Exercise and Aging- Part Two

Last month I suggested that regular exercise is a key aspect of managing one’s aging — that it reduces the health risks that accompany aging and that it allows for a more engaged and rewarding life. I also promised to provide you with a recipe for developing a productive and sustainable pattern of exercise.

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” When Theodore Roosevelt said those words, he was not talking about engaging in physical exercise, but if we look at his life, he would likely have agreed with that interpretation. And he would be right in all three regards: engaging in regular physical exercise is hard work; it is work worth doing; and if we have the chance to do it, life has given us a prize.

How can you get started?

It will depend on your circumstances, but let me lay out a suggested approach, with the understanding that you will adapt it to fit your situation.

  • Start with a 40-minute workout, consisting of four minutes of brisk walking, followed by a minute of jogging, and continue to alternate between the walking and the jogging. Do this four times per week. 
  • In one to two weeks, increase the jogging to two minutes (i.e. 4 minutes of walking; 2 minutes jogging; etc.). Then after another week, reduce the walking to three minutes.
  • Continue over the next month to replace walking with jogging until you are jogging four minutes andwalking one minute; and maintain that ratio going forward.

You may think that replacing all the walking with jogging should be the goal, but the short walking breaks protect against injuries and allow you to maintain a better level of effort during the jogging.

Also, after one to two months, increase one weekly workout to 60 minutes.  Having one longer (and hence harder) workout each week will assure that your fitness level keeps improving.

Try to do all your workouts at the same one or two places.  It could be in a park, at a running track or even around your block, but my recommendation is to look for a location where you can go “out and back” — twenty minutes in one direction and then return. I find it much easier to sustain “going forward” than having to run the same lap over and over or than having to make numerous turns. In addition, the “out and back” situation makes very visible your increased fitness, as you can see that your twenty minutes of exercise keeps taking you a farther and farther distance. 

Lastly, let’s talk about boredom.  Some people find the chance to get outdoors and maybe in a peaceful part of nature to be anything but boring.  But you and I are probably not those people.  For us, it is great if we can find an exercise partner.  If not, listening to music, audiobooks or podcasts add a pleasant element to the exercise.  And the frequent changes between walking and jogging can break up the sameness of the exercise.  But let’s not kid ourselves too much.  If we are doing it right, it’s work.  But it is rewarding work.  And, at the ultimate goal of 3 workouts of 40 minutes and one of 60 minutes each week, that is just three hours per week.  It doesn’t have to be fun; we can do that much work each week because it’s worth it.