Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, exercise is not a good way to lose weight.
So why bother?
The reason to exercise is to change your body’s metabolism by strengthening and building muscle. This makes sense because skeletal muscle mass is primarily what determines your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories your body needs for life-sustaining functions).
However, as we age, we lose muscle mass (called sarcopenia), limiting our muscles’ ability to be a functioning metabolic organ. This contributes to insulin resistance, a root cause of metabolic syndrome. Exercise also helps reduce inflammation, improve blood sugar, triglyceride and cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and aid digestion. Exercise can also improve sleep quality, mental health, and energy levels.
What exercise “should” I do?
It’s important to choose activities that you will actually be willing to do and that you can do safely. It should be the quantity and type of movement for your unique situation, but any movement is better than no movement, and it’s important to know you are never too old to start or benefit from exercise!
It requires some patience, but the more consistent you are, whatever the movement you choose, the better results you will see (and faster).
Your movement can change as you do.
Movement can take on many forms and continue to change throughout your life. If you are currently sedentary, you may find a good starting place is the small shifts you can make in your existing routines, such as just parking further away from your destination, carrying groceries to the car, and taking stairs instead of the elevator. If you are already taking walks (bravo!), you can increase the frequency, length, or intensity of them. You might enjoy activities you can do in the privacy of your own home with an instructor on YouTube. You will find these for every activity imaginable, from yoga, to resistance training, to dancing. You might find it motivating to instead/also exercise with friends, whether for a walk, an exercise class, or work with a coach at a gym.
The exercise program to work toward should work all muscle groups by including aerobic exercise, flexibility, agility, and resistance training. Have fun (so important!) as you explore new activities but be gentle with your body to prevent injury. And, always check with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise routine!
What if I have doubts and fears or mental barriers like overwhelm?
The thoughts and feelings of doubt and fear are uncomfortable and overwhelming, but completely normal! Our mind prefers we stay in our comfort zone and resists change. These thoughts and feelings can and will transform with a little practice and support. You will replace that demotivating self-talk with excitement, as you think about how you are improving your health and quality of life.
Taking any steps, however small, toward your vision and goals is progress. Even steps that seem extremely small can still produce positive results. This is the idea of micro-movement. Taking action where you can is the best place to start, and restart if you stopped.
Ask yourself “What could get me moving today? How will I feel afterwards?”
Listen and be patient as you would with a good friend, using encouragement when you talk to yourself. Continue to check-in with your preferences for how you want to exercise. Learn what it is that you need and what supports you the most in your practice of healthy movement. And then, take a step, any step, and treasure your ability to move and transform yourself in body, mind, and spirit!