“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional and mental states.”
– Carol Welch
While everyone recognizes that health is their most valuable asset, many neglect the very basic and vital things we must do every day to preserve it and boost our wellness and vitality. In addition to nourishing our bodies with proper hydration, nutritious foods and enough sleep, we must move our bodies―regularly and often throughout the day.
We have gone from being a vigorous, hard-working, outdoor agricultural society to a predominantly passive, television-watching, indoor urban society. With the tech revolution, we have become even more sedentary. The majority of Americans drive to work, sit at desks all day and then drive home, only to land on the couch in front of their TVs, computers and other tech devices. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, 60% of Americans are not regularly physically active, and 25% are not active at all.1 The phrase “sitting is the new smoking” captures the severe health impacts of our sedentary lifestyle, including soaring obesity rates and the risk of serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.2 Society has reached a state of advancement that is making us sick.
Certainly, 21st-century medical advances are keeping us alive longer, but longevity does not equate with quality of life. Unfortunately, many of us are living longer in a state of disability and poor health. By not moving enough, we are ushering ourselves into illness, disability and premature aging and death.
Now, we will explore how moving more every day can help us improve our health, wellbeing and quality of life so we can enjoy living longer in a state of vitality.
Movement and your health, wellbeing and longevity
“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”
– Edward Stanley
Your aerobic capacity depends on a healthy cardiopulmonary system, which includes the lungs, heart and vascular network. While aerobic capacity has been shown to decline with age, it does not have to. You can maintain it if you are willing to invest the time and energy. How effectively your body’s muscle cells use oxygen to convert carbohydrates and fat into energy is critical for optimal functioning. You can increase your oxidative capacity through regular aerobic exercise.3
“We do not stop exercising because we grow old―we grow old because we stop exercising.”
– Dr Kenneth Cooper
Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University set out to determine what is inevitable about aging and what is not. Contrary to popular belief, aging is not synonymous with illness and decline. It is inactivity that accelerates the aging process and renders us weaker and more vulnerable to illnesses and accidents. But it is possible to maintain our vitality into old age through daily movement and exercises, including strength-building, flexibility and aerobic or endurance activities.3
Basal metabolic rate (BMR), body fat percentage and weight
Your BMR, or the rate your body burns calories when at rest, declines with age. Researchers believe that this decline is due to a decrease in muscle mass, which largely results from inactivity. Too little activity combined with a reduced muscle mass and poor eating habits turns our bodies into weak, flabby, fat-producing machines.3
Glucose tolerance and diabetes
Our body’s ability to control blood sugar (ie, glucose) gradually declines with age. As our blood sugar levels rise (ie, glucose intolerance), so does our risk for developing type II diabetes, high blood cholesterol, hypertension and heart disease. Researchers now believe that the development of glucose intolerance/insulin insensitivity has more to do with the average senior’s high body fat percentage and lower muscle mass from inactivity. High-fat diets have been implicated as well. These 3 factors are entirely within our control.3
Bone density and osteoporosis
The mineral content of our bones declines with age, which makes our skeletons more frail and brittle. Contributing factors include poor diets, a sedentary lifestyle, deficient calcium absorption and menopausal hormonal changes in women. When declining bone density advances to the point of fracture risk, it is called osteoporosis. Failing eyesight, lack of flexibility, loss of balance and unsure footing all contribute to the increased incidence of falls in the elderly. Unfortunately, given the incidence of osteoporosis among the older population, many falls result in broken bones, hospital trips and uncertain recoveries. Many broken hips and bad backs are not hallmarks of aging, but rather, they can be a telltale culmination of an inactive, sedentary lifestyle.3
It is well known that weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, hiking and cycling can reduce the rate of bone loss and may help support calcium absorption. Strength and flexibility exercises help with balance, sure footedness and the ability to catch oneself mid-fall. Outside of the gym and formal exercise, any physical movement will help—whether it is taking the stairs instead of the elevator, cleaning your house, washing your car, or tending your garden.3
Pooled data from 1.4 million people in the United States and Europe who were part of dozens of research studies reveals that exercise may reduce the risk of 13 different types of cancer and promote healthy survivorship. (The cancers include breast, endometrial, colon, esophageal, liver, stomach, kidney, myeloma, rectum and bladder cancers, as well as cancers of the head and neck. The risk for lung cancer was also reduced, but only for individuals who were current or former smokers.) The greatest risk reduction was for those who walked briskly 7 hours per week or jogged 2.5 hours per week.4
While prior studies have provided evidence about the link between exercise and cancer prevention, this pooled study was the most comprehensive in its findings. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that we aim to do any kind of moderate to vigorous activity for 30 minutes a day—anything that gets us moving.4
How does exercise help prevent cancer?
Exercise helps to:
- Regulate hormone levels in your blood (unregulated hormones contribute to cancer risk).4
- Speed food through the colon, minimizing exposure to dietary carcinogens.4
- Prevent the buildup of body fat and helps reduce it if it is already present (excess body fat is a cause of many cancers).4
Cognitive performance, depression and mood
“I could feel my anger dissipating as the miles went by―you can’t run and stay mad!”
Research supports the positive influence of exercise on your brain’s vitality, function and resistance to neurological disorders. Without enough movement, your body has a harder time circulating “feel good” hormones.5 One study of nearly 8950 middle-aged women revealed that people who sit longer and do not meet minimum exercise requirements suffer from depression at much higher rates compared to those who sit less and exercise more.6 Women who sat for more than 7 hours a day were 47% more likely to suffer from depression than those who sat for 4 hours or fewer.6 And women who did not exercise at all had a 99% higher risk of developing depression than those who met minimum exercise requirements.6
Both our body and our brain are wired for movement. When you move your body, you sharpen your mind, improve your mood, and help prevent or reduce depression and cognitive deterioration.
- Improve mental health, and protect against and reduce depression. The more you move, the better you feel, as it:
o Relieves stress and alleviates anxiety.
o Regulates hormones and delivers endorphins for a naturally induced mood elevation.
- Minimize age-related loss of brain tissue, and enhance higher-level cognitive function―boosting memory, decision making, creativity and learning. The more fit you are, the more capable you are of paying better attention and processing information more quickly.
“If exercise could be purchased in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.”
– Robert H. Butler
Your body requires movement as much as it requires sleep and good nutrition to heal itself. Nutrition is best assimilated into our bodies through movement.7
Hypertension, atherosclerosis and heart disease
We know that as we age, our body’s ability to control blood sugar (ie, glucose) gradually declines. As our blood sugar levels rise (ie, glucose intolerance), so does our risk for high blood cholesterol, hypertension and heart disease.3
High blood pressure (ie, hypertension) is symptomless, but deadly. It plays a significant role in heart attacks, strokes and other serious and life-threatening conditions. Causes include genetic predisposition, obesity, high fat and salt intake, heavy alcohol consumption and too little exercise. All but the first cause are entirely within our control. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that that people who maintain their fitness levels have a 34% lower risk of developing hypertension.8
In addition, increasing levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) cause plaque to build up in the arteries, which contributes to heart disease. High-density liproteins (HDLs) help clear the arteries of plaque, protecting against heart disease. People with low levels of body fat usually have healthy cholesterol levels. With a proper diet and regular exercise, you can decrease your LDL levels and your body fat, and boost your HDL levels to protect yourself from heart disease.
Muscle mass and strength
Our lean body mass declines as we grow older, and the rate of loss accelerates after age 45. However, this does not happen in a vacuum―it is related to our sedentary lifestyles and the self-induced, dramatic reduction in our physical activity. How much muscle we have is partially determined by how much we move our muscles. When our muscle mass declines, the so-called “age-related” changes ensue—a slowing metabolism, increased body fat percentage, reduced glucose tolerance, diminished aerobic capacity and decreased bone density. Diminished, stiff muscles impair our mobility and make us more susceptible to injuries. The good news is that much of the muscle loss we experienced as we age is preventable and reversible.3
When you exercise, your brain produces endorphins that make you feel good and stimulate your release of sex hormones. Exercise helps regulate your hormones, while obesity can interfere with them. Low testosterone levels in both men and women can lower the libido. Weight training specifically boosts levels of the growth hormone, which helps increase testosterone levels. Exercise improves your circulation, your stamina and your energy and interest levels. All of these health advantages and a fitter body add up to a healthy sex life. Sex is also considered exercise, providing its own health-boosting benefits.9
Research demonstrates that getting as little as 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous activity per week can improve your sleep quality by as much as 65%. It can also help you feel more alert and awake during the day.10
Your body’s ability to regulate its temperature declines with age, partially due to a lower metabolic rate and a lessened ability to shiver and sweat. Regular exercise can counteract these effects.3
“The more you move, the more you are able to move and the more you will want to move. The less you move, the less you are able to move and the less you will want to move.”
– An anonymous sage
The good news is that combating the ailments, diseases and disabilities of a sedentary lifestyle is easy and completely within your control. And you are never too old to turn back time by moving more, building your strength, increasing your endurance and improving your flexibility.3 The muscles of seniors are as responsive to weight training as those of younger people. In an 8-week muscle-building study of 87- to 96-year-old women in a nursing home, the women tripled their strength and increased their muscle size by 10%. In a similar 12-week study of men 60 to 70 years of age, they gained strength and reduced the amount of fat around their muscles.3
Ready to improve your physical and emotional health and so much more? Get back to life’s vital basics and move forward every day for your health, happiness and enduring wellness.
“You don’t have to be sick. One’s aim in life should be to die in good health. Just like a candle that burns out.”
– Jeanne Moreau
You are in control of these aspects of your health:3
- Your muscle mass
- Your strength
- Your body fat percentage
- Your BMR (the lower your body fat, the higher your metabolism/calorie burning rate)
- Your aerobic capacity
- Your body’s glucose tolerance
- Your blood pressure
- Your bone density
- Your body’s ability to regulate its temperature
“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
Take small steps to improve your health and wellbeing
- Take a brisk morning walk daily—and take one big step towards better health, sleep and osteoporosis prevention.3 (Researchers have found that people who exercise in the morning get up to 75% more reparative, healing time in sleep.)7
- Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, and walk up and down escalators.
- Do it yourself instead of paying someone else for car washes, house cleaning, gardening and other tasks. Save money, and keep moving at the same time.
- Get a walk or workout buddy. Connecting with others is good for you too, and it will help you both stay committed.
- Have more sex with your partner. It qualifies as exercise and delivers added health-boosting benefits.
- Walk or bike to do errands that are within “walking distance”.
At the office or traveling for work
- Request or invest in a standing desk. If it’s not possible to get one, be sure to get up once an hour to stretch and walk around a bit.
- Conduct outdoor walking meeting when the weather allows and the discussion does not require audiovisual equipment and.
- Go to the hotel gym or pool or bring a jump rope. It’s easy to pack and great for a quick aerobic workout.
- Tap into your favorite YouTube workout on your computer, whether it is yoga, Pilates, strength or whatever you enjoy. Working out with a partner, even if it’s a video partner can help you stay motivated.
- Explore the area near your hotel by foot―walk, run or hike.
1 Shalala DE. Physical activity and health: a report of the Surgeon General. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/. Accessed March 1, 2017.
2 The Active Times. Sitting is the new smoking: Ways a sedentary lifestyle is killing you. Huffington Post. September 29, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-active-times/sitting-is-the-new-smokin_b_5890006.html. Accessed March 3, 2017.
3 Evans W, Rosenberg IH. Biomarkers: The 10 Determinants of Aging that You Can Control. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster; 1991.
4 More evidence of exercise for cancer prevention. American Institute for Cancer Research Web site. http://www.aicr.org/cancer-research-update/2016/05_18/cru-More-Evidence-of-Exercise-for-Cancer-Prevention.html. Accessed February 28, 2017.
5 Gomez-Pinilla F, Hillman C. The influence of exercise on cognitive abilities. Compr Physiol. 2013;3(1):403-428.
6 van Uffelen JGZ, van Gellecum YR, Burton NW, et al. Sitting time, physical activity and depressive symptoms in mid-aged women. Am J Preventive Med. 2013;45(3):276-281.
7 Littlehales N. Sleep: Redefine Your Rest, for Success in Work, Sport and Life. London, England: Penguin UK; 2016.
8 Blair N, Goodyear N, Gibbons LW. Physical fitness and the incidence of hypertension in healthy normotensive men and women. JAMA. 1984;252(4):487-485.
9 Landa J. How working out can improve your sex life. Fox News. September 9, 2013. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/09/09/how-working-out-can-improve-your-sex-life.html. Accessed February 28, 2017.
10 Study: Physical activity impacts overall quality of sleep. National Sleep Foundation Web site. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/study-physical-activity-impacts-overall-quality-sleep. Accessed February 28, 2017.