“How do I get active again?” is a reasonable question for someone–particularly an older person–who has been inactive for a prolonged period of time.
I know what it’s like. I’m 57 and I suppose you’d say I’m a survivor. Been through a ton of injuries and illness, and traumatic surgeries too, so I know of what I speak. I learned how to survive–and even thrive–one step at a time, with simplicity as the watchword.
A great way to become active again is to create momentum through a series of fundamental steps:
#1: See the Doc: If you have any medical issues, or an injury that may or may not be serious, or are a male 45 years old or older or a female 55 years or older (high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, artificial knees and hips, and other issues are common in older adults), then it is recommended that you let a doctor check you out. Yes, this is standard advice, but it also makes sense. Here’s one key reason:
Nagging injuries are one of the biggest causes for quitting exercise and training, and for remaining out of action. I’ve known many people–including myself–who have piddled around with an injury for months or even years without getting it checked to see if there is a serious problem. Do all you can to resolve the issue once and for all and move on–to getting it taken care of, or knowing that you’re safe to begin slowly moving into exercise.
#2: Clean up (and power up) your diet: What you eat and drink has an enormous effect on how you feel, and if you feel lethargic, you’re much less likely to exercise. You will likely make an excuse that has nothing to do with your poor diet, i.e.: “I’m too busy.” Sound familiar? Start with drinking more water if you’re deficient in that category.
You will need to replace some salt in your body as you drink water. Many recommend a half teaspoon of water per eight glasses. Don’t go overboard here, as many overdo salt. Which kind of salt? I prefer sea salt, and have used grey (Celtic) and now use Himalayan (Pink), which is reported to contain 84 minerals and elements. Sea salt does not contain added iodine, as does regular table salt, and it’s recommended that if a person does not used iodized salt, then they should be getting some iodine through other sources such as fish, dairy, eggs, or seaweed.
And start replacing much of the starchy processed carbs in your diet (breakfast cereals, pasta, bread, etc.) with fibrous carbs from fruit and vegetables (assuming you have no medical issues with fruit due to its sugar content). But always be watchful of how food affects you. Many foods may be inflammatory for you due to sugar, vinegar, legumes, flour, grease or other culprits–eat foods that agree with you instead. I intended to link to an article related to this point, but found that some of the foods listed as “anti-inflammatory” (raisins and pizza are two examples–yes, pizza was listed in one article as “anti-inflammatory””) cause inflammation for me. So let the eater beware!
And while you’re at it, a recent comprehensive review of research in the New York Times said that, along with weight-bearing exercise, which we’ll get to in a bit, eating more protein than has been recommended in the past has a beneficial effect, especially if you’re over forty. There’s a limit, though, to how much more protein one should consume, and the article delves into that.
#3: Start walking: Thomas Jefferson said that walking is “the best of all exercises.” If it was good enough for Tom, it’s good enough for me! You’ve heard enough or experienced enough walking or hiking that I don’t need to belabor the point here. I bring it up for its great health value, but also because it is so simple, requires no special knowledge or equipment (other than good shoes), and is easily accomplished by many whose joints may give them problems when doing a more high-impact exercise. Outdoor walking also gives us access to sunlight, which we need to be healthy.
And once you start walking and feel the benefits, if you’re ambitious you can always take it up a notch to running. But you don’t have to. You can just increase distance, speed, and grade; or even start using light weights to increase resistance. I’ve been doing more walking myself of late and always enjoy it.
The late, great Steve Reeves–one of the greatest natural bodybuilders of all time , wrote a book on the subject, Powerwalking. In it, he explains a nice, simple way to add the principle of progression (in distance, speed, grade, and weight–hand, body, and ankle) to a program to make it really dynamic.
#4: Begin to move: Movement can start with basic moves that your body is capable of–that’s enough! Light joint rotation, trunk rotation, swaying from side to side–whatever it takes to start oiling up the “machine,” much like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz when he starts to move after a long period of inactivity.
Here’s a video I created called Anywhere Warmups, which, as the title says, can be done anywhere. It’s less than ten minutes long, and includes many movements that you can use or modify as warm ups for harder work, or just use it on its own as a way to re-introduce your body to exercise.
#5: Start performing fundamental exercises: Anyone who has trained with me knows I’m a big proponent of “progressive calisthenics,” a way of taking the ancient Greek strength exercises and making them accessible to the beginner, allowing just about anyone to–with time and practice–gain serious strength and mobility.
The 6 key bodyweight exercises and their progressions were popularized by the great Paul “Coach” Wade, in his classic book, Convict Conditioning.
The exercises are:
#1: Push Ups (easier version: Wall Push Ups)
#2: Leg Raises (easier version: Knee Tucks)
#3: Pull Ups (easier version: Australian Pull Up)
#4: Squats (easier version: Assisted Squats)
#5: Handstand Push Up (easier version: Wall Shoulder Press–starting position)
#6: Bridging (easier version: Short Bridge)
There are easy, entry-level exercises for each of these “Big 6” exercises, so they are available even to those who are, as I would say, “old, weak, or broken down” (hey–this is no putdown–I’ve been there!)
#6: Get sufficient rest and sleep: This is a big one for older adults, whose recovery abilities have slowed. Once you start an exercise / training program, it will become all the more noticeable, as muscle fibers break down when they are stressed, and must have sufficient rest to rebuild. The same is true for sleep–its restorative power is indisputable and indispensable.
So there you have it–6 fundamental steps to get active again. They take a bit of inertia to get going, but you’ll be rewarded far beyond the energy expended, as you will have the chance to regain strength, mobility, and the joy of movement.
Patrick Rooney is the Owner of GREEK PHYSIQUE™, LLC a Personal Training company located in Middle Tennessee, which specializes in body sculpting for men and women. Patrick is certified through the National Association for Fitness Certification (NAFC). Patrick is available for Personal Training and Lifestyle Coaching, both in person and via phone and Skype. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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