“The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.”
In honor of Active Aging week, I think this quote from marathon world record holder Eluid Kipchoge (2:01:39) best demonstrates the spectrum of aging and activity. It’s never too late to start, but you’ll always be benefited by starting earlier. A healthy lifestyle and exercise are no exception. The earlier we start implementing positive physical activity habits means the higher we peak in areas like cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle mass, and bone mineral density. With continued activity, you can maintain the healthy benefits longer and there are less of the steep declines or losses that are naturally associated with aging. In a week when we celebrate active aging, let’s think about ways we can plant the seeds now to be benefited by the fruits of our tree later.
- Be varied – We can get trapped into thinking exercise can only be done in the gym or with team sports, so take this time in early adulthood to experiment and try many different forms of exercise. Try hiking, rock climbing, biking, and more. Try recreational teams for dodgeball or innertube water polo. Try group classes like Zumba, kickboxing, barbell and more. Try variable distances as a runner. Try it all. Learning the forms of exercise you most enjoy will mean you’re much more likely to be a regular participant, and thus receive the regular benefit of those activities. Don’t be trapped by what you’ve always done, and be open to trying more new forms of exercise as you get older.
- Be well-rounded – Once you find the forms of exercise you like most, avoid making that the only thing you do for exercise. Make sure some of your go-to forms of exercise are varied enough to get a benefit in different areas. We want to benefit heart health with more aerobic forms of exercise, or muscle mass and bone mineral density with strength training, but don’t forget about flexibility and balance exercises. If all you do is long, slow runs, all you’ll improve is your ability to run long and slow. If running is your go-to, mix it up with tempo by trying faster or slower paces over different days.
- Be rested – Often overlooked is the importance of rest and recovery. The best way to avoid injury and maintain the long term habit is to do varied forms of exercise and workouts, and taking the necessary breaks in a single workout session or between them, especially after high intensity or competitive events.
- Be consistent – There’s no benefit if you don’t do it. There are many facets in life where we are looking for instant gratification, but that is not always the case with exercise. The building of a foundation can take weeks to months, meaning we don’t always see results quickly. In these moments, it is better to focus on the immediate take-a-ways of how your energy levels are, how you are sleeping, and your general mood. Being consistent doesn’t have to mean 7 days a week of exercise. There are very few cases 7 days a week is encouraged or even recommended. It just doesn’t fit the need of the general public. Being consistent means 3-5 days a week of exercise. Not feeling into it or don’t have time today, that’s okay, miss a day, but do your best to make sure that day doesn’t turn into a month. There will always be ebbs and flows to how much exercise we get in times of work, school, vacation, or life, but you are best served when it is a regular habit that we can apply with flexibility.
There will likely be many points in life we wished we had started something yesterday, but very few when we regret having started at all. Now is the time to start being active, and be benefited by it when you’re 90!
Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see http://hes.chhs.colostate.edu/outreach/adultfitness/