If I ask you how can you use fitness for life, what would you say? For people with children, I will often hear that they would love to see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. For people without children, I often hear that they want to travel more with their spouse or even on their own! No matter our goals, we all want to try and live the longest life possible.
The major caveat here is that you want to live the longest, active life you can. No one wants to be 100 years old and bedridden, unable to move or do tasks themselves.
This article will discuss three ways fitness will help you live a longer, more active life. One where you can realistically expect to interact with your generations or see the world into the years far longer than you would have ever expected!
Strength training: keep moving
First, you can use fitness for life by ensuring you take advantage of strength training. The strength training I am talking about has nothing to do with being a bodybuilder or a powerlifter. We’re talking about strength training to keep our bodies strong enough to move.
If you are in your 40s, your 60s might feel far off. If you’re in your 60s, your 80s might feel far off. The truth is that life goes fast; 20 years happens quickly! If you’ve made it this far, you already know that.
The time is now that you need to be preparing for the pitfalls of those that are older than you.
For instance, have you ever seen an older man or woman who can barely pick their feet up off the floor or get off the couch without a walker to support them? I’m sure you have, and let me tell you, that is avoidable if you keep your strength up. They can’t clear the floor with their feet or get off the couch by themselves because they have lost the strength to do so!
All movement is a function of strength, and like all other things, it is a “use it or lose it” human feature. If you do not keep your strength up, you will lose it! Once you start losing it, it won’t be long before you feel like getting to the top of the stairs is a herculean feat; you may already know what I am talking about!
Even simple aspects of strength, like your grip strength, go a long way in helping you stay moving. I have seen a 60-year-old move like an 80-year-old, and I have also seen a 60-year-old move like a 40-year-old. You get to decide which one you want to be.
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Cardio: feel the blood flow
Everyone’s least favorite word to hear in relation to exercise is cardio. Nothing conjures up more feelings of suffering than the thought of going for a run. Trust me, I am a triathlete and half marathoner, and I still feel that trepidation when I prepare for a run.
Unfortunately, the truth here is unavoidable, and that truth is that cardio is necessary for longevity. Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in America for decades, and that’s sad to hear because keeping your heart healthy shouldn’t be that difficult to manage.
People always wonder how cardio helps your heart, and the answer is simple. By demanding more from your heart through cardiovascular exercise, your heart becomes more efficient and easygoing at baseline. Your heart becomes so used to the heavy work of cardiovascular exercise that suddenly, it isn’t a feat of endurance to get to the top of the stairs. You will find that instances that wore you out and had you short of breath no longer affect you. That is because you have strengthened your heart through cardiovascular exercise, and now it has a higher tolerance for work.
This higher tolerance for work is the key to keeping your heart stronger and will help you stay out of the coroner’s office longer, too.
When you think about cardio, you have two avenues you can go down, each with its benefits and drawbacks: HIIT or LISS.
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training and should really be handled with care. HIIT, as its name implies, is very intense. Avoid this at the start if you have bad joints or are really out of shape. If you are in shape and looking for a challenge, I’d give HIIT a shot.
The other option that you have is LISS. LISS stands for low-intensity steady state. This is the classic cardio we all know about. It’s lacing up those shoes and going for a 30-minute power walk or a 2-hour bike ride. This cardio is best if you’re starting out because, as we discussed earlier, going upstairs probably makes you out of breath, so starting slow is the right idea.
Mobility and flexibility: expanding how you move
The third and final primary factor that we will discuss here is how mobility comes into play here. People often mix up mobility and flexibility and think they are the same thing when they are not.
Flexibility is the ability of a joint to move somewhere. The more flexible you are, the more it moves. We have to understand that flexibility is passive. If you stand up and swing your leg side to side, the degrees to which it swings laterally are how flexible the joint is.
Mobility, on the other hand, is an active range of motion. How far can you move your shoulder via your conscious control? The key word in that last sentence is control.
Flexibility is being able to bend over backward and touch the ground. Mobility is being able to be over backward, touch the ground, and then move around in that bent-over position.
So, why is this important? Well, if you are more flexible and mobile, the number of things you will be able to do with your body increases, which will increase your chances of building strength and endurance.
On top of that, the more mobile and flexible you are, the easier it is for you to get around, which lowers the risk of falling. Falling for a senior citizen is a terrible event. Your bones will be brittle and have a higher chance of breaking, and your recovery time will be much longer. The more mobile you are, the easier it will be for you to get around, and the less likely it is that you will fall.
Too long, didn’t read
To live longer, you need to cover the three main bases of physical health: strength, cardiovascular health, and mobility/flexibility.
Strength will ensure that your metabolism stays high (keeping the weight off you), maintaining your bone density (stronger bones is what you want). It will increase the time you can move around and interact with the world without help. To be a self-sufficient 80-year-old, you need to be strong.
Cardio is the thing that everyone hates but is what most people desperately need. If you get winded going up the stairs, that is a sign that you need to work on your cardio. Cardio will improve your heart’s strength and make it easier to handle mundane, day-to-day tasks like going up the stairs. The easier it is for your heart to do the daily things it has to do, the longer it will last, which means you’ll last longer too!
Mobility and flexibility are critical because they expand the number of things you can safely do as you age. Some 80-year-olds are mobile enough to play golf, while others are not. The difference is that 80-year-olds can use golf as a workout while others cannot. Whether you like golf or not, having the mobility to swing a golf club and not throw your back out gives you a leg up by expanding the things you can do with your body: more options = a higher likelihood of staying alive longer.
Jordan Tank, Personal Trainer, Columbus, Ohio
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