Category Archives: Exercise

Don’t forget to exercise the gray matter

 

Keep a sharp mind as you enter your ‘Golden Years'

 

Shriveled brain shown on Homer Simpson's x-rayMost of us have heard “Use it or lose it” or “Practice makes perfect”, both of which are a call to action. The action need not be physical, however – your mind needs exercise as well.

Your memories define the person you've become, and shape your future actions. The greatest dieting and exercising regimens may keep your body healthy and fit as you age, but if you don't spend time exercising your mind as well, your ability to cope with life and reflect on cherished memories could both disappear.

By fatiguing your muscles – even to the point of failure – you can encourage your body to strengthen and build new muscle mass. By continually stressing bones with weight bearing exercises, you can encourage the bones to maintain bone density. In both cases, you benefit tremendously in your golden years, both in terms of longevity and quality of life.

But your brain is a different beast; it cannot grow new cells as you age. What is the purpose of ‘exercising' your brain then? And how do you go about exercising your brain?

Dad playing with child on the beachIt's true that your brain doesn't grow new cells, but it is also true that your brain has vast amounts of unused capacity. If you begin brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, you'll be clumsy at first, but then your brain will re-wire itself to facilitate off-handed tooth brushing. The same holds true of applying makeup, brushing your hair, tying your shoes, etc. These few examples should give you an example of the feats your brain capable of.

Now add to those examples crossword and Sudoku puzzles, strategy games such as go, chess, or bridge and a host of other activities – many of which also encourage social interaction. Some also promote abstract thought processes or limber up your problem solving capability; all are food for your brain.  You could even do something relatively mindless, something you haven't done for years – build a sandcastle, fly a kite, play horseshoes.

There are a few ideas off the top of my head. What do you think? Leave a comment below; you'll get extra credit for exercising your brain!

Dieting versus Exercising to lose weight

If you're interested in losing weight, dieting may immediately spring to mind as the best way to slim down. Before you pick out a diet, you should consider how most dieting efforts play out.

Couple dancing, from https://secure.flickr.com/photos/waiferx/5045739333/You body burns calories all the time, whether you're sleeping, working, or playing – although your burn rate can be much higher while working or playing. Makes sense, right? Your body's ‘base' burn rate, or basal metabolic rate, is related to your total muscle mass, which is somewhat related to your weight. In other words, if you're overweight, your body will maintain enough muscle to move your body around for normal day to day activities. Keep in mind that we're not talking about strenuous activity here – just moving from the couch to the refrigerator, for example.

If you lose weight by dieting, you need less muscle for your couch potato lifestyle, and your muscle mass decreases accordingly. As you lose muscle mass, your ‘base' burn rate decreases, until your weight, muscle mass, and caloric intake all come into balance again. Good job! You've lost weight, right? High fives all around??

If all you want to do is slim down and look good around the office or at a high school reunion, congratulations – mission accomplished. Keep your caloric intake down and you'll maintain your balance between overall weight, muscle mass, and diet.

Note that if you'd like to go dancing, play a game of volleyball, or participate in a fun-raising 5K run, you'll need to step up your activity level a notch with an exercise program. As you begin to exercise, try to reduce your caloric intake, even just a bit. Your exercising will help maintain or even build muscle mass (depending on the type of exercise program you choose), even as you lose weight. If you exercise regularly, you'll be able to enjoy your new lifestyle without having to stop and catch your breath.

If you're goal is to live longer and to maintain a higher quality of life long into your golden years, however, you need to know about things that happen as you age – loss of bone density and loss of muscle mass. You can address the loss of bone density by engaging in weight bearing exercises, and you can maintain or increase your muscle mass by stressing your muscles. By that I mean that while cardio exercises are good and necessary (walking, swimming, bicycling, etc), you also need to exercise your muscles to the point of failure to ‘encourage' more muscle growth.

I don't want to re-invent the wheel, so let me suggest that you watch a five minute video, and leapfrog from it to a webinar that explains the physiology of muscle growth. Take a look, and let me know what your thoughts are in the comments below!

Why wait for New Years??

 

Resolve now to exercise, and see it through to New Years!!

Rather thBaby looking expectantly at the cameraan having another failed New Years Resolution, I thought I'd get started in December – and make sure the resolution comes to pass by New Years Day! I've begun my 7 Minute Workout program, and intend to see it through -every other day- for the rest of this year. By then it should have become a habit; hopefully it will seem like something is missing if I don't tend to it everyday. Really, how hard can it be?? Just 7 minutes, every other day. All I have to do is remember…

Generally I don't do too well with resolutions though, so I hope that by starting every other day with an easy routine and keeping in touch with other like-minded individuals, I'll clear the exercise hurdle. I'm going to keep track of my progress on a chart, and share the results with the world. If I don't persist, feel free to give me a nudge – please.

I'll get into doing a better job regulating my diet in the near future – say, about New Years. First I have to get my head around this lightweight exercise regimen and make it a regular part of my life.

… now I need to come up with a few resolutions for New Years day – you know, the ones doomed to failure – ones I can chuckle about!!

Bicycling your way to a better life

 

Strengthen the bones in your back and wrists

Yesterday I wrote about the benefits of exercising in general, and more specifically about how walking both prolongs and enhances your golden years. I'd like to go a step further (no pun intended) and consider adding occasional recreational bicycling to improve bone density in the wrists and spine. Note that I'm specifically excluding competitive bicycling, and suggesting that even recreational cycling be done occasionally in combination with walking. Bicycling is not considered a weight bearing exercise, and studies are beginning to appear which show intense, competitive cycling can actually lead to loss of bone density.

Don't fall victim to reduced bone density

Mom, child, toddler, and infant - riding a single bike!Having said that, adding recreational open road cycling to your exercise regime can help provide some benefit to wrist and vertebrae bone density. Anyone who has ridden a bicycle for a few miles can attest to the weight and impact loading on their wrists, arms, and shoulders, as well as their pelvis – and into the vertebrae immediately adjacent to them. Riders should be careful to ride with helmets (for obvious safety reasons), and should wear gloves to avoid putting too much pressure on the ulnar nerve (running to the little finger, ring finger, and across to the thumb) and the median nerve (part of the ring finger, middle and index finger, and thumb). The weight and vibration absorbed at the handlebars will lead to ‘handlebar palsy' or in extreme cases, can cause carpel tunnel syndrome. For a similar reason, bicyclists may want to find a comfortable seat (and riding technique) to avoid developing a tender tush.

I'm speculating on the benefits of bicycling with regard to bone density in the wrist and vertebrae; to my knowledge there are no studies to support the theory. What are your thoughts? Perhaps it's time to resurrect your bike and do a little research – let me know what you come up with!

Lead a longer, more enjoyable life.

 

All it takes is half an hour of exercise a day.

Live longer and take joy in those extra years – with a minimum of time and effort. Who would've thought? I ran across a video on YouTube that lays it all out – check it out.

I did a little more research about walking, and learned some other benefits. I thought there were two main types of exercise, high-impact and low-impact. I'd come to the conclusion that high-impact exercises such as jogging or jumping rope were bad for your joints and bones, while low impact exercises such as walking, bicycling, or swimming provide a good workout without grinding your joints to an early grave. I almost got it right.

Weight bearing exercises

There is an intermediate option for those interested in exercising: weight bearing exercises. Most people lose bone density as they age. You can take steps to keep your bones healthy over time – just use them! Walking is a great exercise to reduce or reverse the loss of bone density (or osteoporosis). Walking loads the bone with your full weight and transmits small impact loads with each step you take. Our weight and those small impacts each time we take a step actually strengthen the bones and help prevent osteoporosis.

Walking is a great way to avoid the joint issues presented by high impact exercises while providing enough challenge to your skeletal system to keep your bones as healthy as possible. Keep in mind that the bones most vulnerable to breaking as we age are the hips, wrists, and vertebra – and walking doesn't do much for the wrists or upper spine. Some different weight bearing (but low impact) exercises may help strengthen those other areas. More on that tomorrow.

Meanwhile, start a healthy habit – take a walk.