Our society has grown increasingly sedentary. We sit at our computer for both work and play. We sit behind the wheel of our car, or on a bus or train. We sit and watch television. It’s not just older Americans who are doing the sitting. People who are 19 have become just as sedentary as 60-year-olds, according to a study from the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Simply put—we don’t get nearly enough exercise and that’s causing a whole lot of health problems for a whole lot of people. It’s also putting your life at risk.
Let’s talk about walking. It may be the most underappreciated form of exercise out there. It’s free. No equipment is needed. And you can go at your own pace. Getting up and walking—around the block, down the road and back, through a mall—has enormous benefits. Walking has been proven to lower your blood pressure, lower your risk for heart disease and high cholesterol, and help you fight diabetes and cancer.
The numbers don’t lie:
- Every minute of brisk walking can reduce you risk of obesity by 5%
- 30 minutes a day lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes by 30% to 40%
- 30 minutes a day lowers the risk of breast cancer by 20% to 30%
It could also extend your life, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers looked at more than 140,000 older adults over 13 years. Those who were inactive were 26% more likely to die early than people who did some walking as their only form of activity. For those who walked more than two hours, the risk was even lower. Another study, this one from Harvard, said one brisk walk a week—just one—could potentially reduce your risk of early death by 70%.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends adults get 150 minutes a week of moderate-intense exercise. The human body is meant to move, and the benefits can be profound. There is no magic “exercise” pill out there. The former head of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Friedman, has called physical activity the closest thing to a “wonder drug to keep us healthy and happy.”
Get up and walk. It is dangerous not to. You can’t get the benefits of a good walk without putting in the work. Now, just imagine how much better you will feel when you take the next step—adding strength training into your regular walking routine.
Strength training gives you something that walking doesn’t—denser muscles and bones. This is really important as you get older. Stronger muscles and bones make you more agile, give you better balance, and help you prevent and battle osteoporosis and sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the most insidious and yet least known public health problem in the entire world, and it will affect 100 percent of us if we do not do something prevent it. This is a wake-up call to change your life—a call that will help you get strong and healthy.
If you’ve not done any kind of strength training before, you can add it into the walk fairly simply. Take a few minutes to try some exercises that don’t need any special equipment.
- Spend 30 seconds walking on your toes. This helps build up your calf muscles.
- Then switch and walk on your heels for 30 seconds to help your shins. Repeat these three times. You can strengthen all your leg muscles by doing lunges for part of your walk.
- Adding light dumbbells to your walk makes each step a little harder, but also helps tone your muscles even more. Be aware of the weight. Remember, you’re going for a walk and you’ll be carrying the weights with you the whole time.
Advice From Fred
That’s a good start, but I think you could do more. Consider getting on what I call the StrongPath. The StrongPath calls for high-intensity resistance work outs at least three times a week. That’s in addition to your walking. Strength training is powerful medicine, according to dozens of studies I consulted as I wrote my book, Choosing the StrongPath: Reversing the Downward Spiral of Aging. Some points to remember:
- High-intensity resistance training appears to be the most appropriate in dealing with sarcopenia, especially among the old.
- Weight training should be encouraged, regardless of age.
- Age-related loss of strength in severe sarcopenia is detrimental to daily activities and results in physical disability.
- Weight training is excellent protection against age-related loss of strength.
- High-intensity weight training is the best remedy for age-related loss of strength.
Anyone willing to put in the work can be healthier and stronger at any age. I know getting started may seem difficult, especially if you haven’t worked out hard before. Start by getting a physical to determine how fit you are currently, and how much of a workout you can do. Your doctor needs to be a part of your lifelong StrongPath journey. Joining a gym, or going to the YMCA, can be a good next step. If you choose to workout at home, you’ll find some tips on our website, StrongPath.com.
We are now living longer than ever before in history, nearly doubling our life span since the late nineteenth century due to extraordinary medical advances. The implications of those extra years are enormous. Unfortunately, many of us are not active enough, and we waste those later years because we do not realize that a change in our physical activity can dramatically improve the quality of these years. The matter of quality of life has taken on much greater significance as medical advancements have added years to our lives, making a downward spiral much longer and profound. This is a big reason I am so passionate about the cause.