Recently an article entitled “How Exercise Keeps Us Young” was written on the NY Times blog. It was based on a study that showed older cyclists who met certain performance standards had levels of balance, reflexes, metabolic health and memory ability much higher than their sedentary counterparts, and more closely resembled those who are younger.
Now I’m not really good at getting at all science-like. But even as a young man, this much I believe to be true; if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you practice something, you will retain at least some ability in that activity even if your skill ultimately deteriorates over the long term, like many years. At least more than if you never practiced at all. Lastly, your body will follow the SAID principle – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. In other words, what I said prior except much more science-like.
As a coach for the last 10+ years I can tell you with certainty a few more things. This concept applies to people of all ages. We need not save it for the older population. Aside from the concerns of weight or how we look, I think just about everyone would agree that not moving our bodies on the daily makes us feel stiff and lethargic. Whereas being active and moving frequently, makes us feel better and more energetic. So, here’s the deal. Without a doubt it helps to find something that you enjoy, at least a little. In the case of the study it was cycling. It needs to be fun on some level or you won’t participate in the long term. See sustainable. But do consider a few more things. For example, if you practice moving your body in many different ways you will ultimately retain that ability. This could be done in a number of ways or activities but imagine a scenario where you simply maintained your ability to get up off of the floor without hesitation, squat down until your butt touched your calves, and touch your toes with relative ease. Are you still imagining? And, these abilities you maintained through practice, sickness and health until, well, death. Not only do those abilities improve your life but according to the study keep your balance, reflexes and memory much more sharp. Sounds like a win to me. As I’ve coached people I’ve seen these skills in action have a high payoff. Higher activity breeds more activity. Inactivity will ensure more discomfort and inability.
We could argue all day which is the best method, be it cycling, strength training, Zumba, or simply what is enjoyable for you. I’m always going to argue for moving your body fully through the ranges of motion that you have and then adding strength where appropriate, but in this case I don’t think that’s the point. The question is, what have you got? Can you move and do you? If not let’s fix it so that ultimately you can live with a higher quality of life as you age.
– Mike Baltren