It has been proven in many studies that exercise is far more than just a “good thing.” Significant exercise almost every day is essential for mental and physical health and to maintain the ability to be happy and productive into your 80s, 90s, and beyond. Without significant exercise every day, frailty and chronic diseases (like diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease and even cancer), as well as lack of energy and mental impairment are virtually inevitable.
So, what if you can’t walk as fast as you’d like, or maybe you need a walker or a cane? The answer is to do what you can, as long as you keep pushing yourself. Slowing down just leads to more slowing down. Pushing ahead leads to more ability to push ahead.
Exercise is for more than to build strength
Exercise has two main functions: First, exercise maintains fitness, so you don’t lose your balance and fall over, or trip over something (a toy or a sidewalk crack) and are unable to recover. Notice that recovery from a trip (before falling) is no problem for a young person, and it needn’t be a problem for an older person if significant exercise has been part of your life since the days when falling was not a problem. My own experience tells me that. I’ve tripped many times while running and walking fast, and yet I can recover my footing without falling.
Second, an extremely important effect of exercise is that muscle metabolism generates all sorts of proteins and other metabolic products that are required by the other organs in the body for proper functioning. And any muscular activity will have that effect. If you can’t walk, then lift weights with your arms. Instead of pushing the cart with your groceries to your car, carry the bags to your car and leave the cart at the store. By the way, don’t look for the parking spot closest to the store. If you park in the sparser part of the lot, you’ll save time and frustration of searching for a parking spot, while providing an opportunity to walk as briskly as you can to the store.
How much is enough exercise?
So, how much exercise is enough to have a positive impact on your health? According to studies, you don’t have to be a “gym bunny.” However, walking must be more than a casual stroll. These same studies suggest that walking briskly at least 30 minutes each day provides profound health benefits.
Briskly is the key word. All of the hundreds of studies conducted used walking 3-4 mph as the minimum standard to obtain a significant health benefit. Counting steps is relatively useless unless they are brisk steps. Walking back and forth in your kitchen from the sink to the refrigerator to the kitchen table will increase your step count and is better than lying in bed; but it does not have a significant health benefit.
However, if you can’t walk 3-4 mph, walk as fast as you can. Push yourself, even if you’re using a walker. That’s the key. Pushing yourself becomes a virtuous cycle. Going ever slower becomes a vicious cycle.
Exercise isn’t something that only happens in a gym. It can happen throughout the day: Consider walking up the stairs rather than using the elevator. Go up two steps at a time, or work at it until you can.
Remember, being sedentary is the biggest troublemaker and killer. Avoiding muscular activity, especially brisk walking, is a toxic cultural phenomenon that we must overcome.
Some people prefer to walk alone. Others like to walk in a group for the motivation and friendly social interaction. Irvine provides many opportunities to do things in groups — walking, hiking, running — all fabulous exercises that people find endlessly enjoyable. To learn more about hiking in Irvine’s vast open space areas, either alone or with a group outing, go to: LetsGoOutside.org.
The studies referred to in this article are described in the following Journal of Applied Physiology review article published in 2002. It extracts the findings of over 250 studies — all relating exercise to disease prevention and disease remission. The article is entitled Waging War on Physical Inactivity by Frank Booth, et al.