Jul 24, 2009

The 4 Simple Steps to a Healthy Retirement

Like most Americans, you probably believe that exercise is a good thing for other people. But then, after months of sloth, you look in the mirror, get re-motivated, and reach for your jogging shoes, swimsuit, or the dusty barbells in the corner of the garage. Then, after a few days or weeks of furious activity, you again subside back on the couch.

Stop. Ask yourself this simple question: "What am I trying to accomplish?"

And I believe it's precisely because most people can't come up with an answer beyond a few generalities -- "to get into shape," "to lose a few pounds," "to get my spouse to quit nagging" -- that they don't stick with any exercise program long enough to make a difference. 

But enough pop psychology. The answer to the "What am I trying to accomplish?" question is simple, "To live a long, healthy, and robust life." If this doesn't interest you, quit reading. If it does, here are the four things you need to do.

Stretching. As we age, we shrink, which results in our suffering many types of chronic pain. Five to ten minutes of stretching a day and a one hour of yoga or basic stretching class three times a week will have you standing taller and feeling less joint pain in just a few weeks.

Balance. Often overlooked, most older people lose muscle flexibility in their lower legs, ankles, and feet. And this is true even if you do plenty of walking, bike riding, or other good exercise. Since poor balance leads to bone-crunching falls, this is definitely something to pay attention to. One simple cure is to stand on a Bosu ball or similar exercise ball or disk for a few minutes every day. These are available at all gyms or you can buy one for home use here. The one-footed poses in yoga, including the basic "tree" pose, are also highly effective balance restorers. Check these out at Yoga Journal's website.

Strength training. Becoming frail and experiencing all the accompanying social and physical limitations is simply not necessary. Lifting moderate weights, or using resistance or weight-based exercise equipment for five or ten minutes each day -- or even better, half an hour -- three or four times per week will have you feeling more robust in no time. Check out Wikipedia's strength training section to review the basics.

Cardiovascular health. Fast walking, swimming, jumping rope, bicycling, or, if your knees and hips will take it, jogging are just a few of a number of activities that you'll want to find time for on a regular basis. Because I'm sometimes pressed for time, I often use cross-training or rowing machines where I can combine strength training with an aerobic workout.

Your first big bonus. Many, if not most people over 55 are prone to mild depression. Far better than pills, and almost as good as sex, any reasonably vigorous exercise makes you feel better both while and after you do it. No question, when you are feeling low it's hard to get started, which is why setting exercise dates with friends or attending classes can be a huge help to overcome inertia.

Big bonus #2. Take a look at the older people you know who keep themselves in robust good health. Now compare them to the retirees you know who are sedentary, frail, and depressed. Who do you think wants and gets more sex? And just in case you've given up on sex, I suggest you think again. In my experience, people who take steps to remain sexually active all their lives are a lot happier than those that don't.