ELDER POETRY INTERLUDE: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Best Health Advice? Just Move

category_bug_journal2.gif Sometimes it takes me all day to write a post for this blog. That is, six or eight or more hours sitting in a chair poring over books, magazines, printouts, a dozen or more open browser windows and a keyboard.

For many years, sometimes – nay, most times – I didn't get out of the chair but for lunch, to search the shelves for another book or magazine I needed, or to pee. (Ollie the cat conveniently jumps up on the desk when he needs stroking.)

All this sitting is not good. In fact, it is so bad in terms of health, it alone could kill me before my time. Which is the reason that a couple of months ago, I downloaded a free smartphone app that has only one function – it dings at whatever interval of time I set it for.

At first, that was once an hour to remind me to get out of the chair and move around for awhile. But now, after a rash of new information about the health dangers of inactivity, I've set the app to ding twice as often - every half hour.

There are hundreds of studies each corroborating the findings of all the others: nothing keeps us healthier than exercise and exercise is almost a miracle treatment for many conditions and diseases. Here is a new report about how exercise slows muscle wasting due to age and heart failure:

”In both age groups, four training sessions of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, five days a week plus one 60 minute group exercise session was associated with increased muscle force endurance and oxygen uptake.

“Heart failure patients 55 and under increased their peak oxygen uptake by 25 percent, while those 65 and over increased it by 27 percent.”

Did you notice the amount of time devoted to exercise in this study? Twenty minutes spread four times throughout the day is not much for such a big-deal return on investment.

More and more research is finding that although there is nothing wrong with running marathons, sweating through 90-minute gym workouts or ten-mile bicycle rides if that is your pleasure, it takes far less effort than previously believed to stave off the dire effects of inactivity.

”One of the biggest misconceptions is that exercise has to be hard...or doing something really strenuous,” [says science, health and fitness reporter, Gretchen Reynolds]. “That’s untrue and, I think, discourages a lot of people from exercising.

“If you walk, your body registers that as motion, and you get all sorts of physiological changes that result in better health. Gardening counts as exercise. What would be nice would be for people to identify with the whole idea of moving more as opposed to quote 'exercise.'”

Gretchen Reynolds writes the popular “Phys Ed” column in The New York Times and a couple of weeks ago, her new book, The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer (whew!), was published.

It is on my list for “next” (along with six others) but I haven't read the book yet. Even so, I am so impressed by an interview with Ms. Reynolds in the Times last week and encouraged at how important I believe her information is for elders who may not be able to do strenuous exercise anymore, that I wanted to share this with you now.

Some more excerpts from the interview which you will find here.

”There is a whole scientific discipline called inactivity physiology that looks at what happens if you just sit still for hours at a time. If the big muscles in your legs don’t contract for hours on end, then you get physiological changes in your body that exercise won’t necessarily undo.

“Exercise causes one set of changes in your body, and being completely sedentary causes another.”

“Humans,” writes Ms Reynolds, “are born to stroll” and she makes a clear distinction between the kind of movement needed to help maintain health and that meant to improve sports performance. For the former, “movement” is key and you already have everything you need to do that:

”There are always options for moving,” says Ms. Reynolds. “You don’t have to do anything that hurts. You don’t have to buy equipment. If you have a pair of shoes, they don’t even have to be sneakers.

“People have gotten the idea that exercise has to be complicated, and that they need a heart rate monitor, and a coach, and equipment and special instruction. They don’t.”
“If people want to be healthier and prolong their life span, all they really need to do is go for a walk. It’s the single easiest thing anyone can do. There are some people who honestly can’t walk, so I would say to those people to try to go to the local Y.M.C.A. and swim.”

It turns out, according to Ms. Reynolds, that I have been doing exactly the right thing with my reminder app that dings to help counteract a life spent in front of a screen:

”I really do stand up at least every 20 minutes now,” she says, “because I was spending five or six hours unmoving in my chair. The science is really clear that that is very unhealthy, and that it promotes all sorts of disease. All you have to do to ameliorate that is to stand up. You don’t even have to move.”

I hope this post has moved you to get moving. Although Ms. Reynolds' prescription is aimed at people of all ages, it seems tailor-made for elders. And it is frequency more than length of time spent moving that matters.

You will find the archive of Gretchen Reynolds' Times columns here which is well worth a read.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Vitale: Butchie


"In both age groups, four training sessions of 20 minutes of aerobic exercise per day..."
Wording that ambiguous should never make it into a peer-reviewed journal. I take it to mean four sessions of 20 minutes each!
Most of the current advice on aerobic exercising that I see includes the caveat that it be engaged in "...for at least 10 minutes at a time."
Clarification (not found in the article) is in order.

P.S. Congratulations on your program to move more. Well done!

When I do not move around I feel blah - the whole body begins to go into slow-motion mode that makes me feel tired and run down. The hardest part is getting up and getting started! But it is worth it.

As someone with first-hand experience sitting behind a desk at work for 30+ years, I can second your opinion -- and I have the bad back and the carpal tunnel to prove it. You should never sit for a whole hour without getting up and taking a little walk.

Thanks for the important post!

Important information! Thank you.

EXCELLENT article, Ronni! Thanks. Heading to Oregon (from Texas) next week. Love the area!

Moving the body. Yes! My home is a 32'x8' Motor Home. These are exterior dimensions! I too sit for hours either in front of the P.C., at my musical keyboard, or on the couch watching TV.
All day everyday, except Fridays, when I go to a local Nursing Home to play music for my "peeps", I also drink water... all day long, lots of water. Getting up to pee happens frequently.
Additionally, twice daily, I stand between the table and the galley sink with a hand on each. I raise my legs, one at a time as high as I can with a jump motion for as long as I can, at least 100 jumps with each leg. It is like running in place while balancing with hands on solid places. I do this twice each day...By the time I reach the 100th step, my knees do not reach my chest like when I begin the routine!
My body is under 5' tall and just a tad overweight. It is also approaching 81 years old.
My Clyde cat, a 13 lb orange Maine coon, like your Ollie, needs to have some attention frequently. He lays on the table between me and the computer. If I do not rub his ears as much as he wants, he reaches to my chin and turns my face toward him!
When I am playing music he is content to nap under my chair.
When I am on the couch he is in my lap allowing me to brush his beautiful long, thick fur and kiss his lovely head!
The water, which is RO water, is a great addition to a "movement routine", a much better term than "exercise!"


Yes, mam, I am in the water four days a week now. I haven't quite figured out how to go to work...where I walk for hours, after water aerobics yet on Wednesdays. I will. Thanks to the water, I hurt less and can move vastly better. :)

I've always been a believer in exercise, perhaps to excess. In addition to running everyday, I used to teach Kindergarten so I never sat down all day.
Now however I am in a job where I sit at thecomputer all day.I often get lost in my work and find myself still in the chair for hours and am aghast that when I do get up, I find my back and hips have stiffened. So now,like you I try to get up at least every half hour. One of my little tricks has been to get rid of my trash can. It forces me to get up and walk to the break room. I also try to get my daily 8 glasses of water so I have to get up to fill my water bottle and trek to the Ladies room.

OMG, my computer has been killing me and I didn't even know it. I sit here for at least 8 hours a day with a few breaks to do some household chores.

I am out of this chair right now. Bye!!

One of my best buys ever is a pedometer. I have found ways of moving at home that make me take more steps. I have banned trays, and take things to the kitchen in my hands, (doubles or triples your steps), I go to the shops several times a day and carry things home without using my trolley as I used to. The end result is a lot of steps, but less available time for photos and hardly any time for blogging. But my cholesterol count is back to normal and the doctor allowed me to stop medicine for BP

motion is lotion!!

Yes I have heard of this study. The BBC TV recently did a very good documentary on exercise based on the Finnish study.

Like you I have decided to get moving more and will download an app to remind me.

Blogging nearly did me in, as exercise and other went by the wayside for awhile. I thought I'd spend an hour or two at most on the computer while relaxing in the evening. Then, when I started my blog, I recognized I might have to spend more time -- probably bat out a blog post in 30 mins. to an hour. N O T !

Unfortunately, I typically come to blogging in the evening, and all the bloggers dialogue during the day -- keeping traditional office work hours, I guess. So, until, or if ever, a group of night bloggers develops I pretty much write to myself, since I don't think anyone ever reads what are often the last comments on a post, here and elsewhere.

As for exercise, I need to do more movement, I know. Also, I need to set up my pedometer I've had for several years but never used when I was part of Claude's exercise group. I have a post draft with a picture on the topic I wrote three years ago which I need to up date and publish. Oh, well, I'll get it all together -- someday.

Living things that don't move are called plants. I admit that since I retired and started writing, I'm sort of a plant. I will have to get out and wriggle a little. But I don't care for exercise, I prefer hiking and cutting wood. Rote exercise is tough. If the activity is meaningful, the movement will come more easily, more frequently, and for longer duration.

Thanks for this, Ronni. You do us a great service to remind us of the importance of moving. I like to run and do so three days a week with a walk on two. I feel great, stay healthy and don't worry about weight. There are clubs for walking, hiking and running to give good company.

Good advice, and now that I have finished my degree and reached age 70 I am moving more.

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