By Mike D. Ross –
The rationale for regular exercise can be summed up in two sentences:
1. When you do something often, your body and brain get better at it.
2. When you don’t do something as often as you used to, your body and brain get worse at it.
We also refer to this idea as Adaptation. Your body is constantly adapting in response to the things you are doing (or not doing).
If you exercise regularly, the brain says, “He likes to be active. What can I do to make all this movement easier for him? I will make his heart and lungs stronger so they can pump blood and oxygen to his muscles more efficiently. I will make his muscles stronger so he they can push and pull his body around easier. I will make his bones stronger so they can cope with the impact pressures he is experiencing. And I will make the brain coordinate with the muscles in his legs more effectively so he can be stable and not fall while he’s doing all of his activities.”
So if you want to get better at something, you just have to do it on a regular basis and your body will slowly adapt.
The problem for most people is that after age 60, physical activity steadily declines. Then the brain says, “He doesn’t need as much blood and oxygen to his muscles anymore so it’s ok if his heart and lungs get weaker. He’s not moving around nearly as much so it’s ok if his muscles get smaller and weaker. His bones don’t need to be nearly as dense anymore because he doesn’t put as much pressure on them as he used to. And he doesn’t put his body in situations where it needs good balance very often, so it’s ok if that deteriorates as well.”
Typically, after retirement, most people’s activity level gradually decreases, and after sending the above message to their body for ten or twenty years, one day they notice that they get out of breath going up the stairs, or the doctor tells them they have osteoporosis, or they notice they are feeling wobbly on their feet, and they say, “Guess it’s just because of old age.”
No. It’s because for the last twenty years, through their lack of activity, they’ve been telling their body that it’s ok to deteriorate. Their lifestyle allowed and encouraged negative adaptations to take place.
It would be nice if you could just tell your body, “Please be stronger.” Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Your body doesn’t pay any attention to what you say, it only pays attention to what you physically do (or don’t do anymore).
So the big question is, what are you telling your body to do? Are you telling it to improve, or are you telling it that it’s ok to get weaker?
Here are three ways that you can start telling your body to improve:
1. Exercise your heart for 20-45 minutes 3-5 times each week by biking, walking, or swimming.
2. Strength train 2-3 times each week with machines, dumbbells, or bands. Do 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps for 8-10 exercises that use all the major muscle groups
3. Train your balance at least 4 times each week for about 10 minutes.
That will get you started. When you start exercising regularly, you are telling your body it’s time to start improving, and positive changes will take place over time, regardless of how old you are.
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