By Jim Riley
I have some great news for seniors: You are never out of shape to perform the tasks you regularly ask of your body.
Your body is a great adapter. Its cells accommodate or change to be able to perform, in an efficient manner, the tasks you require of it. Stated simply, the body adapts to the stresses we put upon it so you are always in shape for the regular activities that you perform.
In reality, we teach our bodies to move by the way we move, and we condition ourselves by how often and how intensely we move. This insight about the wonderful way the body adapts to movement is both a blessing and a curse.
For example, if you choose to lead a sedentary lifestyle that involves many hours daily watching TV and sitting at the computer, your body will adapt to sedentary, basically immobile habits in a number of ways.
You will consume fewer calories, which increases your risk for obesity and poor glucose regulation and will enhance your chances for heart problems, diabetes and other maladies.
As you sit for prolonged periods the hips are constantly maintaining a 90-degree flexed position, causing shortened hip flexors and hamstring muscles. As your eyes reach toward the TV or computer, you constantly pull the head forward and round the shoulders, rib cage and lower back. Over time the body adapts to this position and it becomes a preferred natural posture, whether sitting or standing.
This adaptation is often the cause of many back, shoulder and neck problems, but keep in mind your body is in good shape to sit efficiently for long periods of time. It has changed the minimal demands required to meet the habits of sedentary living.
From a health perspective the sedentary lifestyle is associated with decreased muscle size (atrophy), poor circulation, low bone density (osteoporosis), obesity and diminishing balance skills. Over time the risk for developing other chronic health problems increases.
In this age of convenience, many of our movement opportunities have been outsourced. We pay the gardener and the housekeeper and purchase prepared meals at the grocery store or local restaurant and drive instead of walk short distances. In time sitting is the habitual behavior and movement becomes difficult and even painful. The blunt truth is that movement is not an option. To be healthy we must move frequently throughout the day.
Let’s focus on the most important thing we can do to improve and maintain our health. It’s not a formal dose of daily exercise at the gym, or jogging, biking or yoga class. It’s the simple movements you do completing daily task such as chores, cooking, hobbies and short walks taken instead of driving. It’s the squatting, lifting, bending and reaching performed as you complete varied motions of those tasks.
Outsourcing these tasks does not improve health. Muscle strength, mobility and the movement of blood to maintain healthy cells and rid them of waste require frequent movement and variety of motions.
I am a personal trainer and fitness instructor, so I firmly believe that formal, goal-oriented exercise is important to one’s health. I regularly use formal workouts, but exercises performed in formal workouts is targeted toward specific fitness goals to improve my performance in specific activities I like to do.
Far more important to one’s health is the frequency and variety of movement performed throughout the day. I call this general fitness, as it involves the healthy functioning of the body doing a variety of tasks. Such frequent movement efficiently moves nutrient- and oxygen-laden blood to nurture our cells and remove the waste they excrete. Frequent movement maintains muscle mass, joint suppleness and improves posture.
It is true you are never out of shape to perform the tasks you regularly ask of your body. Give your body a treat and move well and move often, then your body, the great adaptor, will give you the healthy, active life you are demanding from it.