I know, its that time of year when every commercial on TV is related to dieting, exercising, or other silly drunken promises we make to ourselves in the waning hours of December 31. But I’ve had some really funny and interesting conversations with people recently that have convinced me of one thing: you have to keep moving. We all get older; its a fact. And each year, the old body just isn’t quite the same. Joints get creakier, muscles fatigue faster, and injuries heal slower. Each of those little changes offers you one excuse to become less active, and over time, it becomes easier and easier to become sedentary, which in turn invites health issues ranging from obesity to heart failure.
I am coming to realize that how active you are during your young adulthood, adulthood, and beyond has a tremendous impact on your overall quality of life even in your senior years. Take for instance my grandma. I love my grandma. She’s always been so energetic and active. My entire life she has started her morning by going for a long walk, which in Chinese she calls “san-boo”. I loved going on these walks with her when I was young; she would always bring a little stool with her, and part way through our walk, she would stop somewhere scenic and sit down on the stool and tell me a story. My grandma is almost 90 today, and she still goes on her walk every morning. In her late 70s, she actually became a rather respected calligraphic painter, and she is currently volunteering for the upcoming elections in Taiwan. She’s slowed down a little over the years, and she’s had a few falls that would have permanently wheelchair bound some people, but she keeps on going. What’s really interesting is that she was never thin or athletic; she’s always been on the adorably plump side, and she doesn’t know how to swim or ride a bicycle. But that doesn’t matter; I am convinced that just continuing to move has kept her healthy and able to keep doing the things she enjoys.
I work with the elderly almost every day; I see a lot and I try to learn from it. I have a client who is 91, still drives, doesn’t wear glasses to read, and still works for the marathon organizers. She’s also run over 20 marathons in her life. It is easy to get lost in the anecdotes, but there is some truth behind it. Your body’s flexibility, strength, and range of motion decreases from its maximum range. If you can expand that range and maintain it, then the eventual decline will be minimized.
It may seem daunting; our lives are so busy even without thinking about physical exercise. If I may make one suggestion, it would be this: move your spine. The spine forms the central physical structure of your body; without it, your ability to move or hold yourself upright does not exist. The spine fundamentally can engage in six movements: flexion (forward bend), extension (backbend), lateral (left and right), and twists (left and right). So even in your busiest of days, try and take 2 minutes to engage in each of these 6 movements. Your future body will thank you!
(I don’t want to get all legal on you, but please exercise caution, self-discipline, and respect for your body when engaging in any physical practice. Thanks, NY Times Magazine article, for making me paranoid.)