Moving your body preserves youth and creates high-level vitality, as well as good feelings about who you are. Did you know, for example, that regular exercise is the best treatment yet devised for depression? Little wonder, since throughout evolution our bodies have been built to move. It is only in the last century that we have become sedentary ‘lounge-lizards’, making ourselves vulnerable to the numerous ailments—from osteoporosis to coronary heart disease—in which lack of physical exercise is a major risk factor. Exercise can do as much good for your mind as it can your body. You might be surprised to find how simple and blissful the right kind of exercise can be.
GET INTO BLISS
We are told all the time, by everyone, that we should force ourselves to exercise whether we like it or not. Personally, I love exercise. But only because doing it brings me joy. I firmly believe you should never exercise out of a sense of duty, or for fear of putting on weight if you don’t. Find out what you love doing, and do it just for fun. You could swim or jog or dance for the pleasure of it Or rebound on a mini-trampoline—something that is particularly good for internal spring-cleaning. Swimming is great because it is so sensuous. But don’t make yourself swim laps. Instead, move sensuously through the water and notice the bliss your body can feel as you do. If you don’t know what exercise you enjoy, then start with a brisk walk.
TAKE A WALK
Brisk daily walks can be a lot of fun—but they can also be a major factor in disease-prevention, as they help keep your body clean from the inside out. They increase vitality and improve your mental state. How far? How fast? That depends on how fit you are already. Start slowly if you are not used to exercise, and then gradually—over several weeks—work up your pace to four miles an hour; that means you will be walking a mile in about 15 minutes. Walk with a sense that you are just going to allow your body to move and to experience the pleasure of being alive. Walking brings our awareness into our bodies, along with the magnificent spirit that is the essence of who you are, so you and your body feel like one. If you have young children, take them with you in a pushchair or pram. Older children can benefit as much from the exercise as you do. If the weather is bad, make sure you are all equipped with waterproofs or warm clothing. Or, if you prefer, get up early before anyone else is awake and go out by yourself (this is my favorite time for exercising). If you go out to work, carry your work-shoes with you and wear a comfortable pair of trainers. Take the bus or train to within a mile or so of your workplace and walk from there.
The latest research into age-retardation shows clearly that it is not a pill, magic potion or some glamorous and expensive youth treatment which best reverses the long and depressing list of changes that have come to be associated with aging, but simple exercise. How much regular aerobic activity you get determines the level of something called your ‘V02max’. This is the scientific term for ‘maximum oxygen consumption’—the most critical measurement of your body’s heart and lung performance.
This measurement is something which declines steadily in most people after the age of 30—at a rate of about 1 per cent per year—simply because, unlike our primitive ancestors who remained physically active all through their lives, we lead a largely sedentary existence. As a result, we appear to age quite rapidly—we experience a decline in cardiovascular and lung fitness, we lose muscle and bone tissue, our skin wrinkles and thins, and we experience a progressive stiffening of the joints. These age-related changes appear to occur at just the rate at which our V02max declines.
The good news is this: a decline in V02max is by no means inevitable. When a person of 35, 55, or even 75 moves their body regularly, this can restore V02max levels to that of someone many years younger. As this happens, energy increases and parameters such as cardiovascular fitness, heart-rate, cholesterol, and blood-lipids return to more youthful measures. Skin looks younger, high blood-pressure lowers, joints regain flexibility. Meanwhile, loss of minerals from the bones is halted, muscle-mass increases, and fat is lost; even your intelligence improves.
Physiologist J. L. Hodgson carried out a series of studies at Pennsylvania State University which showed that when an inactive 70-year-old starts a program of moderate activity he can expect, in effect, to improve his oxygen-transporting ability (V02max) by some 15 years. If then he goes on to achieve an athlete’s level of conditioning, he can potentially regain 40 years of V02max and experience many of the physical and physiological effects of rejuvenation in the process.
So exceptional is the ability of regular exercise to reverse aging changes that Dr Walter Bortz, one of America’s leading scientific experts on aging, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that ‘It seems extremely unlikely that any future drug or physician-oriented technique will approach such a benefit’. Bortz had begun studying the relationship between age-related changes and inactivity through having his own leg in a cast for six weeks. When the cast was removed the ‘withered, stiff and painful leg’ looked like it belonged on someone 40 years older. He found that, by almost every physiological parameter known, a lack of exercise produced bodily changes paralleling those associated with aging. Regular sustained physical activity can go a long way towards preventing and even reversing them.
BLESSINGS OF MOVEMENT
Herbert de Vries of the Andrus Gerontology Centre at the University of Southern California showed in a study involving more than 200 people that men and women of 60 or 70 can become as fit and energetic as people 30 years younger. ‘Regular exercise quite literally turned back the clock for our volunteers,’ said de Vries. And, when questioned about what they considered the greatest benefit of their regular exercise programs, his subjects most often answered “greater energy”. The fitter you are, the more energy you have.
Regular exercise—the kind you get if you do 30-45 minutes of walking, swimming, dancing, rebounding or what you love most, at least three times a week—suffuses your skin with blood, enhances lymphatic functioning, increases the ability of your body to carry oxygen and nutrients to the skin’s cells, and removes waste products from them. Exercise physiologist James White at University of California, San Diego, carried out an interesting study to find out just how effective exercise might be at retarding—even maybe reversing—the effects of aging on skin. Working with older women, he compared two groups: One group on a program of rebounding using mini-trampolines, and one group of sedentary women. He discovered that the exercisers looked younger, had better skin, coloring, and fewer wrinkles than non-exercisers. White was surprised to discover that exercise even reduces bags under the eyes. With all these amazing benefits, why wouldn’t you want to get into the joy of movement today…?
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