Need motivation to exercise? Here are some reasons to get moving

Q. I am a 63-year-old man and hate to exercise. My Internist and wife strongly urge me to do so. Ok, I’m a little overweight but have gotten along just fine all of these years. Can you give me some encouragement and good reasons to exercise?   P.A.

For starters: We cannot make folks do what they do not want to do. There is always a reason to dispute facts, find exceptions and ignore advice.  At the same time, it is important to acknowledge it is difficult to change life-long behaviors and attitudes.

So, when do health behaviors change? They often change when written on a prescription pad with the following verbal message from the doctor: “If you want to live past 75 or attend your daughter’s wedding, grandbaby’s christening or grandson’s Bar Mitzvah, I strongly suggest you do the following.”

During the pandemic, the sofa became the best friend to many folks. According to the Pew Research Center, those 60 years and older spend about half of their leisure time in front of a screen, mostly television, which is about four hours a day.

It’s time to get up from the sofa and begin an easy exercise: walking. You don’t need equipment, just good walking shoes.  It requires no special clothes, training and it’s free.  We know that walking a certain number of steps daily can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes. It can reduce blood pressure, increase muscle strength, help prevent falls and injuries, decrease depression and burns calories.

Here’s a bonus benefit. Those who are physically active tend to live longer than those who are not. One way to define physical activity is the number of steps one takes in a day. We have heard of the magic daily goal of 10,000 steps which easily are recorded on our smartwatches, iPhone or Fitbits. The exact number of daily steps for increased health and longevity are in somewhat dispute.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the C.D.C. and other institutions affirm the strong relationship between the number of steps taken and mortality. They found that men and women who accumulated 7,000 steps a day were about 50 percent less likely to have died compared to those who walked less than that number. At 9,000 steps, there was 70 percent less chance of an early death compared to those taking less than the 9,000 steps. At 10,000 steps the benefits leveled. People taking 10,000 steps per day and more, rarely outlived those taking at least 7,000 steps, per a Sept. 21 story in the New York Times.

There’s more to confuse the matter. The online publication of the JAMA Internal Medicine described a study of a little over 16,000 women with a mean age of 72. Those who averaged about 4400 steps a day had a significantly lower mortality rate than the least active women who averaged about 2700 steps a day.

And there’s one more from the National Institute on Aging. They recommend that adults need 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity to stay healthy. Brisk walking is a good example. That 30 minutes can be broken into three 10-minutes walks.

Here is a super bonus benefit. Walking is good for brain health. Dr. Dean Sherzai, a clinical neurologist and co-director of the Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University identified three links between exercise and improved brain health. He noted that exercise increases the blood flow to the brain, delivering more oxygen and nutrients. At the same time, it flushes inflammatory and oxidative elements out of the brain and increases a chemical that is “almost like a growth hormone for neurons, but specifically for the connections between neurons” states Sherzai as quoted in PBS Next Avenue, a digital platform of information for boomers. “Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise are effective,” but they must be strenuous enough to get your blood pumping,” he added.

The bottom line is that walking is a good exercise to enhance overall health, function, fitness, longevity with the added benefit of brain health. These remedies and interventions are not purchased at your local CVS or Walgreens.

A.P. Thank you for your important question. I hope you feel encouraged. Now, after some stretching, just put on your shoes and go out the door. Walk with a friend or your dog, say hello to your neighbors, smell the roses and enjoy our beautiful weather. Stay safe and be well, and of course, be kind to yourself and others.

Note: Before starting an exercise program, check with your healthcare provider.

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