for both individuals and society. Many of us are ageing faster than we should due to poor diet and exercise habits. We’re also getting sicker more often and for longer periods. We’re also constantly fending off, if not depression, then at least a low-grade sense of guilt over the fact that we are neglecting our bodies.
But we don’t have to accept a lapse into lethargy as inevitable. There are many easy, enjoyable ways to incorporate exercise into even the most sedentary lifestyle, and the benefits of doing so are enormous. Regular physical activity can significantly lower the risk of heart disease and stroke; it can prevent and control risk factors for a variety of conditions, 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. Exercise also releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, leading to a sense of wellbeing.
There are social benefits as well. For a host of reasons – living far from family members, an inability to drive, disabilities – growing older is often accompanied by a sense of isolation, which can trigger depression. Exercise can bring us into contact with other people, who are able to provide motivation and emotional support and broaden our social networks.
Seniors may cite a host of excuses for avoiding physical activity: I’m too old to benefit from it now; I need to save my strength; I might fall and injure myself; I’m wheelchair-bound and can’t do anything. While it’s true that many ageing people have health problems and legitimate concerns about injury, the biggest barrier to getting enough exercise is often psychological. Individuals of any age can benefit from moving around. In fact, because exercise increases strength and stamina, slows down the loss of bone mass and improves balance, it can significantly reduce the risk of falling ill.
If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines for a decade or more, the prospect of getting started can be intimidating. To help you over that hump, here are some ways to integrate exercise into your daily habits.
- Get a Professional Opinion
Check with your doctor if you have concerns. Discuss the kinds of activities you’d like to engage in and the potential impact they could have on any pre-existing conditions.
- Start Slow
Overdoing it at the beginning is the major reason why people give up. Pay attention to signals your body is sending you. If it hurts or makes you dizzy, don’t do it. Don’t underestimate the power of walking: it’s inexpensive and therapeutic.
- Follow Your Heart
Choose activities you enjoy. Hate the idea of a treadmill? Step off. Despise running? Try swimming. If you ride your bicycle for pleasure or just to get around, you could wind up fit by default.
- Make It a Habit
Establish a routine. Commit to exercising three to four days a week for a few months. The practice will become second nature – you may even look forward to it.
- Manage Expectations
The objective is not to look in the mirror and see the person you were 20 years ago; you need to imagine the best person you can be right now. You won’t drop 20 kg in a few sessions at the gym – this is a long-term project.
- Team Up With Others
Having a little company can be inspiring and make things a lot more fun. There are groups dedicated to almost everything you can imagine, from cycling to hiking and birdwatching.
- Enrol in Courses
Contact your local community centre. Most have exercise programmes ranging from swimming and aerobics to tai chi and walking groups. These programmes are affordable and can help establish positive habits.
- Connect With a Good Coach
Consider working with a personal trainer. He or she can assess your needs and tailor a plan to your specific strengths and limitations, while providing encouragement and guidance.
- Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Make sure your fitness equipment is visible and accessible. For instance, keep a tennis ball beside where you sit to watch TV, because it’s easy to squeeze it while you’re relaxing.
- Believe in Yourself
Over time the benefits of fitness will reveal themselves, and you’ll enjoy discovering them. Exercise may not be a cure for ageing, but engaging in it will get you to the finish line in style.
How much physical activity is recommended?
WHO recommends that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week. For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent. Muscle-strengthening activities involving major muscle groups should be done on two or more days a week. WHO Physical Activity Fact Sheet, June 2016
© 2016 by Ian MacNeill. From everythingzoomer.com