Isn’t it interesting that since the fitness craze began, let’s say circa 1970 or so, the nation has gotten fatter and sicker? More people work out now than ever, but more are also overweight, obese, diabetic, short of breath, and living on medications.
Isn’t exercise supposed to keep us healthy? It does contribute to health and reduced stress, but alone it’s not effective at reducing the number on the scale or the risk factors for certain diseases. When I say exercise, I’m referring to intentional aerobic or weight training, walking, exercise classes, yoga, etc.
If you just aren’t into that or are limited by location, pain, motivation, take heart. This information is for you.
Important caveat: I am in no way saying that if you enjoy long runs, power walks that last an hour, or catching up with Ellen while you treadmill, that you should stop. The best form of exercise is the one you’ll do. And my recommendation for HIIT, High Intensity Integral Training, even at 50 and beyond, gives you the best results in the shortest amount of time. That link will take you to a page with a few HIIT routines for older bodies and will explain the benefits if you aren’t familiar with it.
Now for the good news if fitness is not a word on your to-do list but you know you should do something to stave off the ravages of couch-potato aging.
It’s natural movement. Natural movement is what it sounds like; walking, crawling, rolling, occasionally sprinting or other high intensity aerobic movement, squatting, lifting heavy objects, stretching, carrying something heavy around, going up and down hills or stairs — playing!
And it beats the gym, weights, or your Zumba class any day in the ways that count.
What counts is…
- Health now and in the years to come.
- Flexibility so you can pick up and carry your own groceries or grandchild.
- Muscle strength that aids in balance so you can rise easily from a chair and walk; not fall and break a hip.
- Healthy metabolic function so you can resist disease and keep inflammation at bay.
- Maintaining a weight you feel good at that allows you to move freely.
Speaking of squatting — not the exercise version where you lower your butt towards the floor on one leg or two — just squatting your torso down as if you were going to poop in the woods. (I highly recommend it if you’ve never had the pleasure. Not to mention that it is the natural position for elimination and eases evacuation.) Remember when you were a child or your children were small and squatting meant getting up close and personal with a tide pool or interesting spec on the ground? That.
Squatting tones the muscles in the pelvic floor. This can help with incontinence. It also stretches the lower back, pelvic, hip, foot and ankle muscles all in one. If you haven’t squatted in some time you’ll want to take it slow, use assistance like a table or chair, a tree if you are outside and lower yourself slowly. Watch this video to learn more. If your knees prevent you from this movement but you can sit on the floor, legs bent in front of you and lean over gently, you’ll still get some of the stretch. Stretching keeps muscles flexible as well as strong.
Back to Natural Movement. How we move today is anything but natural.
We sit to work, eat, get around, and use the toilet. We lie down on couches, beds, and tables in the doctor’s office. We use machines designed to isolate muscles or give us a false sense of doing something good for the body. Humans were built to move! Yes this did include sitting, but on the ground or a log to eat, rest, or chew the fat with a mate. Muscles got used when mates got up. Sitting in chairs means most of the lower body muscles — including our core — have no work to do which leads to injury, pain, and weakness, especially as we age.
In Blue Zones, Dan Buettner shares the places in the world with the most centenarians. One of the common habits they all exhibit was moving throughout the day. In Okinawa, people sit on the floor and get up many times throughout the day. In Sardinia many men still tend sheep, so they walk all over hill and dale each day. In Icaria they garden, walk their mountainous neighborhoods to visit friends each day.
Can you see how movement is a part of life?
Like every new discovery around health these days, if you want formal training you can get it. Blues Zones has a new book called Blue Zone Solutions. The NatMov (aka Natural Movement) Fitness people have camps, coaching, workshops, and will certify you to teach NatMov. There’s another book I like by Katy Bowman MS, Move Your DNA. It’s natural movement with the why-we-need-it factor in easy-to-follow language, and easy ways to get with the program of moving naturally.
It seems silly we have come to this, but what seems like a good thing later proves to not be, once it’s become the norm. Like low fat diets and sitting on a toilet. I’m not about to give up my indoor plumbing or herd sheep, but I am making it a point to squat during the day — it feels so good on the lower back. I carry groceries, garden, walk up and down hills and stairs. I try to stay mindful of things I could do differently to use my body parts with intention. Good balance, strength, and good health may not be the things most people equate with growing older, but in the world of rebellious wellness, it’s the only way to go.