For the past several months I have been writing about the concept of “Successful Aging”, beginning with a brief overview of 9 “Habits of Successful Aging”. Subsequent posts have described and explained these habits in greater detail and suggested some avenues and options to more successfully include them in your lifestyle. This post's topic for discussion is “Stay Active”.

Be a high(er) energy user not a low(er) energy user

A huge amount of research has shown that when we become regularly active - even just a little more active - not only do we feel better and have more energy, but we can also improve the symptoms and outcomes of even serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer and stroke. Being regularly active can also help ease tension, reduce stress and improve overall quality of life. So far sounds good! But what does ‘being active’ actually mean? Working out? Playing sport? Jogging? Does walking my dog count for me or just for my dog? These are all important questions that most of us would like the answer to, and that researchers have been investigating for many years. How much is enough? That is the $64,000 question. The good news is that we now have an answer, although it has been some time in coming! The subtitle of this article is a quote (with my additional parentheses) from Per-Olaf Astrand, a legendary Scandinavian researcher, and the grandfather of “Work Physiology” (Later to become known as “Exercise Physiology”). The actual quote is “Be a high energy user, not a low energy user”. My parenthetical additions are to avoid the impression that high levels of energy are necessary to elicit health benefits. We now know (Phew!) that this is not the case, as you will see below. Dr. Astrand’s research showed, way back in the 1960′s, that people who looked for ways to be ‘high energy users’ throughout their day could get great health benefits. Inactive people (‘low energy users’) on the other hand would gain no health benefits. He emphasized the importance of his findings by another often quoted comment

“Anyone wishing to adopt a sedentary lifestyle should first of all undergo a stringent medical examination to see if they are fit enough to stand the inactivity!”

Dr. Astrand was so far ahead of his time that it took more than 30 years for his insights to become a part of national guidelines.  In 1996 The Surgeon General’s Report (SGR) was published and laid out the relationship between Physical Activity and Health. The bottom line of this report stated that

“Every American should accumulate 30 minute or more of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week”

‘Moderate intensity’ was considered to be a brisk walk, or any activity that felt about as hard as a brisk walk. In other words something that required a little more energy than ‘usual’. Sound familiar? Also, if the recommendation of 30 minutes, seems like a long time - no problem - you will see from the SGR quote above that you can accumulate your 30 minutes throughout the day. So, for example, instead of ‘doing the 30’ all at once, you could walk briskly for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes after lunch and 10 minutes in the evening. Your brisk walk is the ‘higher energy’ that Dr. Astrand recommended. Even better, because your body doesn’t differentiate between the kinds of ‘energy’ you use, you can get to your 30 minutes with a variety of activities!  So for example, instead of 3 sessions of walking throughout the day, you could wash the car in the morning, rake leaves after lunch, and do the vacuuming in the evening. Only the energy expenditure counts - the specific activity could be anything capable of being performed at moderate intensity. So, although for our country’s health, we are seeking to reduce energy costs and reduce energy usage, for our individual health we will be far better off seeking ways to do the exact opposite! Because of this, I say to anyone whose attention I can attract, “Expend your own personal energy with abandon!” Most everyday tasks (called ‘Activities of Daily Living’ or ADL for short) can be done at a slightly elevated speed, or with just a little more effort, or for just a little longer. So take one of your regular everyday chores, be it vacuuming, raking leaves, washing the car, whatever, and do just a little more than usual. Keep looking for ways to include ADL at this ‘higher energy’ level every day. It will increase both your stamina (aerobic fitness) and your health!

As you think about these ideas - what ADL options are coming up for you?

Get your ‘daily dose’ of 30 today! 

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