Seniors don’t have to look very far these days to find articles and websites extolling the virtues of exercise. Staying active is supposed to make us feel better and live longer, and repeated studies have shown that those claims are true. For those who need more specific answers to the question, “Why and how should I exercise?”, take a look at this recent article from a website creatively called Eat This, Not That, written by reporter William Mayle. He offers several tips on how exercise measurably improves your life, gathered from experts from all over the fitness industry including trainers and doctors. Thankfully, keeping a steady exercise regimen can be simpler and more enjoyable than you might think.
Simple Shorthand: Remember the “WWY” Life
According to Mayle, the easiest shorthand for remembering the fitness ethos for people over 60 could be something like “WWY”, or “The WWY Life”. In this case, “WWY” stands for “weights, walking, and yoga”. These forms of exercise should be a priority for older people because they focus on the primary areas for longevity and good health as we age: gentle cardio, strength, balance, and flexibility.
“Weights build and maintain lean muscle mass for strong bones and better metabolism,” certified personal trainer Paula Thomas told Mayle, “while yoga and walking reduce stress and cortisol levels while also keeping your fat burn high and helping your balance and flexibility.” She suggests that, while walking is great for cardiovascular health, it should be kept in balance with the other forms of exercise. “Too much cardio stresses our bodies and can take our appetites out of control.”
While all that may sound simple enough, we all know that maintaining regular fitness in our lives can be an uphill battle against our motivation, our schedule, and our desires. So how do we keep up with exercise when we’re just not feeling it? Here are some suggestions.
Reward Yourself, But Wisely
According to the article, one of the most tried-and-true ways to keep yourself motivated is through a reward system. Who doesn’t love getting a treat for doing something challenging? But the important thing, according to Traci D. Mitchell, a health and nutrition expert, is to match the reward system to your personal motivation and your individual goals.
“I ask my clients how they plan to reward themselves after a week of eating great, or after a hard workout, or even after losing 10 pounds. What’s the plan?” she says. “People generally don’t have a problem following a healthy meal plan, or doing a week of workouts to shape up. But not everyone gives thought to the behaviors or patterns they fall back into after they’re successful for a week.”
On a practical level, this means that the best way to reward yourself for losing weight might not be giving in to a high-calorie dinner or a third doughnut as a treat. If it’s counter-productive to your goals, it’s probably not an ideal reward.
Mitchell asks, “Do you say, ‘I’ve worked so hard, I deserve a big dinner and drinks tonight?!’ Or do you say, ‘I’ve worked so hard, I deserve a better pair of running shoes to keep the momentum going?!’ When you’re over 60, it’s challenging to burn the candle at both ends. Giving into an unhealthy reward system is much harder to come back from than it is for someone 30 years younger.”
Start The Day Off Right
The Eat This article reminds us that the way we begin our morning can have a huge effect on our attitude throughout the day. Michelle Davies, a certified life coach who works with many women in their 60s, advises you to start your days with “gratitude, prayers, or meditation.”
“Taking 10 minutes of quiet reflection before starting your day can impact your mood significantly in the long run,” Davies told Mayle. “No matter your religion or spiritual beliefs, everyone can benefit from a few quiet moments where you get yourself in a positive mindset.”
A growing body of scientific study has proven that the benefits of meditation, specifically, are very real. According to the IOS Press journal, 12 minutes of daily meditation can lead to increased volume of gray matter in the brain, along with better immune functioning and increased cerebral blood flow that leads to better synaptic function. This means less stress, better sleep, increased wellbeing, and enhanced mood—things we can all agree would be highly advantageous as we age.
Beware of Loading Your Day to the Overwhelming Point
According to the article, one of the biggest obstacles to daily exercise is the real or perceived lack of time in our schedule. Between to-do lists a mile long and other responsibilities, the first thing to fall off tends to be the exercise routine. That’s why experts agree that getting a handle on your daily schedule can not only help you stay motivated to exercise, but can also help alleviate stress that comes from everyday overwhelm.
There are lots of ways to take control of your task list before it takes control of you: simply setting a timer can work wonders for managing certain tasks, while other chores can be broken into manageable pieces (like folding ten items of clothing or washing ten dishes). Seeing your exercise goals in the same way can help alleviate the feeling of intimidation. Break it into little goals, set a timer, choose an activity you enjoy. This can and should bring about a mindset change. Instead of feeling like you need to exercise, try to think of it as something you want to do.
Len Glassman, a master level fitness professional, author, and nutritionist, puts it this way: “By creating a daily regimen of consistent and feasible exercise routines that aren’t too hard, don’t hurt, and are designed to increase mobility, flexibility, and improve your overall outlook, you’ll start to shift from a mindset of having to exercise to wanting to exercise. You’ll look forward to experiencing these positive and personally rewarding physical and emotional attributes, to the point where you no longer think about it as a choice, but rather a necessary and important part of your day, like brushing your teeth and washing your hands.”
All Movement Is Good Movement
Every activity we do can be broken into two camps: does it make us weaker, or make us stronger? Matt Hsu, a corrective exercise specialist, pain expert, and movement coach for a free exercise app called Boostcamp, says, “If you choose to do nothing and sit on the couch you will get weaker. If you choose to move and exercise you will get stronger (assuming you are doing your exercises well). As we age the rate at which we get weaker accelerates. So, it becomes more and more important to choose to get stronger on a regular basis.”
The good news is that this changes the way most of us think about exercise. You don’t have to be in a gym to exercise, or wear certain clothing or shoes. Exercise is anything you do that is moving, active, not sitting still. As Mayle puts it: “All movement is good movement.”
Staying in shape after 60 can be as simple—and as vital—as maintaining the high activity level you had when you were in your 40s and 50s. Slipping into less movement will not keep you in shape. Look for hobbies, activities, and a routine that keeps that same level of busyness so that you don’t slide into inactivity. Mayle writes, “That means walking, gardening, playing golf, mowing the lawn, dancing, and playing with your children or grandchildren.” Keeping these activities as regular as possible in your day will help you maintain your health instead of lose it.
Stay Focused on Function
There are lots of different kinds of exercise, and while most of them are better than nothing, experts say that certain types of exercise are more advantageous for people over 60. Mostly, these are functional activities that involve physical movements you would do in your everyday life: pushing, pulling, sitting, standing, bending, lifting, stretching, and so on.
The Eat This article suggests that there’s really no need to focus on exercises that don’t serve you in your daily life, such as bicep curls or crunches. Keep it uncomplicated and purely practical, which according to Mayle and the other experts means doing more squats, pushups, pullups, deadlifts, and other functional core exercises. Experts call these the important movements that will make you a healthier, longer-lived person.
Keeping it simple, fun, practical, and regular will ensure that you have a lifelong routine of good health, and can give you a powerful foundation to build from. Let your older years be the best ones yet!
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(originally reported at www.eatthis.com)