There may be a season of your life when it becomes important to you to get ready for a big athletic accomplishment, like a triathlon or a masters swim meet, or a swim holiday that has you training more than you have been used to. That event on a fast approaching date gets you out the door, doing the training work that needs to be done each week.
But if you stop to think a moment, beyond the events and the social rewards for doing them, I imagine it is more important for adults like you to stay exercising consistently for the sake of your longevity. You want your body and mind to function better, and stay strong for more years than they would otherwise. Longevity is not just about adding more years, it’s about improving the quality of physical and mental capacity in those additional years.
Setting athletic achievement goals or signing up for races can sometimes aid the cause of longevity and sometimes they can work against it.
When it comes to preparing for older age, the goal is to stay in the weekly exercise routine week after week, month after month, year after year. As Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge M.D. wrote in their book Younger Next Year, for those who are retired, exercise is your new full-time job in order to keep the ordinary but avoidable effects of aging at bay. If having an achievement goal helps you do that for a season, then it is a useful tool. If working towards the achievement eventually burns you out on regular exercise, or pushes you into injury or illness, then it is working against your deeper value for health.
The point is to find the tricks and tools that work with your person to keep you going in healthy exercise year after year. You need something positive to get you back into the routine when something knocks you out of it for a while.
Here are some principles I have learned and applied to keep me going for the last 30 years, and I expect them to keep me going for many more.
Love The Activity
You need to enjoy doing what you do. If you don’t like it, it isn’t going to last very long. Love it, learn to love it from someone who can teach you how, or go find something else that does deeply appeal to you.
I love swimming – the form and action feels great inside my body, and the flow of water of the skin feels wonderful. I am eager to get in the water and replicated and find ways to improve those pleasing sensations. I have been swimming for 30 years, and I continue to learn and improve my skill.
I love running – it does take some effort to get into good form and get up to a minimal level of enjoyable fitness because gravity is a bit harder on the body in this process than when swimming – but when I do get above that certain level, the pleasure kicks in and I find myself eager to get out. I happen to like running in all kinds of weather – the more adverse the more interesting I find it, which is a good thing in Oregon. Running is low cost and very convenient.
How about swimming and running together!
It Must Be Good For The Body Long-Term
Perhaps I am biased, but it seems to me that the strong consensus among all sorts of health experts seems to be that swimming is a superior, longevity-supporting exercise for us modern folk. With good form, with some idea of how to organize your time and attention (to prevent boredom) and wisdom about how and when to go hard, I definitely agree that mindful swimming is good for the body and brain long-term.
Some exercises, in how they are commonly practiced – like swimming – tend to be good for all people. Other activities might require a lot more supervision or caution in order to keep them safe and sustainable.
It is possible that some people really enjoy tough activities – I mean, they actually enjoy them so much that they are eager to get out of bed for it month after month, year after year – like Cross-Fit and these hard, fast, high intensity workout groups I see at the club in the early morning. (It is still funny to me to see people pay to come to a group to do this when, as a bridge/highway construction worker back in my college days, I was paid to do that kind of exercise as part of my work!) Though they seem to be effective at building mass and power, I don’t observe those to be intrinsically enjoyable for most people – the suffering is high, and requires someone to push you to keep it up. Therefore, that kind of activity won’t be sustainable on an ongoing basis for most people – it is not convenient (see that topic below). Not to mention, it is hard it is on the body – it might help kick start you into burning fat and building muscle, but the high injury rate is also well known. People are engaging in this activity without sufficient mobility and general conditioning and good body awareness, which must come first.
Building muscle and power is necessary for older adults, but the manner of going about it needs to be safe and sustainable. A high frequency of high intensity work builds you up in one way and wears you down in another. Not a good combination for longevity.
It is debated whether running is good for the body long-term. I see anecdotal evidence for both sides of the debate and can see explanations for why each happens. I feel that late-in-life running is accessible if one has excellent form and wisdom about how and when to go hard in training. I ran in high school and college years – I could run at good speed and up to 10K. But my joints felt a bit achy after training and racing. It was only after and knee surgery and then years after that discovering there was a superior (read ‘natural’) way to run that pleased my joints that made me feel so much better and gave hope I could run farther and run longer in life.
On the opposite extreme – a sedentary, sitting lifestyle is a disease-inducing situation. That must be avoided or compensated for as much as possible. Fortunately, there is a lot of opportunity to get up and keep moving throughout the day.
It Needs To Be Convenient
Here are some things that make an activity less convenient, and therefore more vulnerable to resistance and inconsistency:
- Does it require a lot of special (read ‘expensive’) equipment?
- Do you have to go to a special place to do it?
- Is that special place far away?
- Can you only do it for a limited part of the year?
- Do you need others to participate with you?
- Does travel interfere?
- Does it take a lot of time to get ready or clean up afterward?
- Does it cost money each time you do it?
The most convenient activities to keep up for a lifetime are going to have the least resistance for you.
When it comes to convenience, walking is hard to beat. Running is a great way to tour a new city. Body-weight exercises can be done in a hotel room. Or how about climbing and swinging around on the jungle gym of a nearby school!
Perhaps your favorite exercise is not so convenient – like kayaking, or skiing, or rock climbing. But it would be good to have another exercise to love that you can do anywhere, with no equipment, at no cost.
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