When you first saw the title of this article, you immediately thought it was hogwash, right?
You were a bit disappointed, too, because doctors are supposed to be honest, and discuss only the treatments that have been scientifically proven to work; and everyone knows that there is no such thing as a miracle treatment that keeps you healthy as you age. But, here’s the thing: we are telling you the truth.
First, let us tell you what this miracle treatment can do. It can help you to retain your memory, and possibly even prevent dementia, or at least postpone it for years. It can prevent you from falling, the most common cause of injuries to those of us who no longer even count the number of candles on our birthday cakes. It can, in some cases, keep you from getting arthritis in your knees, and if you already have it, keep you up and moving. It can keep your heart healthy, and if you already have heart disease, it can get you back to feeling great. It can prevent some cancers. If you have diabetes, or high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, it can, in some cases, make them go away, and at the very least, it may allow you to lower your dose of medication for each of these three. It can help you to breathe easy. It can keep you buff and help your sex life. It can help you sleep better, suppress your appetite, and even increase your metabolism. And it can improve your sense of wellbeing, keep your mood positive, and increase how long you live.
We know you’re still doubtful because if such a thing really existed, it would be on TV constantly and all over the internet, and you would’ve probably bought a huge amount of stock in it. But in fact, it not only exists, but all of the effects mentioned above of our miracle treatment have been scientifically proven!
Human beings were meant to move. Every aspect of our bodies’ functioning is geared toward that. On the flip side, movement and mobility are very important to the quality of life. What does this have to do with the miracle treatment? Easy—the miraculous new treatment for all our ills, particularly those accompanying the aging process, is movement. Because of all the negative connotations, we won’t call it exercise or any of those other clinical-sounding names, like “workout” or “physical activity.”
It really does all the things we said it can do. In fact, a recent study that followed more than 2,500 people over the age of sixty for an average period of twelve years found that those who were fit from regular and adequate movement, whether they were overweight or not, had a significantly lower death rate at a young age than those who were not fit.
Here are the specifics. The official recommendations, released in 2007 by the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine, for the amount of physical activity necessary to improve and maintain our health include not one, but three different types of exercise: aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening activity, and balance/flexibility training.
These are the recommendations:
- Aerobic activity of moderate intensity for thirty minutes a day, five days per week. Go for a walk or climb those stairs in your building—anything goes here as long as you do it for thirty minutes.
- Muscle strengthening activity including eight to ten exercises involving the major muscle groups, with eight to twelve repetitions each, at least twice a week. Use free weights, a barbell, or a machine that simulates weight lifting by resistance.
- Balance and flexibility activity at least two days a week. Do yoga, pilates, or Tai Chi. And be sure to stretch.
So now you know about the magic bullet for staying healthy. But, even though you know you need to stay active, sometimes the whole idea of getting up and actually doing it is overwhelming. It is particularly hard to find the time when most of us have such a busy lifestyle. But there’s even more good news about our miracle treatment.
For those who hate the gym, workouts, jogging, and barbells, there is an alternative called “Exercise Lite.”
Several years ago, a very interesting study was done at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas. 255 volunteers were divided into two groups. One group went to the gym regularly for a standard workout. The other group tried to integrate regular physical activities into their usual daily routines. They would walk up stairs instead of taking an elevator, clean their own houses and apartments, work in their own gardens; in other words, they took every opportunity to do the maximum physical activity with their daily activities. After six months, both groups had improved their fitness levels, lowered their blood pressures, and lost fat. But, after two years, only those in the group that had incorporated fitness into their routines were more likely to maintain their fitness level. Exercise Lite worked and kept on working!
To receive the full health benefits as we mentioned above, you need to do at least thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic (cardio) exercise each day. With exercise lite, you can break it down into ten-minute segments so that the cumulative time is still thirty minutes a day. If you only have a couple of ten minute breaks a day, go walking for those breaks and then take a quick walk before or after work. You want to shoot for fifteen to twenty minute miles, and you want to get your pulse rate up but still be able to have a conversation. If you garden, you need to do it while moving around a lot. In other words, active gardening. Same thing goes for housework. The vacuum can be your best workout buddy! One easy way to do Exercise Lite is to wear a pedometer, a little meter you wear on your belt that records your steps. With the pedometer, you want to aim for 10,000 steps a day.
Most important, make it fun and you’ll keep doing it. Do things you like. Find a class that is fun or start riding your bicycle or swimming. Get some great music and use it for your activity. If you need support, grab your friends and family to do an activity with you. And remember, don’t tell yourself that you are doing the dreaded “exercise”; fool yourself and have it become a normal part of your daily life.
Before starting any exercise program, check with your doctor!
By Janet Horn, M.D. and Robin H. Miller, M.D.