Mix Up Your Exercise for Better Results

If you are already exercising regularly, here are some suggestions to help you get the most from your effort, and develop some enduring, beneficial habits. Allow Spring's arrival to be a helpful nudge.

If you are like many of us and feeling like you need to increase your activity but cannot quite get motivated or find the time in your busy schedule, here are some tips that may help you make exercise more enjoyable and effective.

When you read about exercise today what you commonly see are standard recommendations for types of exercise and how long you should exercise based on averages from studies in groups of people. While this information is valuable it's unlikely that you are that 'average' individual. Each one of us is in our unique place and have things we like to do, resources at our disposal, and more. It's important to note that 'more and harder' are not always better. We are best served by adapting these global standards to real life. Our life.

The following recommendations are based on proven methods, as well as the latest research and observations that to be healthy, fit and sustain activity over time, it is not only which exercise we do that matters but how to develop activity habits that fit into our individual lives.  

1) Go for Variety. The body gets accustomed to the same thing every day and over time stops responding in the same manner. Ever reach a plateau?

2) Confuse the Body by alternating the speed or intensity or frequency of what you do if even by small amounts and with moderate intensity. This is why interval training is better than maintaining a steady pace at anything you do. Walk faster and slower. Take a few steps backwards every so often.

3) Change Posture. Stand up as often as you can throughout the day. Believe it or not, as well as improving balance and functional strength, this stimulates an enzyme that targets abdominal fat and has more physiological benefit than taking slow walks.

4) Take a Class.  Classes provide structure, accountability and also variety since no two classes are alike, and you will do things that you otherwise wouldn't. There are lots of classes out there at health clubs or public recreation programs. My favorite is Yoga, where you learn to use breathing to energize or calm yourself, while increasing flexibility and balance.

5) Try Pilates. Pilates is amazing at strengthening your body's core muscles that support your back. It reminds me to suck my stomach in when I sit at my computer or driving. Start with an introductory class if you have never done it.

6) Make it Social. Grab a friend or group and play tennis, golf or take a long walk once a week.

7) Swim. Outdoors if you can, but anywhere is good. Swimming is a wonderful, low-impact activity and just plain feels good.

8) Get Dirty, Have Fun: Gardening is not usually thought of as exercise but the next day your pleasantly aching muscles may tell you otherwise. Stretch before and after and don't try to do your spring clean-up and planting all at once. And the next time you walk by the playground, swing on that swing, even slowly. You may even make a new, younger friend or two.

9) Relax. And I'm not talking about watching TV. Most of us think we know how to relax but really aren't accomplishing it. I'm talking about an activity that releases your tension and brings you back to a state of equilibrium. Relaxation is just as important to our muscles and joints as contracting them. Not sure how to do it? Take a restorative or Yin yoga class and learn that feeling.
10) Do it now, then do it later. Do you fail to start exercising due to not having enough time? Instead, do 3 or 4 minutes here and 3 or 4 minutes there. Which do you think will have results - lamenting your busyness and not doing anything, or doing a little bit at different times during the day?

I consider myself a fairly active person but if you are like me, you may spend a little too much time sitting in front of a computer or a TV, especially during the colder months. It's also easy to go with what's comfortable and not test our bodies in smart and reasonable ways. I hope that with Spring's arrival, you will allow some of these suggestions to spark a renewed enthusiasm about your exercise program.

Aging Well With a Generous Daily Dose of Gravity

I imagine that most of us don't worry so much about dying but about what comes just prior to that part of life. Like my friend Tom Rogers used to say: "I want to be healthy till I drop dead!" Aging well and retaining dignity and independence is what it's all about. 

The human body is a gift. We owe it to ourselves to take good care of it and in fact we have more influence over this body than we might believe.  Not feeling your best is no fun and often very costly. In contrast, a healthy body and mind help you feel good and look young. At times, you may for instance get down on yourself about what you’ve eaten or having been relatively inactive. It’s important that you be aware of this and make choices that better support your wellbeing. Although medications have their place, practical, non-medicinal solutions are readily available as well. There is much to be learned from previous generations.

Modern Times and Technologies
Many modern technologies have contributed to robbing us of good health. They crept up on us before we quite realized what was happening.  Although the TV remote control, your car, your computer and the washing machine make your life and work easier, they also reduce your need to move. 

Designed for Gravity
Your body was designed to live and move in gravity which, in turn, makes movement effective. We’ve learned from astronauts living in space how important using gravity is to wellness. In spite of hours of strenuous exercise while in the microgravity of space, astronauts lose stamina, balance, coordination, and muscle and bone strength 10 times faster than on earth. These are all changes you experience on earth as you age, only much more slowly than our astronaut friends. Yet if you asked a doctor about the effects of gravity on human health they would probably look at you blankly. There is nothing in the medical textbooks about gravity.

At NASA we learned that you can produce similar changes on earth by lying in bed continuously.  With the greater inactivity prevalent today from extended periods of sitting and lying down these accelerated age-like changes can be hazardous to your health.  The simple answer for us living on earth is to move more in ways that use gravity.  Children do this spontaneously. Before the advent of Jane Fonda's videos or Gyms and Wellness Centers, our grandparents did it naturally in the course of the day.

Mother Nature's medicine to aging well in technology-rich modern times is a generous daily dose of gravity. For your body to be well and strong it is crucial to use and challenge gravity by moving about throughout the day, every day.