An 80-year old Irish couple Kay and Joe ORegan finished their 142nd marathon in Cork, Ireland. Both had only taken up running in their 50s and had maintained high levels of fitness and mobility well into their 80s. But for most of us, running a marathon seems like a world away- something we could only do in our 20s.
Conventional wisdom says that fitness drops because of age, but the reality is that lifestyles get in the way. Work, travel, family, kids tuition, and eating more than we burn. In short, staying fit and healthy gets put to one side. This situation unfortunately has severe consequences:
- Lack of exercise is a bigger cause of mortality than obesity (WHO).
- In Malaysia, lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are on the rise.
- Without exercise and good nutrition, your muscle mass, fitness, and mobility will decrease with age with direct effects on quality of life at an older age.
- The personal, financial, physical, mental and social costs of ill health can be high.
However, like Kay and Joe ORegan, things dont have to be that way. Starting to exercise may seem to be a bit daunting but it does not have to be. The reality is that once you get started, it will quickly occur to you Why on earth did I not do this earlier? and you will start to see the great benefits:
- Regular exercise can improve quality of life for all ages.
- Regular exercise can improve health and prevent illness.
- It makes you look younger and is cheaper than plastic surgery!
- It can improve work performance and cognitive ability.
- It will help to reduce stress.
- It will help you sleep better.
- It can also improve depression.
“Researchers have estimated that 90 percent of us could live to age 90 with some simple lifestyle choices. Whats more, we could live free of common diseases that make our final years miserable. Even if you have a family history of heart disease or cancer, most of your fate is in your control.”– Eat Move Sleep, Tom Rath, 2013.
The good news is, it is never too late to start! Remember, we are designed by nature to move (we were once hunter-gatherers), and if we dont move regularly we can eventually lose the ability to move.
How do you get started? Firstly, ask yourself why you want to exercise. This is a personal reason particular to you. It may be:
- To improve your health
- To look better
- To be fit for your family
- To run a 10km race
- To get out of the house and meet new friends
- To get over your fears of exercise
- To have a great quality of life when you are older
If you are also over 55, or had any medical conditions, or recently given birth, then please check with your doctor if it is ok to start training again.
Next, decide what type of exercise you would like to do (the plan). Simple exercises that will raise your heart rate are things like fast walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and bootcamp. Dont forget to include strength training in your plan as this will not only help you to lose weight faster, but will build up your lean muscle mass and ensure your have strength for real life situations. This strength training should ideally be functional by nature (not just depending on strength machines), and should be movements that relate to real life. For example, exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups and suspension training are all great options. Lastly, do stretch a few times a week to keep your body flexible and mobile.
We are generally good at creating a list of personal doubts about why we cant do something.But like Nike says, stop thinking and Just do it! To get going, be committed, accept that you will need to train regularly, and get out of your comfort zone. Being a weekend warrior (those who only train on Saturday or Sunday) is not going to be enough. Instead, start with 3 times/week of 30 minutes to 1 hour exercise spread out over the week and then build it up slowly.
Set realistic and measurable goals for yourself and remember, if life gets in the way now and again, just reset and continue from where you left off. Contrary to popular belief, dont be a perfectionist, and cut yourself some slack. The most important thing is consistency of training, even if it is only 15 minutes on the odd busy day, as healthy habits take time to form.
Align your behaviours with your goals. When in doubt, focus on why you started (the fuel to your fire) and also take stock of all the positive results you have gained from exercise (feeling great, looking younger, playing with your kids). Be honest with yourself, no excuses please! Be accountable for your own actions or inactions.
Dont compare yourself to others, you are getting fit for yourself alone and the process is particular to you. There will always be people who are fitter, faster, thinner, and stronger than you, but they are not why you are doing this.
To make it easier for yourself, get fitter with friends. Join a fitness community as it will keep you more accountable and its also more fun as you can share experiences and get to meet new and interesting people. When you hang out with fitter people, you will get fitter too as their habits will rub off on you.
I would also recommend joining professional training with certified and trained coaches. Why? Professional coaches will help you to cut through all the marketing and fitness hype (there is a lot of it in the fitness industry), and to also receive a cost-effective and safe program that works for you. Lastly, this will help to keep you accountable.
After building up your fitness level, then you can start to work on your nutrition. Remember that exercising is not an excuse to eat or drink whatever you like.
As you build up your fitness, you may need to reset your goals every few months to things that you never believed you could do, like run a marathon or climb Mount Kinabalu. The sky is the limit of what you can achieve if you put your mind to it and keep the belief strong!
Conor Mc Manus is a certified group personal trainer, rehab trainer, former military tactical fitness instructor, fitness enthusiast, and founder of Warrior Fitness & Adventure based in Penang. His passion is to help everyone get fitter for sports and life.