A career dedicated to more than 30 years of teaching fitness has taught me many life lessons! Some are based in the science of exercise physiology, some in human behavior, and others from my own personal experience of pursuing a lifelong fitness routine. The following twelve “rules” are what I have found work best across the board.
- The BEST exercise is the one that you WILL DO. Yes, we have guidelines to inspire, direct, and keep us on track, but if you are unable or unwilling to follow them, do what you ARE able and willing to do!
- Eat and exercise every day in such a way that you can face doing it again tomorrow. In this way, you will develop habits to serve you for life. As you deliberately create a mindset of healthy choices throughout each day, your behaviors gradually build a healthier lifestyle.
- Consistency is more important than intensity. When developing an exercise habit, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, or how far you go, but that you set up a regular routine as a foundation. Habits persist even when we are at low energy and weak self-control. Studies show that we tend to default to a habit when we lack the mental capability to make a choice, for example, if we are deliberating about whether or not to exercise.
- Frequency is more important than duration, i.e. aim to be active more frequently than for longer sessions. Accumulate your exercise in doses. Find opportunities to move as you go about your daily activities. Think “activity” instead of “workout.” Walk to work, take the steps, lift and carry your groceries, do housekeeping chores energetically. Develop an active lifestyle.
- It is easier to stay in shape than to get in shape. This is decidedly true! Once you have achieved a certain level of conditioning it does not take as much work to maintain it as it did to attain it. The improvements in all the physiological systems – muscle strength, cardio stamina, and bone density can be preserved with less effort if you continue to stimulate those systems regularly.
- Take the “vitality vow” to delay or prevent entering the “disability zone.” Every day that you don’t exercise, you are short-changing yourself on the other end of your active days. Keep the bigger picture in mind. Instead of focusing on the inconvenience or discomfort of doing your workout, think of the health and lifestyle benefits that you are gaining for the future, enhancing your function and independence into your later years.
- Make your efforts count. Exercise should be effortful to be most effective; for example, you should feel your heart rate and breathing increase with cardio; your muscles pump up with strength training. While walking is an economical, convenient, and healthful activity, it may not be enough to boost your fitness level. You will benefit more if you add intervals of a faster pace.
- A well-rounded fitness program is a combination of cardio, strength training, and stretching. Cardio exercise promotes longevity, strength training improves quality of life, and stretching maintains our mobility.
- Accumulate 30 minutes of moderate cardio activity most (at least 5) days of the week. Studies show that exercise accumulated in short bouts of 10 or 15-minutes offers weight loss and aerobic fitness benefits comparable to those achieved in longer workouts. And even 10 minutes of mild exercise, like walking the dog, can improve memory function, enhancing the way certain parts of the brain communicate and coordinate with one another.
- Do strength training exercises 2-3 times a week on non-consecutive days. Keep it simple. Classic bodyweight exercises like squats and pushups provide enough resistance to condition the muscles and fortify the bones. Learn to do a proper squat, the #1 functional exercise for life. It is the movement that we need to get up from a seated position – from a chair, toilet or bathtub. While working the large muscles of the lower body, the squat creates strength and stability to reduce the risk of falling. As a bonus, it helps lift and firm the bottom line!
- Elongate the spine. Stretch out the length of your torso to instantly look younger and slimmer. Think of separating the ribs from the hips, putting length into the spine, reaching the top of your head to the ceiling. Take a deep breath in, exhale, stand tall and hold the height.
- “Everything in moderation – especially food – and by all means, exercise,” my mother replied at the age of 97 when I asked her for her own rules to live by. She also endorsed a happy relationship, the right to vote, and hobbies like gardening and reading. Every day I try to live up to her legacy!
This blog was originally posted on August 20, 2020 on Joan Pagano’s blog, Aging Gracefully.