February 25, 2022

Exercise and Aging

How are you Feeling Today?  As we enter YEAR THREE of the pandemic, we have to ask ourselves - am I moving enough? Am I making excuses to stay in, not walk, not stay mobile? 

To repurpose an old joke, most of us are not at all afraid of regular exercise. We can sit on the couch and watch someone else exercise with no discomfort at all! 

However, when it comes to doing the exercise ourselves, it tends to get buried beneath higher priorities for most of us. Nonetheless, we are not doing ourselves any favors by skimping on our levels of exercise, especially as we age. And most of us are aware of that fact.

I think that if we were on the Family Feud game show and the question was, “What should a person do to reduce the risk or ameliorate the effects of such chronic diseases as arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease?”, many of us would correctly guess that the top two answers are: (1) Engage in regular exercise; and (2) Maintain a healthy weight. However, knowing those answers and achieving those goals are two different things.

I am going to focus on the question of regular exercise. Let me start by acknowledging three things: (1) regular exercise will need to take different forms for different people; (2) changing one’s routine and daily patterns to add sustained regular exercise is daunting to consider and difficult to do; and (3) there little if any positive reinforcement for weeks or even months. Nonetheless, over time it will reward you in ways that you might not have anticipated. 

If your exercise program is built around regular walking and jogging, it will have the well-known benefits of reducing the risk and severity of many chronic diseases and reducing excess pounds. But it will also have a positive effect on a person’s daily life. Specifically, a person who regularly jogs or walks continuously for 30-40 minutes is likely to maintain a good level of mobility. This is particularly important for older people, because a loss of mobility is directly related to the loss of one’s independence and the abandonment of desired activities and interactions with friends. In short, a loss of mobility shrinks a person’s world. The effect of suitable regular exercise in terms of continued mobility is a hugely valuable benefit.

The second collateral benefit to regular sustained exercise is the person’s own perceptions of him- or herself. For example, suppose you are visiting Iceland and someone recommends that you see its largest waterfall, Dettifoss. It is located nearby, but it is a one kilometer walk away from the nearest road. Do you decide whether to visit Dettifoss by answering the question “How interested am I in seeing another waterfall?” or by answering the question “Will walking one kilometer each way be too hard?”? You can see that the person who asks the first question has a very different and more positive sense of self than the person who asks the second question. Having confidence in one’s physical capability instead of having concerns about one’s physical restrictions produces a very different sense of self. 

Let us suppose that I have convinced you to start or increase your exercise program. How can you do that? I will lay out the steps for creating and carrying out a program tailored to your situation—in the next newsletter. Stay well until then!

A lovely rendition of La Bamba to get you moving from Playing For Change | Song Around the World.  (Courtesy of Irene Chriss)