I am calling this post activity instead of exercise because exercise somehow implies lycra, gyms and gushing sweat. I am in favor of lycra, gyms and gushing sweat but let’s start with just getting up and moving. One of my favorite memories and greatest inspirations was our mom saying out loud “Keep on moving Nancy”. She kept on moving and she retained the ability to function at a high level until her late 80s. Activity can be something that is undeniably and unmistakably exercise like Kim going to Orange Theory for a workout. I went with her once and had a blast and also got a thorough, whole body workout. Activity can also be yard work involving lifting bending hauling twisting and turning. Pruning our palm trees with a pole saw reduces me to a quivering mass in about two hours. During our first retirement when we rented a house in Fairhope Suz and I spent 15 hours a week at the YMCA taking spinning, yoga, kickboxing, water aerobics and weightlifting. We got in excellent shape that way but the best shape I have ever been in was when we renovated the barn and built the cottage and I put in 10 hour days as a construction worker in the Alabama Summer.
Whatever activity you choose, the key is actually doing it on a regular basis. Fun stuff like tennis or playing with the kids is easy to adopt. A full program of stretching, strengthening, and conditioning is harder to stick with but well worth it.
Activity is a way of telling your body what you want it to do. If you lift heavy weights, you are telling your body that you want more muscle and strength. If you do yoga you are telling your body you want more flexibility, suppleness and core strength. When you do high-intensity interval training, you are telling your body that you want more energy and endurance. If you do all three you are telling your body that you want to function at a high-level without disease or injury.
All activity produces a “hormetic effect” which is a fancy term for anything that does damage in the short run that makes you better in the long run. To benefit from an activity you need sufficient rest and recovery to allow your body to repair itself and then to improve itself. You need excellent nutrition, rest, relaxation, and sleep to provide your body with the resources needed for repair and recovery.
Professional tennis players are examples of too much activity and not enough rest. They engage in exercise that is both too intense and too extreme in duration and frequency for their bodies to heal. By the time they reach 30 most have had multiple surgeries and they have chronic conditions despite having personal chefs, physiotherapists, and coaches. They look older than their years and are forced to retire.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams perhaps the greatest male and female tennis players of all time are able to continue to play because they limit their schedules. Federer also has a fluid style of play that does less damage. his arch-rival Rafael Nadal, by contrast, is constantly injured due to his extreme style of play.
Overtraining also wears out joints. We had dinner last night with a group of runners. One of them began running after coronary bypass surgery. He got so hooked he started training daily for 5 and 10 K weekend races and then half marathons and marathons. He is now shopping for a set of artificial knees.
One of the fittest men I ever knew was a friend, colleague and Ironman triathlete. I say was because atrial fibrillation now has him parking in handicapped spots and slowly walking to his office. Long-term high endurance athletes get atrial fib in record numbers.
Some people exercise like crazy so they can eat whatever they want. Exercise will boost metabolism and provide some margin but it is impossible to outrun a bad diet.
The bottom line is to find activities you can and will do. Do them while slowly, gradually increasing in intensity and duration. Provide your body with the rest, nutrition and sleep needed for healing and building to do their thing and you will enjoy the ability to function at a high level for far more years of your life.