You don’t have to be an exercise freak to be fit for a longer life
Are you fed up with all that advice out there that makes you feel guilty that you’re not doing impossible feats of exercise?
Do you have friends who are always off on extended hikes, or climbing or biking tours? They come back raving about it and look so hideously healthy. They don’t mean to, but somehow, they make you feel bad that you’re not doing it too.
In the depths of the night, do you worry about those niggling aches and pains which everyone tells you are just part of ageing?
Or worse, do you grimly struggle with the thought that you’ll never manage to ward off heart disease, diabetes and dementia, because you’ll never be an Olympic weightlifting champion or the fastest person to swim across the English Channel?
You know that exercise will help you keep healthy and you don’t relish the thought of taking pills for high blood pressure as you get older. But somehow, you’re too tired, too busy to exercise: it’s too boring. And you just hate gyms.
You don’t want to exercise, you just want to be reasonably fit.
There has to be another way.
Find the secret to doing it your way
When you think about the purpose of being fit, it boils down to being fit enough to do all the things you want to do.
And therein lies the secret. All we need to do is figure out what to do to be able to carry on doing the things you want to do.
So, what are the things you want to do?
Let’s see: I guess you want to be able to carry on doing all the normal things of
life, such as putting on your socks, washing, cooking, cleaning and maybe getting to work on time.
Getting through the basics of everyday life.
Then there’s the fun things, such as perhaps doing a bit of decorating or gardening. Or perhaps you’ve an all absorbing hobby that you want to keep on doing. Maybe you want to be able to pick up the children or grandchildren for a cuddle or play hide and seek in the woods with them.
There is a pattern here. All those activities involve moving. What you want is to be fit enough to keep moving.
Here are five ways to keep you moving towards that longer life.
1 What 100 year olds in the Blue Zones do without thinking and which you can do too.
If you look at the BlueZones site, or listen to the Ted Talk by Dan Buettner, you can find out all about how the people who live in those zones survive in really good health well into their 90s and 100s. They don’t exercise at all — not in the modern way that has spawned an exercise industry. But they remain healthier than the rest of us and for many more years.
Their secret? They just keep moving, day in, day out, picking things up, fetching and carrying; all the things that make up the routine of their daily life.
So your first step to keeping fit is to make sure that you keep moving, just like the Ikarians and the Okinawans.
100 year old Okinawan centenarian farmer getting a bone density check.
Hard to do in this labour saving age.
But here’s a trick: Instead of looking at the time you take to exercise, notice all the times you’re keeping still and work out ways to fit in a bit of extra movement. For example:
· Welcome the fact that you can only carry half of the clean washing back upstairs: that’s two opportunities to run up the stairs and another two to run back down again.
· Use a trip to the shopping mall as an opportunity for a good brisk walk even though the weather is terrible.
· When you get home, put your shopping bag on the floor and put away your purchases one by one so that you have to bend and stretch for each item. It’ll keep you flexible for longer.
Once you start looking, you’ll find lots of ways to keep moving and soon you’ll be doing it without thinking too.
Now let’s look at how to turn the most common way we keep still into a great trigger for movement.
2 Stand up to the sitting disease
Maybe your life involves a lot of sitting. You sit all day in the office or on the sofa, when you go out, you sit in a car and then you come home and sit and watch TV, or read or play on your computer all evening.
The average sitting time in America is now apparently approaching 13 hours a day — and that excludes sleeping! In the UK, it’s around 9 hours for under 65s and over 10 hours for 65+.
Sitting has a cumulative effect on your blood pressure and your insulin levels and predisposes you to cancer. And the effects of all that sitting don’t magically disappear just because you went to the gym for an hour. To stop the effects, you need to move often.
But there is a super simple way to stop sitting and to get yourself moving a bit more. Stand up!
How about getting into the habit of standing up when you’re on the phone? Ok, you can sit down again if you need to take notes or something — and then stand up again!
Stand up while you’re using your computer — buy a standing desk or find a convenient shelf to put it on.
Watching TV? Stand up and watch.
Reading a book? Stand up and read.
Set a timer and make yourself get up from your chair or your desk every 30 minutes. Walk round the room, do some stretches, get a drink, go and talk to somebody.
Dr Joan Vernekos, a scientist who studied astronauts and the effects of zero gravity, recommends standing up from a seated position around 36 times a day, 16 or so if you stand up from lying down.
Don’t forget that standing all day isn’t good for you either. Aim for a balance of standing and sitting: a 50:50 split will do the job.
3 Making the floor your new best friend
All right, we’re not going to stop sitting down overnight. But here’s another way of getting you moving. Instead of sitting on a chair or a sofa, try sitting on the floor.
Getting up off the floor involves much more effort than getting up out of a chair. Can you do it without using your hands? (100 year old Okinawans can do it no trouble at all!! But it’s harder than it looks for us Westerners.)
You can sit on the floor and:
· watch TV. You can practise getting up during the adverts;
· wiggle your feet and legs. Do some leg raises;
· do a few stretches;
· do a plank.
It will keep you fit enough to get down on the floor and clean it.
Or fit enough to have fun playing on the floor with your kids or grandkids or the cat. (The kids will show you how to get up without using your hands, but I’m not sure about the cat.)
4 Look for invisible ways to prevent those niggling aches and pains
If you’re working at a desk all day or spend all day driving or watching TV too much, your posture probably isn’t that great. Bad posture leads to all sorts of aches and pains and also restricts your breathing. It gives you back ache and kyphosis (a hump at the top of your spine).
Here are two quick ideas to start you moving towards better posture. You can do them any time. No-one need know that you’re getting fitter whilst you talk to them — they can’t see you doing these simple movements.
· You’re reading this on a screen of some sort.
Chances are your posture is too much head forward. Move your head back a few inches, dropping your chin and pulling it in slightly as you do so, until you feel a slight stretch at the back of your neck. If you’re not sure, put your hand over your chin as though you’re stroking a beard (if you had one) and lightly push your chin and head backwards. Hold it for a few seconds. Repeat whenever you think of it. It’ll stop the weight of your head straining your neck and shoulder muscles as well as help your posture.
· Try squeezing the muscles between your shoulder blades so that the should blades move towards each other. Keep your arms and the tops of your shoulders relaxed. Do it about 10 times and then allow your shoulder blades to slide down your back as far as they can go. You’ll find your head will naturally move back to a more balanced position on the top of your spine.
Do them in a boring meeting, do them in the supermarket queue, do them while you’re walking along — no-one will notice! Your back will be really thankful.
5 Try catching your dinner
In times gone by, we didn’t go to supermarkets if we wanted dinner, we had to go out and catch it. It took skill and a lot of effort — and you had to be fit to succeed.
Ok, I’m not suggesting you do this literally. It’s a way of illustrating that we all need to get out of breath every now and then. Not for long and of course, not if you’ve a medical condition that precludes it.
In today’s world, you could try dancing to a piece of fast music that you love. Or run up the stairs as fast as you can. (Be careful though.)
Start with a 10 second burst and maybe just do it a couple of times.
Fit for your life: you keep moving forward
Imagine yourself in a few months’ time. You’ve ditched the horrible idea of exercise. Instead you’ve worked out how to reduce the time you spend keeping still and worked out how to keep moving little and often, all day.
You’re feeling good, because you’ve thought of lots of small things you can do to keep yourself fit. You started slowly but now you’re not sitting around all day like you used to. You’re moving. And it’s working. It’s getting easier.
You’re feeling content because you know you don’t have to be a world champion pogo stick jumper. You listen to your friends telling you about their exercise exploits with great amusement. You know you have your own way of keeping fit to do the things you want to do with your life.
And now you’re dreaming about more fun ways to move: you feel as though your horizons are expanding instead of shutting down. You’re moving forward and you’re confident that you’re going to be fit enough to keep on doing all those things you want to do with the rest of your longer life.
Having adventured through more than 50 countries, Rosemary’s passion is thinking up new adventures and challenges for older people to do NOW, to help them have loads of fun in longer, more fun-filled and active lives.