What has kept me exercising regularly for 30 years, and what will keep me going for another 30 and more?
This post is part 2 of 4 in the series The Habit Of Exercise. and continues the discussion of what builds and strengthens our habit of exercise to contribute to our longevity.
With Others Or Alone
Some people do best when they have a regular appointment to exercise with others. They love showing up for their swim group, or the run group, or the spin class, or the yoga class. That appointment with others can act as the necessary accountability or the social excitement to stay in the routine.
And, there are some people who really thrive on being alone. It’s not to say it isn’t nice to train with others but the undistracted focus and solitude of mindful activity is refreshing and preferred by some. There is an attraction to being alone with the mind, body and the environment – an intimate appointment with nature inside the body and the environment outside.
You just need to know which type you are and schedule most of your activity that way so the motivation to go stays strong.
However, it is a good thing to occasionally do some of your activity in the other mode. If you prefer to be with others, you should explore practicing on your own and learn techniques for making this more engaging. If you prefer to be alone you should explore the benefits of training with others. You may discover some important insights about yourself you would not otherwise notice. Not only is this insightful, it keeps you adaptable.
Variety And Variation
To do all the normal things humans do in daily life, we need to remain agile and strong for certain number of fundamental movements. Depending on which authority’s list we look at those movements may include: pushing, pulling, squating, lifting or carrying a load, hinging (bending over), rotating (and counter-rotating), and walking.
Doing only one athletic activity or exercise may not be sufficient for maintaining your whole body in all these fundamental movements. Many of the most popular activities have the body work in only a small range of movements, like running and cycling. The more you do that one activity to the exclusion of other activities (particular to those that make your body move and work in very different ways), the better it gets at doing that one activity and the less capable it may become for doing others.
For example, swimming is preferred by many because because it removes the impact forces of activity on land. But swimming is fairly linear – mixing it up with all four stroke styles is better, but still, the swimmer is always moving in just one direction, with forces flowing in just one direction. He is not coming close to working the body in all the primary 3-dimensional ways the human body needs for life on land. He is not working those bones and muscles on land, under gravity with full body weight where they need to remain most capable.
Swimming is great, but it would be better to add walking, and add gardening so one could include range of motion not addressed in the swimming patterns and provide weighted work (e.g. digging a hole, lifting a loaded bucket, squating and kneeling and pushing back up, etc) to keep the body strong for action under gravity.
We need to maintain the spine, the pelvis region, the shoulder region, and the function of the joints of the appendages. We need mobility, stability and strength in the whole body. We need to keep motor control (i.e. technique, skill) sharp and expanding. For this, more variety in activities and more variation within in those activities is necessary. Staying within a narrow range of activities and then staying within only a a narrow range of movement patterns will not prepare the body to function outside that range, yet life will almost certainly require us to work out there. Just recall how stiff, sore or injured you felt the last time you were required to exert yourself in some way you are not used to!
If swimming regularly, don’t stick to only freestyle stroke, or only breaststroke. Regularly practice one or two other stroke styles in order work the joints and muscles in different ways, different directions.
If running, don’t stick to one pace, or only to flat terrain, or only on hard surfaces. Vary the pace so that the stride changes and causes the loading to shift a bit. Look for off-road or 3-dimensional running terrain, where your muscles and joints get worked from more than one direction, where the brain has to work to acquire and protect balance with each unique step.
If cycling, get off the bike and do work in the gym that has you getting up and down, rotating, moving from side to side and loading only one side of the body at a time.
Do different (complementary) activities that allow you to work different parts of the body in different ways, while applying similar skills for balance, coordination, and precision.
Adaptability and Creativity
And, it is helpful to have a variety of exercise forms so that you can do one thing if an obstacle comes up to prevent you from doing another. The more variety that is provided in your regular exercises, the more variety you have in your movements and loading, the more you can comfortably handle those occasions where you find yourself doing an odd job, like helping a friend move awkward furniture, or spend a couple hours twisted in a cabinet fixing some leaky plumbing, or play a little baseball with kids who love your company in their game.
If I am going on a trip, I want to do what I can to carry on regular exercise. I research the area I will be visiting to find a lap swimming pool, or ask my host to show me. If none, I scan for running terrain. If nothing appealing, then I look for ways I can go for long walks and do my body-weight exercises in my hotel room or in a park nearby.
Even in airports on a long layover I look for ways to go on a walk. I look for a clean, quiet corner I can do some body-weight exercises (I will sometimes carry a yoga mat on the plane for this purpose). Carrying my loaded backpack or pushing my rolling luggage are ways I can keep working my body between long bouts of sitting on the plane. On the plane, I always choose a seat along the isle so I can stand to read, and stretch my legs and hips occasionally. As I move through the concourse I can choose to walk up or down the stairs rather than ride the escalator.