On Monday's post about the newest old age suit, TGB reader Cathy Johnson commented that although the suits are probably a good thing,
”I wouldn't mind some breaking news that there's something that WILL make me stronger, faster and reverse some of the cognitive, visual and other sensory changes the past few decades have visited upon me.”
But there is, Cathy, there IS. I write about it here so often I worry I'm boring everyone into an early grave. It is called EXERCISE.
Here are the latest headline and blurb from one of the many elder health newsletters I subscribe to – this one from Harvard Medical School:
”WHAT’S THE ONE PRESCRIPTION THAT CAN LOWER YOUR RISK FOR 5 MAJOR DISEASES — WITH NO SIDE EFFECTS?
“Exercise has the power to keep you from developing high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and some forms of cancer. In fact, exercise can lower your risk of heart disease as effectively as medications!
“It can also help ease arthritis pain, sharpen your memory, trim your waistline, and preserve your independence.”
For the past year or two, not a week has gone by that I don't receive notice of a new study from somewhere in the world confirming these exercise outcomes. The results are consistent and if you are asking, many of them are longitudinal studies of hundreds and thousands of people who were followed and tested over many decades.
The connection between regular exercise and good health into old age is long past being speculative. It is established medical fact and I've been reading about it for so long, I don't keep as much track of specific studies any longer – just notes as reminders for times when I feel myself getting lazy.
Here is a short list of some information I've copied out from here and there that helps keep me motivated:
Your size affects some of the strain on your hips, knees, and back. Even a little weight loss can help. Every pound you lose takes 4 pounds of pressure off the knees.
“Get stronger to give your joints better support. Even a little more strength makes a difference.
“Stronger abs and back muscles help your balance, so you're less likely to fall or get injured. Add core (abdominal, back, and hip) strengthening exercises to your routine.
“Stand and sit up straight to protect joints all the way from the neck down to your knees. To improve your posture, take a walk. The faster you do it, the harder your muscles work to keep you upright. Swimming can also help.”
Regarding that last item, even slower walking is a big help, even if it is the only exercise you do. More is better but it is the moving itself that makes a difference.
In medical research circles, there is an ongoing conversation if not quite controversy about how much and how hard people of various ages should work out. Speculation varies from as little as 15 minutes three days a week to an hour and more a day.
Ignore all that and do what you can with the usual and important disclaimer: do not start any exercise (or diet) program without consulting your physician.
Even if you are mobility-challenged (as they say these days), there are seated tai classes, stretching classes and even weight training classes. You can use soup cans for hand weights. There are useful videos all over Youtube.
You don't need to join a gym or Pilates or any other program unless you want to. I can't afford those (not to mention that I'm unlikely to keep it up if I have to drive 10 or 15 or more minutes to get there and back) so I devised my own program by watching online videos, asking lots of questions of friends who have worked out for a long time and drawing on my own checkered life experience with calisthenics, aerobics, ballet, tai chi, weight training, stretching, etc.
Now I have developed a 45-50 minute routine for three days a week that combines all those types of exercise. On opposite days, I eliminate the weight-bearing exercises to give my muscles a rest and spend about 35 minutes or so with everything else. Sunday is my day off and I have kept up this schedule with minor, short lapses for almost three years.
Strength? You should see my silly, little, old lady biceps but I can lift those 20-pound kitty litter containers one-handed, and you sure wouldn't want me to kick you.
I am one of the most physically lazy people you know so if I can do this, anyone can. Besides a remarkable sense of well being, What motivates me are all those studies that are becoming boring in their repetition. Nothing else known to mankind keeps bodies and minds healthier than regular exercise.
Does that mean your vision will be come 20/20 again and reverse cataracts? That your senses of smell and tasted will be reinvigorated? That your wrinkles will disappear?
Of course not. But that should not stop anyone from going for the possible and after nearly three years of daily workouts, I don't recall ever feeling better – physically, mentally and emotionally.
The purpose of that Harvard Medical School newsletter I mentioned above is to advertise a guide, a booklet they sell about getting started with exercise.
They publish a lot of excellent booklets on a wide variety of health topics and infuriate me with every mailing that they are so expensive. Health nformation as important and good as theirs (and it is) should not be withheld for money.
I once emailed to discuss that issue with the Harvard Medical School publishers and received nothing but some public relations pap in return. Make what you will of that but after this post today, I should give you the option of getting the booklet if you want it – I can certainly vouch for the quality.
As the newsletter acknowledges and I personally know, the hardest part of regular exercise is getting started especially when you have never done it or have not done it for a long time. Titled Starting to Exercise, the guide helps
”...you choose the best, safest workout for you; shows you exactly how to do each move; and even helps you fit the routines into your busy schedule.
“You’ll also get photos and tips that explain how to do each move correctly, as well as ways to customize a move for your fitness level.
“Plus, you’ll get a special bonus section, 'Keys to staying motivated,' that will help you stick with whatever workout you choose.”
You can order the booklet here and choose print with free shipping for $20; an electronic PDF download for $18; or both for $29.
Even if exercise can't give you back your youth, it goes a long, long way to keeping you in good health and as our parents repeated to us, “As long as you've got your health...” Back then, I rolled my eyes when they said that; now I'm old enough to know they were right.