The concept of physical fitness for improved health and wellness is one that permeates much of western history. Forty years ago, however, public health recommendations emphasized vigorous physical activity mostly for the cardiovascular health benefits it brings. But we’re in 2017 now, and we know more. In fact, countless studies have proven, without a doubt, that exercise brings health benefits to every system and function of our bodies. Every. Single. One. In an age of one-hit wonders and highly-advertised magic bullet pills for a variety of ails, we should all take comfort in knowing that the secret recipe for healthy aging and a longer, higher quality of life is at our fingertips. It doesn’t require a personal trainer, expensive gym membership or fancy equipment. Just your commitment.
Just a little over a century ago, the average life expectancy in the United States was about 47 years, and the leading causes of death were infectious diseases. Fast forward to today, and we can expect to live until about 80 years old. With the advent of vaccines, antibiotics and sanitation, most of what would kill a person in the 1900s can be easily remedied today. Hooray for us! Hooray for modern medicine! But don’t celebrate just yet. In America today, we get less physical activity as part of our everyday lives than ever before. We drive everywhere. Automation allows us to have our groceries delivered. We could not move a muscle and survive. And because of this, we’ve seen a rise in obesity, cardiovascular disease and a number of cancer types. We might live to be older, but older doesn’t necessarily translate to healthier. Will there be quality of life in those later years?
As a sports physician who has committed my career to helping athletes at every level of play either return to or stay at the top of their game, I consider it my responsibility to help people get with the program. First and foremost: Elevating your heart rate above resting is essential every single day. As long as it’s safe (and you’ve been cleared by a doctor for exercise if it’s been a while or you have an existing health condition that should be considered), it doesn’t really matter how you do it. Do a rumba while vacuuming the carpet. Pick up your kid’s jump rope and challenge yourself to break a record every day. Consistently take the stairs at work.
Contrary to what my 40-year-old patients sometimes think, the amount of time and energy you focus on exercising should only increase as you age. Yes, you read that right. It should increase. If you don’t want disability in those years between 40 and 80 (hopefully 100!), you need to focus now on training your body for the gift of additional time on this earth. You should also diversify your workouts. A focus on the high-intensity exercises that were a breeze in your 20’s may not be the best bet in your 50’s. Opt instead for alternation and variation – cycling, swimming, hiking and weight-lifting are great options. Interval training can also be beneficial in middle age and beyond. This exercise concept combines short bursts of high-intensity exercise with longer lower-intensity exercises. And research has told us that there are benefits to resistance training, as well. In the middle of life, resistance training exercises should focus on reducing the amount of resistance and increasing the number of repetitions for each exercise. Those that emphasize balance are especially important.
Of course, it’s an important reminder that you can’t out-exercise a terrible diet. Especially as we age – a stronger focus on low glycemic index foods is advised. Think greek yogurt and “mock” mashed potatoes made from cauliflower. And don’t discount your mental health in the Golden Years, either. Mindfulness meditation, yoga and tai chi all offer great benefits for your mood. No matter where you choose to start, the most critical thing to do is just start. When it comes to healthy living, there is no such thing as “too old.”
By: Prince Appiah-Kubi/updghana.com