Fit to play with Jim Johnson: Technology has put us to bed
Posted: 04/07/2022 18:28:33
Modified: 04/07/2022 18:25:54
Fifty years ago I was in the audience when the famous back specialist, Dr. Hans Kraus, was asked if a person with back pain should stay in bed. Kraus ruined himself, shook his head, and said, “If you do that, you take a good person with back pain, put her to bed, and then take out a sick person with back pain.” In the last 50 years technology has tended to put us to bed and robbed us of the need to move. Inactivity drags us, and with it a proportional loss of strength and function. Normal activities become more difficult. The sofa looks lower and the stairs more pronounced. The energy fades. The combination of aging and inactivity causes a sudden drop in functionality.
Regardless of your lifestyle, you need strength to function. Every little thing we do, like bring groceries, pick up trash, or weed the garden requires strength. If you are weak, these activities pass an excessive toll, leaving you tired and unable to enjoy the activities. And if you want to live on a higher level, keep doing the things you enjoy? You will need strength.
Ask yourself how you want to live as you age. Are you ready to give up all those things you liked when you were little and see how others play? Do you settle for watching the grass grow or do you have to cut it yourself? Yes, we become weaker as we age, but we can reduce this drift. Maintaining and increasing muscle strength is a key to your well-being, your independence. The decision to change requires a conscious choice. You can increase strength, and it’s not that hard, but it involves commitment.
The good news is that it’s never too late. A few years ago I started a research program on the effects of aerobic and strength training on adult women. Seventy women entered the gym three days a week for two years. Women, aged 26 to 75, were evaluated before and after. Not surprisingly, all women became fitter, but we also learned that older women changed as much as younger ones. Older women increased their strength by 20 to 30 percent, and ended up being as strong as women 20 years younger when they started. Improvement and age were unrelated. So when someone says he’s too old to do strength exercises, I know he’s wrong.
We often think of aerobic training as a healthy workout for adults. Of course, walking, cycling and swimming are great and you need to do it, but these activities don’t make you stronger. Strength training is different. A recent review of 663 strength training studies for the elderly has shown great improvement in everything from arthritis to osteoporosis. Strength training works, improving body functionality, balance and mobility. Strength training maintains our independence and psychosocial well-being. A stronger body allows us to do more, increases our confidence.
You can develop your own workout at home, but I think the easiest way to start strength training is to join a gym. Yes, it has to be paid, but the compensation is worth it. Gyms can be quite social and it is a good idea to bring a friend. If you’ve never exercised in a gym, the variety of equipment can be a little intimidating. You may need help at first, but you will quickly learn to take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Most gyms have a set of resistance machines designed to strengthen specific parts of the body. Do not plan to use all machines. You only need about six to do a decent workout. Focus on those exercises that use multiple joints. Try to do about 10 continuous repetitions followed by resting for about two minutes and then repeat. There is no magic number; all work. Be sure to include at least one leg exercise. Once you learn the routine, you can do it in less than 30 minutes. It works twice a week, but go three times if you want.
Finally, you may want to expand your workout, try some free weights, or bodyweight exercises. Plan to do some standing exercises. Foot exercises are more functional as they reproduce normal body tensions. This workout improves your balance and helps prevent falls. Sufficient muscular strength is a key to independence. It’s never too late to start.
Jim Johnson is a retired professor of exercise and sports science after teaching 52 years at Smith College and Washington University in St. Louis. Louis. He talks about sports, exercise and sports medicine. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org