Benefits of exercise improve with age

I love watching our daughter run and play. A desire to run, do cartwheels, splash in the pool and be active comes naturally to most children, but as time passes many of us seem to have less interest in physical activity. We mature, have injuries, become busier, and our activities frequently become more sedentary. Physical activity can start to look more like work than fun.

However regular physical activity is a key element to being healthy. Becoming sedentary contributes to weight gain and increases in blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also puts us at risk for other health issues, like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity is one part of recommended treatment for insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Keeping fit may also decrease our risk of dementia as we age.

You can get health benefits from two hours and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) and two muscle strengthening activities a week. When you are able to participate in more vigorous activities and spend more time doing them, the health benefits only increase. Get more information on physical activity guidelines at www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity (click on physical activity guidelines).

For the most part, it does not matter how you exercise as you age, just that you do. Rock climbing, cycling, swimming, dancing, gardening, joining an adult gymnastics or circus arts class or anything that sounds fun might help you rekindle the joy of being physical. We all need to find the fun that kids do in physical activity. This summer, the Flying Irish, a local running club, attempted to set a world record for group prancercise. They looked kind of ridiculous, but every one of them, from the fastest prancer at the front to the slowest one bringing up the rear, looked like they were having fun.

Finding the fun again may be a matter of trial and error, or maybe you find several that you rotate through to avoid boredom.

Even when you find something you like to do, it can be hard to stay motivated, especially on a busy day or when you feel tired. Now that you have found the fun, you need to find some motivation too.

Motivation can change from day to day: fitting into pants a size smaller, having more energy, looking better than an old rival at the next reunion, setting a good example for your kids, feeling sexier, playing with your grandkids, getting fit for a trip that will involve a lot of hiking, completing your first 5k run. It does not have to be lofty or high-minded, so long as it helps you to get moving. Try keeping a list of motivators that you add to and cross off over time.

You might be thinking, sure, I can find the fun and motivation again, but how will I ever find time? I do not have an easy answer for this, but it helps to look at regular exercise as something important for yourself and your family. It is also easier if the activities you pursue can be enjoyed with friends or family members.

My motivation comes in many forms, but the biggest for me is our daughter. I want to be able to play with her and to be alive when she has kids of her own. I walk her to school when I can and then run home. We go for walks or head to the pool in the evening. I get more serious workouts a few times a week.

Finding the fun and the motivation may even help you find the time.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section.

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