Whether you're working toward high-level fitness or just looking to maintain your overall health, light exercise is important.
If you're really committed to high-level fitness, which is certainly our hope, light exercise is a key component of your workout plan. Ideally, you're looking at four days a week of hard exercise -- two of strength training, and two of hard aerobics -- as the base of your program, and then two days a week of very light, long duration exercise, like a long walk or easy bike ride. An hour of this light exercise will keep you on track for your fitness goals while giving your body a chance to actively recover from the hard days.
Even if you're not serious about exercise (yet!), light exercise plays a wonderful role in promoting your overall health. Nobody has done truly high-quality studies, but data suggest that walking is, mile for mile, as good for your long-term cardiovascular health as running. ("Mile for mile" is very different than hour for hour. Walking three miles is the same as running three miles, but walking a half hour is definitively not the same as running a half hour).
So, if you are aiming for good physical and mental health, but simply can't get yourself into the harder exercise groove, shoot for walking an hour a day, or the equivalent in any other form of light exercise, and you will have done yourself a world of good.View Thread
American life expectancy has risen so far and so fast that retirement planners now tell a generally healthy couple in their 60s to plan on at least one of them reaching their mid 90s. Even if you're prepared financially, have you invested enough in your body to keep you going until 90? Becoming a weak older person is a very dangerous concept, and very likely to end with you in a nursing home, or severely limited in your physical mobility.
So how do you make sure you'll have what it takes to stay in the game? Go to the gym, and do hard weight training a couple days a week, and keep showing up week after week. As unpleasant as that sounds, it is actually not that big a deal. In exchange, you get twenty years of functional independence and vitality, and the ability to live life on your terms for the road ahead.View Thread
We all have this conception that our bodies age the same way cars do. They start out new, shiny, and everything works, but over the course of years they start to rust, things inexorably wear out, and you end up with a clunker rusting to pieces in the back yard.
Luckily for us, that is simply not true! Our bodies are made of living tissue, of cells, and the hallmark of cells is that they are always renewing themselves. Most of the cells in your body actually replicate themselves over and over again. Those that don't, such as many of your brain and heart cells, simply keep repairing themselves internally day after day throughout your life.
When you combine all of the replacement and repair work, it turns out you are replacing or renewing about 1% of your body every day. Your blood cells live a few months, your taste bud cells a few hours, but everything is always engaged in this ongoing renewal process.
Even your bones are completely turned over every few years. In fact, you are walking around today on legs that are largely new stuff in the past three months, and in another three months you will be walking around on a whole new set of legs again.
So don't think of yourself as a rusting car. Think of yourself as a living, endlessly renewing organism.
That's the good news. The bad news is that your cells can come in every day either a little bit stronger or a little bit weaker, depending on what you do. If you live a life of inactivity, gluttony, and boredom, your cells will actually come in weaker. We call this decay. As a culture, it's become an assumption that this is a normal consequence of aging, but actually most of it is optional biological decay.
Truth is, we're choosing between "stronger" and "weaker" with every decision we make about what we eat, how much we exercise, and how we relate to other people. If you step up to the plate and treat your body right, with some good solid exercise, decent nutrition, a few less calories, and some meaning and purpose to your life, the cells come in stronger and stronger over the course of time.
You might have been ignoring your teeth for a while, but as you pass 50, it's time to wake up on this front. Up until modern times, people used to actually lose teeth, and at very young ages. In fact, one hidden contribution to our increasing longevity, and to health as we get older, is simply the ability to eat a good meal! All the grit, dirt, and sand in our hunter-gatherer diets ground down our teeth by the time we were 25. Things got a bit better once we figured out farming, but tooth decay and gum disease still left most people with big problems by the time they were through their 30s. (Remember George Washington and his wooden dentures?)
We take dental health for granted now, but both gum disease and tooth decay are major problems of aging, and largely preventable. Gum disease is a misery. Increasingly it has been correlated with heart disease, though whether it is causative or just a correlation remains unclear. But regardless of how gum disease may affect other areas, the problems of expensive, painful, and protracted dental work -- and the chance of ending up in dentures -- is certainly enough to prompt action.
Flossing and regular brushing both have their role, but review the techniques with your dental hygienist next time you go in for a check-up. Brushing too hard with a stiff bush can actually damage your gums, and the flossing is to remove the particles from between your teeth, not to saw into your gums and cause bleeding! A soft tooth brush and regular preventive visits to your dentist are your best option.
Oral health is a frequently overlooked component of your long-term basic health strategy, but some preventative attention now will pay off in the long run. As much as you will want to smell the roses later in life, eating the fresh corn growing beside them will be even better!View Thread
Is a lack of sleep making you feel like your brain just isn't working at full throttle? Huge amounts of research have shown that being under-rested, even by a half hour, has about as much of a hit on daytime productivity as being out of shape, and even an hour or so of sleep deprivation can lead to impaired cognitive function, about the same as if you had two glasses of wine with lunch, and then went back to the office. When you do the math, you lose about two hours' worth of productivity for every hour of sleep you are short on. So you might want to re-think the habit of staying up late surfing the internet or watching mindless TV.
Since it is actually hard for a lot of people to find the energy to get off the couch and go to bed, my suggestion to a lot of my patients has been to set an alarm for the time that you would really like to get into bed, and a separate one for the time you need to get up. Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, depending on individual genetics, and to some degree, life stress. Most people know intuitively what their ideal amount of sleep is. My suggestion: Go for three weeks getting that amount every single night, see how you feel, and then make a decision about how to live your best life.View Thread
The most common excuse I hear for not exercising every day, or even four times a week, is that it is tough to fit exercise time into our busy modern lives. But that is just the problem -- we think in terms of "fitting it in" -- which automatically demotes exercise to an optional activity, rather than a core piece of living our best lives. When patients tell me that their lives are too hectic to exercise, I point out that the data are clear -- their lives are actually too busy for them to put up with sitting still. The fit version of you is more motivated, effective, and sharper — in some studies by about 10-15%. So you either get 10-15% more done during a day, or what you get done is 10-15% better quality, and you have energy left over to enjoy your family, friends, and life at the end of a busy work day. If that sounds good to you, then exercise is a mandate, not a luxury. For many busy people, morning exercise is best, because you get it out of the way before anything can knock it off track. But the most important thing is to simply pick a regular routine and stick with it. Many people find that a personal trainer or class-based exercise, works well, because there is a starting time, and once you show up you are guaranteed to stay for the whole workout. Whatever works for you, the key is to decide that it is a fundamental part of your life, and not a frivolous add-on.View Thread
Looking forward to enjoying a certain quality of life after you retire? If you reach (or have reached) a healthy 65, you can probably expect to see your mid-80s -- possibly even your 90s. Your retirement might be quite a bit longer than it was for folks in earlier generations.
A longer life means more planning -- and I don't just mean your finances. Money is important, of course. Maybe you'll hold a part time job to keep more money in the bank. But your plan for your latter years should also include staying fit, vigorous, and strong. Not only will this minimize your health care costs. It will maximize your ability to live your life on your own terms.
Be sure to foster some solid social connections, both up to and during your retired years. Connecting with your family, friends, and other people in your community has been proven to work wonders for your vitality and health.
George Vaillant wrote a wonderful book called Triumphs of Experience, about the Harvard Grant Study on life trajectories. This study tracked the lives of a group of men from the 1930s -- when they were college sophomores -- all the way up to their 90s. One of the things the study showed was that love and social connections are the most important predictors of long-term happiness.
So I can't stress it enough! Make sure you stay connected with the world and the ones you love. And commit real time to those people and the things that interest you most.
Now, with that said, what plans are you making for retirement?View Thread
Most people make their New Year's resolutions in January (and break them by February). But I think right now is actually the best time to examine your health and habits. Head into the holiday season focused on your wellbeing. It's a wonderful gift to your family, friends, and to yourself.
Your health assessment should start in your doctor's office. With a few basic tests, she can give you a clear starting point for making improvements. Specific markers that you should look at include: -- Blood pressure: Ask your doctor if it's ideal, rather than high or normal. About a third of Americans have blood pressure levels above 120/80, which is considered prehypertension (or hypertension if it's over 140/90). -- Blood sugar: Ask your doctor if your fasting blood sugar is normal or ideal. A fasting blood sugar less than 100 is considered normal. If your blood sugar levels are between 100 and 125, this is considered prediabetes. -- Body mass index (BMI): Based on your height and weight, the lower limit of normal is about 19. A BMI of 25 and over counts as overweight or obese.
After seeing your doctor, take an honest look at your lifestyle. If, for instance, you're skinny but a total couch potato -- somehow managing to stay thin on French fries and hamburgers -- don't give yourself too much credit for being thin. The problems associated with your unhealthy habits may actually trump the presence of a tiny waist. On the flip side, if you're carrying some extra pounds, but you do a great job of staying active and eating healthy foods, take some comfort knowing that fitness goes a long way toward offsetting the possible penalties of those extra pounds. You could be healthier and feel better if you lost the weight, of course. But never make the mistake of getting discouraged about exercise because you are not seeing the pounds drop off. Don't exercise to be thin, exercise to improve your life!View Thread
You realize it's time to change some habits, and you're wondering how to get started.
While some people can slowly and gradually take on new routines by dipping their toes in the water, this is rare when it comes to exercising -- and I don't usually recommend it. If you're not where you want to be in terms of your physical fitness, you're better off jumping into the deep end of the pool. There's a bit of a shock value to it. But once you start moving, you'll adapt quickly and feel better, faster.
Of course, before you make any major changes in the amount of physical activity you take on, talk with your doctor to be sure you're healthy enough for vigorous exercise. In fact, the moment you stop reading this blog, get on the phone and schedule that doctor's appointment. Then mark the day after as "Starting Day" on your calendar. You're never going to "find time" to exercise. You'll have to change your priorities and make time. This means you're deciding that you are actually going to get in great shape and commit to at least four days a week for exercise.
The same is true for your nutrition. I'm never a fan of formal diets. But you can make some dramatic changes by giving up starchy foods and sweets, for instance. After the first couple of weeks you really won't miss your old habits. You'll notice that your daytime energy has increased and lasts much longer than when you were on the sugar swings of a standard American diet.
The main point here is don't wait! Start getting fit today! What's stopping you?View Thread