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Exercise: What’s Your Excuse?

category_bug_journal2.gif A couple of months ago, The New York Times published a story by long-time health reporter, Jane Brody, about the importance of exercise for elders. Considering the amount of information it covers, the story is remarkably short and simple. Even so, it could be boiled down further to these salient points that should be burned in our brains:

Fact: As they age, people lose muscle mass and strength, flexibility and bone.

Fact: The resulting frailty leads to a loss of mobility and independence.

The last two facts may sound discouraging. But they can be countered by another. Regular participation in aerobics, strength training and balance and flexibility exercises can delay and may even prevent a life-limiting loss of physical abilities into one’s 90s and beyond.

Every time we discuss end-of-life issues here at TGB, it is universally agreed that no one wants to wind up unable to care for themselves. We all know the best way to ensure we remain healthy for as long as possible is to eat intelligently AND EXERCISE. But many of us do not.

Although a good exercise regimen should, as Ms. Brody notes, include aerobics and strength training along with something for flexibility and balance, some experts, aware of how negligent many people are about exercise, suggest that five, 30-minute brisk walks a week can go a long way toward staving off infirmity.

How hard is that? 30 minutes a day. Some fresh air. Time for mental stillness. And doing yourself a big health favor. Still, it doesn’t get done. At least, not in my house.

For several months, when I first moved to Portland, Maine, I walked for an hour every morning, seven days a week. I was new to the neighborhood, there was much to see and learn about the area, and I looked forward to it – for awhile, until it wasn’t so new anymore. You know how it goes: “Oh, I’ll skip today. Six days in a week would be okay.”

Then it's five, four and soon enough winter is here and I might slip on the ice or snow. Never mind that I see people on daily walks down the middle of the street (not many cars in this town) where the snow is worn away.

About a year ago, Claude Covo-Farchi started a blog, ElderExercise, as a support group for elders to encourage one another in keeping up their exercise routines. I was invited, but didn’t join. I knew from past experience that I would not maintain it – with or without encouragement – and didn’t want to feel more guilt than I already do.

I did attend twice-weekly t’ai chi classes for a year and actually learned enough to practice it at home. Still do, now and then, but not often enough. I’ve joined gyms about half a dozen times throughout my life only to let it drift after a month or two. I despise those machines, the blaring music and the general ambience of a lot of buff 20-somethings using the place as a singles bar.

But that’s just another excuse, like deliberately getting involved with a book or magazine or playing with the cat on my way to picking up those cute pink barbells in the bedroom.

So I tell myself to get back to walking every day as I did during the first months after I moved here. Set a time every day and work the rest of my schedule around it; that would be a start. But I have all kinds of excuses not to walk, let alone do anything more vigorous than push the vacuum cleaner around once a week:

  • Oh, the sky is getting dark, it might rain while I’m out. Better stay home.
  • I haven’t written a post for tomorrow. No time to walk.
  • I should cook that chicken before it rots. Can’t go out while the oven’s on.
  • So much email, so little time. Better get to it.
  • It’s 82 degrees today. Too hot to walk.
  • I really should take care of that bank business. Too far to walk, I’ll have to drive.
  • Oops, late dinner appointment tonight. Better have a nap instead.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. The depth of the stupidity of my excuses is beyond measurement. Oh, how I miss New York City where walking is integrated into everyday activities. You can do five miles there without noticing it. However, that is not my reality now and lamenting it is nothing more than another stupid excuse.

According to Miriam E. Nelson, who is director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston,

“…with every increasing decade of age, people become less and less active.

“But,” Dr. Nelson said, “the evidence shows that with every increasing decade, exercise becomes more important in terms of quality of life, independence and having a full life.”

The New York Times, 24 June 2008

So the question today is, for those who are as lazy as I am, what is your best dumbest excuse for not exercising? Maybe we can shame ourselves into getting off our butts.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz, an ex-pat in Turkey, explains how it came to be that where she lives there is No Such Thing as a Homeless Chicken.]


Ronni, I also didn't join Claude's group initially for the very reasons you mentioned. When I didn't get off my butt to do anything last winter, I ended up asking Claude if I could join. Since doing so, my regular exercise has increased greatly. It is a good group of people. Also, knowing that I will truthfully write every week about my exercise, or lack there of, has had the effect that I nolonger listen to that inner procrastinator any more.

Oh, lordy, lordy, is there an echo in here. Every excuse to not exercise sounds like my mantra. When I do walk it's a 3-miler - usually. but I don't do it more than a couple of times a week. My dumb excuse: IT'S BORING!

Last fall I was 11 pounds overweight and not in shape. A friend and I joined the club here and took Body Renew classes. Then it snowed and I started cross country skiing. I lost the weight (I use the notebook, writing down what I eat routine when I need to) and when the snow left I started on my indoor bike. I get on the bike with a book on my ipod and can happily do 40 minutes. Then stretch and tai chi.
This fall, I'll go back to the club for a few months and do more Pilates, then snow, then ski.
And happy me.
I highly recommend the comfortable indoor bike and ipod routine. Gotta go, time to get on it.

My dumbest excuse is, "I'll get all sweaty and then I'll have to take a shower and wash my hair." A quick shower and shampoo takes what, ten minutes? BTW for those of you who walk but find all kinds of weather excuses not to walk, there's a great solution. Leslie Sansone has a line of DVDs for walking in your home. Besides walking in place, you do side steps, knee lifts, kicks and other moves, as well as moving your arms with or without weights. I was skeptical, but at the end of 45 minutes, my heart rate was up and I had worked up a good sweat.

Ronni, your post just might be the kick in the butt I need. Thanks.

Once upon a time. No. Two times. I spent $$$ to join a gym. I should have known myself better. I am way too shy in some areas, like putting on a leotard and sweating in front of a crowd of perfect strangers, me waiting for the only machine I enjoyed: the treadmill.

So I quit and bought my own treadmill. Well, that lasted about a month. It was boring to work out in my cold basement room....alone.

Then I started walking 4 nights a week with my sister. THAT was and is the best exercise of all.

It costs nothing, and we get to vent on all subjects as we do the 6 k's. Now that I garden for people, I get to wrangle my 65 year old body into all kinds of embarrassing positions, while slinging obnoxious weeds, throwing down mulch and soil and getting dirty.

I'm covered from head to toe, so nobody knows it's me.

I tell people I exercise for pay. Gardening jobs are steady, and I am damn sore at the end of the day, but I don't mind.

Maybe I'll die like the Godfather, in someone's garden. Well. I'll die happy.

Walking is the best workout, but you should find a partner. That way, you motivate each other to get off your butt and go.

We also belong to a cycling group that does 40-50 k a week. That's also fun, and good for meeting new friends.

Three areas to keep healthy:




If you find yourself walking on the beach, and something keeps tapping you on the back of your legs, chances are, it's your ass.

Some nights I don't wanna walk, like last night. But when my sister calls me a chicken, I get going. Rain or shine.


What Linda Said.......

Me? I'm with Linda & Nancy. However in my humble defense, I do get to yoga class each week. Love it. Nice people all around my age & some younger, too. Lots of chatter before & after & a great instructor who understands us elders.....she is 50. At the very least the yoga gives a good stretch & some socializing. Otherwise except for walking with someone, it's all boring after awhile. Dee

Since there is a pool in the building where I work, I swim at least 2x a week. My "walking" friend retired about two years ago and so went my walks during lunch break. However,I join at least one or two classes at the Y. I find if I'm paying for something, I'll show up... I have always done some sort of exercise because if not, I feel the difference physically as well as mentally.

Substitute the name and locale and your story could be written by me, Ronni. When I lived in my house with a swimming pool, rose bushes and a lawn to mow I got plenty of exercise. I also walked an hour each morning with a friend.

Then I bought this town house with no yard duties. I walked 45 minutes every morning for a year, then it was three times a week, then once in awhile. (boring) I joined a gym and had a personal trainer tell me which machines to use. I didn't lose weight,but my muscle mass increased.

Alas, the woman who drove to the gym became unable to go anymore so I quit too. I know I should arrange transportation and go but I also know I won't. How dumb is that?

My most strenuous exercise now is using my fingers to type this.

oh, how right you are!! I've actually joined Claude's group but feel a complete fraud as I'm doing very little. Granted I do have a knee problem and therein lies the perfect excuse for a vicious circle. I can't exercise because my knee 'blocks'. I can't do the garden because working in a kneeling position or with bent knees is forbidden. (Last time I tried I was out of action for three months) Bending to pick up weeds with straight knees is also pretty uncomfortable. Brisk walking is 'out'. So, I'm waiting for some injections next month and hoping I'll get some mobility back. If only I'd taken more care a few years ago when I was 45lbs slimmer and much more active but I put on weight and that put pressure on my knee and so the rot set in. Now it's going to be extremely difficult to put things to rights but I'm going to give it a try and Claude's group consists of very supportive people.

Hi Ronni and all,
What works for me is to be in a clsss doing someting I really like. And that works even better if I've got a buddy who is going with me. Last month I wrote a post about a 7 minute wellness and longevity practice I do at home. Time will tell if I can stick with it at home on my own.


Just to set the record straight, it was the confluence of my idea and Claude's enthusiasm + computer skill that made Elderexercise happen. We met here at TGB more than 2 years ago.

It's invigorating to read earlier comments and discover the many creative ways elders have faced down their demons, pushed off the chair, and into movement. That last line in Jane Brody's article, “People can’t wait until they’re in residential or long-term care to get started,” really spoke to me.

I am also hearing an echo. I have tried off and on to establish some kind of routine exercise. The most frequent problem has been keeping the exercise routine when the rest of my schedule went to pot. Mom and I tried to walk a couple of years ago but had trouble finding an unobstructed route in a neighborhood with narrow, broken, or non-existent sidewalks. Walking on the side of a road or shoulder made both of us nervous. We just didn't trust the drivers. We tried tai chi only to find the date and time of the class moved after I persuaded my boss to reschedule my work days to accommodate the original. We tried the exercise machines at our local senior center but were derailed when I had a nasty case of bronchitis followed by Mom's strained shoulder. We never got back to it and realized that neither of us really like the machines much.

We made another attempt starting about a month ago and have kept it up to date. One of the local parks has a nice three-quarter mile track that is paved, level (pretty much), and broad. It is bordered by trees and shrubs with lots of squirrels and birds. So far we have only missed two days due to weather and are making our plans to continue during the winter. We hope that only thunderstorms (too dangerous to be outside anyway) and heavy snowfall (which we would have to shovel thereby getting our exercise) will interrupt the schedule. Now that we are used to the single lap we are gradually going to add a lap.

Zheesh, my bad too. What stops me from exercisinsg? Lack of time, the boredom of solo exercise, being tired after work, too tired to get up earlier. And, often, simple inertia. What works for me? Group exercise class; the need to keep my dog in shape; sometimes bicycling, which I enjoy. I used to enjoy lap swimming, but sinus infections turned me off to it. I've realized I prefer bicycling to walking; walking for walking's sake is boring.

I exercise in spurts, but never with great enthusiasm. I have never in my life exercised with enthusiasm, although there have been several periods when I was exercising regularly and strenuously. Maybe it was me in some other incarnation? Anyway, now I try, try, try to walk a couple of miles three times a week. That's it. Sometimes I only get to it once a week. I like walking with my walking stick, though (from a recent "Time Goes By" article, I've learned that my stick is called a quarterstaff!) and use it to hoist myself up hills, over rocks, and even in shallow streams when the occasion arises. It feels like something more dashing than walking, somehow, when one has his/her quarterstaff in hand. No danger of muggings, either - a quick whop, and any would-be mugger finds out in a hurry that he or she has bitten off more than they can chew with THIS old lady! Hah! Now if I could just be consistent, it might do some good!

I'm fighting to preserve my exercise habits as I move into being an elder -- I'm 61 and still over-employed, so I know I'm just starting my elderhood.

Anyway, what I'm doing for motivation is "running across the country." At least I call my ambulatory efforts "running" though a neutral observer might look at me and think "walking." Something called the National Health Survey provides me with a route and little images for each stage of the journey. Every once in a while I post in my blog sidebar the latest little picture of what I'd be seeing if I were really running this, instead of progressing virtually.

It's a big country. At my BEST rate of progress, it is going to take me 4 years to get across it. :-) So far, I've gotten from Virginia, through Kentucky, to Illinois.

I also go in spurts where I feel I am exercising enough and then where my fingers on this keyboard get the most exercise. I suspect that doesn't count. I do have small weights here on the desk to do arm exercises but don't use them often enough. My favorite thing to do is walk but I don't do it often enough either. The bad part is the older I get the harder it is to get back to a good place. I also know I should do it but don't nearly enough

"I put on weight and that put pressure on my knee and so the rot set in."

Me too.

That phrase will stick in my mind,"so the rot set in"

Maybe that echo in my brain will get me motivated.

No excuses at our house. At least an hour a day, rotating days between bikes, treadmill and our new rowing machine. So, an hour of cardio daily; sometimes some weight lifting on alternate days.

We do this right after breakfast, before excuses can rear their ugly head.

I got a big-time wake up call, and I've managed to stick with the exercising. Somewhere along the line, I got hooked on the endorphins and get really jittery when I miss even a couple of days.

OK, now I'm going to get all male on you:

Oh, the sky is getting dark, it might rain while I’m out. Better stay home.
Get a yellow rain coat.

I haven’t written a post for tomorrow. No time to walk.
Write a shorter post. Write about your walk.

I should cook that chicken before it rots. Can’t go out while the oven’s on.
Use a crock pot.

So much email, so little time. Better get to it.
The email will be there when you get back. I'm sure I speak for many when I say that I'd rather wait for your response if it means you've taken a walk.

It’s 82 degrees today. Too hot to walk.
Wear shorts.

I really should take care of that bank business. Too far to walk, I’ll have to drive.
If it's kept this long, it will keep another day.

Oops, late dinner appointment tonight. Better have a nap instead.
OK, you've got me here. But only naps are one of the few connections we have to the divine.

How about this one? I have tooooo many blog posts to read!

The dog ate my gym shorts...

I started regular exercise when I was in boarding school and I haven't stopped since. (give or take, wars, pestilence and THE HEAT!)
We've had almost fifty 100 deg. days since mid May and 'though snow and sleet etc. can't keep off my feet (nor bike or pool) I just can't do it when the thermometer rises above 90.
Although man is presumably descended from the monkey, my animal forbears were more likely polar bears.
I do get in some evening tennis three nights a week and I swim when the pool isn't closed for repairs (the pump breaks often in the heat)but real training will start again around mid September.

I've always been a sedentary person, averse to all the jock-like sweating activities. But I didn't realize how much I kept my weight down just by doing my normal activities until I was no longer able to do them. Now my weight has shot up a shocking amount and I'm facing the facts of the muscles and bones of older age.

My biggest problem is not ignorance. It's taking the first step to do what I know must be done! Overcoming a lifetime of sitting on my bohunkus is my most difficult task. I can always find something far more interesting to do in my chair than out of it.

My excuses are more empty than bubbles, yet I persist in inventing them. My good genes have kept me out of trouble until now, but I realize that I'm just dancing with catastrophe if I keep up the lifestyle I've lived so far.

Get this, I do not want to exercise, because it will make my arthritic hip hurt. Of course, exercise helps the pain of arthritis...go figure..

Dopey excuses: I'm tired (exercise gives me energy), I'm sore (I'd be less sore after a good yoga class), I'm embarassed to go back to yoga class after I've missed so many. It's too hot, too windy to cycle (and when is it not too hot and windy in an Oklahoma summer?)It's easy to make excuses. I cycle with a group, so we all enjoy the benefits of company and encouragement. Still, it's hard sometimes to keep moving.

I walked every day when I had dogs. They make it so interesting and fun, because every walk is just as exciting as the first walk to a dog. It doesn't matter how many times we've taken the walk, the dogs are excited.

Then I got ill, and a lot of stuff happened, and I placed my beloveds in good homes -- and was dumb enough to buy an apartment where I can never ever have dogs.

Sometimes I walk, very occasionally I do stretching and yoga, but I sure wish I could end my life in the midst of doggie friends.

Ronni, I too possess the excuse disease. I believe it's a genetic curse that started in my late teens and progressed over time, a not yet coined chronic condition: procrastination. In my college yearbook, under my picture, it says: The personification of procrastination. Rarely does anyone get this kind of recognition.

I too did not exercise because, my hair was frizzing, it causes me to sweat too much and I would need to shower and change and did not have that time. I cleaned the house, therefore, I have exercised. I went food shopping, carried the food in the house and put it away (weight lifting and cardio!).

I must tell you though, now I am exercising because I cannot keep up with my grandchildren, how embaressing! So I go to a gym with some of my elder friends (safety in numbers) and we do 30 minutes of weights and cardio together. I bitch and moan the entire time. But if the truth is told, I feel so much better. I actually have energy and learned that there is a lot I can do at home.

I walk wherever I can. I park far away from stores. It works, really. I can't believe I am saying this.

I think the goal needs to be to exercise today not to exercise every day for the rest of my life. That is something I can succeed at and I know I'll fail at the other goal.

Hi Ronnie,
IIwas71when I moved into my condo on the 3rd floor.Every day I do 3 flights of stairs and 4 when I take the trash to the dumpster and laundry in the basement.I don't like walking anymore or lifting weights.butI still force myself to do it a couple of times a week.I see people my age who can't lift a cup of coffee with steady hands or lift their arms to comb their hair or climb stairs.I'ts woth the effort when you reach 80 and still be independent.I'ts not easy being old.

I've been making contributions to my gym for over a year. My doctor said the only thing that will reduce is my wallet. LOL (I know) Occasionally I go walk on the treadmill, the elliptical, and ride the stationary bike. That lasts a while and then I slack off again. Now I'm working up to joining a strength training class which I'll do because of the group support. (I hope)

It's so hard to make myself do this and every time I turn around I read and hear more reasons that exercise is vital. I used to be active and enjoyed it. I hope to get there again.

My stupidest excuse is "It'll be nicer tomorrow."

Not even that it's raining today but that tomorrow it'll be somehow better and for some reason I won't walk two days in a row so I better not go today.

Yeah, I'm good at stupid. And that has shamed me into getting up and going out!

I've finally worked out a suitable program for ME (not hubby or that cute, perky, ponytailed trainer) and I think that was the key I used to quit making excuses for not going to the gym. I go three times a week and do about an hour of cycling, walking and strength training with weight machines. And this is going to sound awfully materialistic I know, I'll admit I bought Nintendo wii fit, and try to do it for at least 30 minutes every day that I don't go to the gym. It makes exercising actually fun! plus there's enough diversity you can vary the program so as not to get bored. I'm able to set my own goals and preview my success (or lack of) each time I work out, so that I am in competition only with myself. I do my "wii training" with my husband, but if you can afford one and can find one to buy (they're difficult to find in stock), I highly recommend them even if you're alone. It's one of the best gifts I've ever given myself!

Alice, you remind me of something that really helped when I started working out at a gym. I wanted a trainer to get me started and insisted on someone my age or older. It seemed important at the time -- and I was right -- to have a trainer who knew what it was like to wake up feeling stiff, who had to worry about back and knee problems -- the stuff that comes with getting older. I got someone who was stickler for form and who takes complaints about aches and pains seriously. For anyone considering a trainer, the age of the trainer is definitely relevant.

Ronni, ElderExercise was Naomi's idea in the first place. We discussed it by email and gave it a try. I love it!

OYE VAY!!!! EXERCISE - FEH! But....I do some walking, 14 stairs in my house to ground level - so I try not to just stay upstairs....down the hall back and the piano and finger exercise...around the block...around the yard....I look and see what needs to be done - then I go back to bed and "Judge Judy" - Net Flix....OYE VAY!!!

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