I am currently reading a book titled “Thinner This Year,” by Chris Crowley and Jen Sacheck, PHD. It is a great book and of particular interest were these sentences on page 26:
“You lose muscle mass as you age(the medical term for this is sarcopenia) and unless you take certain steps it (your muscle mass) decays precipitously. The wiring goes off, the muscle cells decay, and a serious decline follows if you don’t do something about it. A sedentary lifestyle mixed with poor nutrition also contributes to the loss of the body’s signaling capacity, which is key to coordination, balance, and, curiously, strength itself. When your body falls apart, your cognition declines, depression sets in, and you are less able to live life fully. IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY. PEOPLE WHO STAY ACTIVE AND EAT RATIONALLY OFFSET “NORMAL” SARCOPENIA TO A REMARKABLE EXTENT.”
These sentences pretty much sum up the message and challenge of our Fitness for Life Program.
I highly recommend this book; we are adding it to our recommended reading list
ROADBLOCKS TO GOOD EXERCISE INTENTIONS
Over the years I‘ve heard many reasons why people don’t begin or keep up with an exercise program. Here are some common reasons my patients give me for not exercising:
- “I’m too lazy, and I find exercise boring.”
- “I don’t like going to a gym.”
- “I don’t have time-I’m too busy.”
- “I’m too old.”
- “I travel too much.”
These are just a few of the many “roadblocks” to starting and maintaining an exercise program. People are well intentioned, but find overcoming these roadblocks to exercise a daunting task!
Do you relate to any of these roadblocks? If so, stay tuned! During the next few weeks I’ll be discussing ways to help overcome these common obstacles to exercise-maybe you’ll find that you, too, can overcome your own roadblocks to exercise!
Studies prove the health benefits of exercise, but because of all the differing exercise advice and options people are exposed to, they’re often confused as to what the best exercise is for a specific condition. The confusion is magnified by the fact that often those giving the advice may be suspect because they’re trying to “sell” something, such as equipment or a particular program.
Many patients tell me that having followed advice to do exercise such as stretching or walking to improve their health, problems with pain and weakness persist. If I ask them if strengthening is part of their exercise program, the answer is often “no.”
My message today is that engaging in a program of moderate strengthening exercises, carried out at least twice weekly, is an essential component for continued good health and pain free living. Moderate strengthening exercises give your body the power to resist strain and stress. Strengthening exercises improve your physical durability no matter what your age is. Strengthening the muscles around your spine is especially important with advancing age.
Strengthening exercise isn’t difficult or painful if done properly. It doesn’t require machines available in gyms. Learning proper strengthening exercises can be done at any age.
Sometimes strengthening exercises aren’t recommended for certain medical conditions. So, check with your physician before starting a strengthening exercise program.
One of the things I enjoy about my work is helping patients develop strategies and set goals to stay active as they get older. Everyday, in my work, I see the effects of inactivity on the human body. It is not a pretty picture!
Running is something so many people quit doing as they get older. With “doable” goals, and a strategy to accomplish those goals, people can keep running as they get older.
Since 2004 I’ve had a goal of running in at least one half marathon each year. Some years I do more, but that’s my base line goal. My target goal is to finish my run without experiencing excessive fatigue or soreness. To accomplish this goal I run 5 minutes slower each year to make allowances for my age. For example, in 2004 I ran the San Jose Half Marathon in 1 hour and 55 minutes. This year I ran the San Francisco Giants Half Marathon in 2 hours and 25 minutes. This year, I started out slow and remained slow for the entire run. I had fun and I felt great when I finished! This strategy works for me.
I was troubled by this years’ Giants Half Marathon statistics. There were very few runners in the older age groups. I was one of only 26 runners in my age group (60 to 64 years old.) That’s only about .5% of the total number of runners participating. The numbers were even lower for the older groups. In 2010 I participated in a run with only 3 runners in my age group!
My message today is “Don’t quit.” Sometimes developing a simple exercise strategy is all you need to stay active as you get older.
I wanted to share a few more thoughts on being “too tired to exercise.” Have you noticed that stress, work, fatigue, and other factors sometimes make you feel like you’re too tired to exercise? It’s like your mind is slightly numbed out and you can’t imagine exercising. You just don’t feel up to it. So what should you do? Perhaps you’ve been told to skip exercising for a day or two?
One option I’ve mentioned before is to start exercising even though you’ re mentally tired. Interestingly enough, most of the time when I start exercising I begin to feel a lot better. I feel more energized, stronger and more mentally alert. It’s like exercise gets rid of both the mental and physical fatigue. There’s a lot of truth to Nike’s slogan “Just Do it.”
Often I find that it’s my mind, and not my body that’s fatigued, and I find that the physical exercise actually revives my mind. It’s like the body and the mind are two different systems working independently of each other, but in truth are two systems dependent on each other.
So, if you find your mind is tired and sluggish, exercise your body, and both your mind and body will benefit!
Just a note to “always listen to your body” when exercising, and if you don’t begin to feel better after you start, just stop and rest up for a few days and try again.
Nearly every inactive person I know has, at one time or another, made a failed commitment to maintain an exercise program. Keeping an exercise program going is a real challenge.
A few years ago I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Power of a Gentle Nudge.” It talks about studies that demonstrate how a small amount of social support—even just a few words of encouragement—can significantly help someone stick to an exercise program.
For example, people who received a call on a monthly basis encouraging them to stick to their exercise program, and that offered words of congratulations when exercises were completed, were a lot more successful at continuing their exercise program than those who had no such support.
Our clinic offers patients a monthly phone call reminding them to keep up with their exercise program, and offering words of congratulations when milestones are reached. A verbal exercise review is also offered to interested patients. Let me know if you are interested in receiving this exercise program reminder call.
Have you noticed how many people start on an exercise program, but then fail to stick with it over time? Most people understand the extraordinary health benefits of exercise, but that knowledge doesn’t always translate to consistent action. Their intentions are strong, but acting on those intentions can be very difficult.
Throughout my decades of exercising, I’m come up with several tips that I’ve found helpful for sticking with an exercise routine. Here is one that I believe is particularly effective.
Set a specific time that you intend to exercise on a specific day. For many people, early in the morning is often a good time.
Commence exercising at this time, but do not decide to continue exercising until you have exercised for two or three minutes.
For example, if you walk or lift weights, go ahead and start exercising for a few minutes. Then, decide to either quit or continue with your exercise program.
Do not make the decision to exercise for a significant period of time before you start exercising, or you will likely choose not to exercise. Instead, choose to exercise for just two to three minutes, then see if your mindset changes. You will be much more likely to continue exercising once you’ve started.
It seems human nature has demonstrated that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Go beyond intentions by tricking your mind into bypassing the tendency toward inaction by initiating a very short action first. You might be surprised by how your mind will quickly become willing to go along for the ride.
Have you ever considered exercising after you’ve been inactive for awhile, or after you’ve been injured? Have you ever tried being active after a long road trip? It’s like your body doesn’t want to do it. If you try to make a muscle contract after it’s been inactive for awhile, the muscle only works part way. It’s like a 6-cylinder car engine running on three cylinders. The power is not there. This phenomenon is what makes you feel weak and tired after being inactive for awhile. It can make older people feel more tired, it can make it hard to stand up after sitting, it contributes to knee pain, back pain, and other pains, and it can lead to premature disabilities.
When your brain calls an inactive muscle to action, only part of the muscle responds unless you do something about it. And that something is engaging in strengthening exercises. Once a muscle is engaged, it wakes up and strength is quickly restored. The muscle doesn’t really get stronger right away, it’s just that more muscle fibers start working in response to strengthening exercises.
Many times I am given undeserved credit for working miracles with patients because of how fast strength in inactive muscles is restored after they start doing simple strengthening exercises. The fact is, untrained muscles quickly wake up in response to strengthening exercises, yet another uncommonly recognized benefit of doing them.
I am from North Dakota. North Dakotans are often suspicious about feelings. Logic usually takes precedence over feelings when it comes to making decisions. My Dad used to say, “Don’t go with how you feel when making a decision.” He believed that feelings aren’t usually an accurate depiction of reality, even though they may seem so at the time. When they do, that’s your mind playing tricks on you.
When I think about exercising, I often don’t feel like exercising. I sometimes think I’m too tired or lazy or some other feeling like that. My mind tells me I don’t want to exercise.
I often think that if I made a decision to exercise based on how I feel before exercising, I would never exercise again.
I have also found that when I do decide to exercise, a few minutes after starting to exercise, I almost always choose to continue exercising. It’s like my mind is telling me it doesn’t want to exercise, but my body is telling tells me it does—once I start exercising. But my body doesn’t speak up until after I start.
The lesson is, do not base your decision to exercise on how you feel before you start. You will probably not feel like it. These feeling are most likely not accurate, and your mind is probably playing tricks on you. Start exercising for a few minutes, then decide if you want to exercise or not. Your body usually wants to exercise, it just doesn’t tell you until after you start.
I enjoy boating, and as a careful boater, I make sure to have redundancy systems on board in case some systems break down while I’m out on the water and away from help. Two engines, two GPS systems, two radios, and at least two people on board give me a feeling of security.
Scientific research tells us that our bodies function in a way similar to a careful boater. Our bodily systems and organs have redundancy. We have two eyes, two ears, and two of a lot of other things. If we lose one, we have a backup. Other bodily systems, including brain function and muscular strength, have about 70% of extra capacity too.
Obviously we can fall below capacity as well. If we run low on strength, we can still function—that is, until we reach around 30% of capacity. When we drop to 30% of normal muscular function, pain and injury occur, and function is seriously diminished. When we drop to 20%, we are near death.
Reduced muscular function to 30% not only causes severe functional problems, it causes immense insecurity as well, especially as we get older. Building and keeping a good reserve of strength restores function and gives you a feeling of security for daily living. You are never too old to keep your muscle strength reserves up.