The quick answer: If you want a long and healthful life, you have to sweat, regularly.
The Good Life
That’s not me in the picture; it’s the late, great, Jack LaLanne. Jack could be the poster boy for how to live, but not just because of those biceps. LaLanne lived a long, healthy live—96 vigorous years—and then passed after a brief illness (pneumonia). Through exercise he maximized the good years, and minimized the sickly time. We wouldn’t have a Medicare crisis if more people could live like Jack.
So though this is a blog primarily about nutrition, exercise is one of the thirteen themes. For nearly six millenia of recorded history, mankind had no choice but to follow the Biblical injunction, “By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” The Industrial Revolution, in just over a century of inventing laborsaving devices, made sweating optional. Unfortunately, it gave birth to the "couch potato."
The old way was healthier than the modern because now, the less we worked the more we ate, and the more we ate the less we wanted to move. The automobile is the classic laborsaving example: There really isn’t much left to automate—windows and doors open and close at the push of a button and some models can even parallel park. It's ridiculous.
So the 21st century presents a new imperative: Reinvent a society where sweating is an essential component—or die ugly.
Though it’s generally recognized that it’s healthier to exercise, we don’t know very much about which methods are best, or how long or how often to work out. There are exceptions to the "exercise is better" rule—for a hard-to-diagnose few, exercise can be problematic. If you suspect you’re one of those few, it’s best to see your doctor before starting a new workout.
An exercise book came out, titled The First 20 Minutes. I haven’t bought it yet, but I’ve read excerpts and reviews and find these helpful main thoughts:
- Inactivity: Inactivity, not cancer or heart disease, is our greatest public health threat. To live well, we must exercise. Protracted sitting, even if you exercise, can be unhealthy. So avoid long periods of sitting; get up every hour or so and take a stroll, or climb some stairs. Just do something.
- Exercise: From the title of the book, the first 20 minutes of exercise brings the greatest benefit. If you just did 20 minutes a week, you’d be better off. But it would be best to do multiple workouts. Government sources recommend 150 minutes weekly, as in 30 minutes for each of 5 days.
- Aerobic: Aerobic exercise is when you work out for an extended time, at least 20 minutes, at a sustainable level. The research is incomplete but suggests aerobic exercise is a primary determinant of longevity.
- Weights: Strength training is important and there’s a principle called “overload” that suggests you need to do something extra hard to improve. So mix up your routine with intervals of extra effort. We’ll address strength training in a future post.
- Stretching, as in Yoga or the forms of Pilates, is also beneficial. There’s interesting research that shows a stretching benefit for vascular health. This is also a subject for a future post.
- Weight loss: Exercise doesn’t promote weight loss by itself—you don’t have time to sweat off an unhealthy high-calorie diet. But exercise is an essential component of healthier living, and keeping weight off. There is a weight loss benefit, however, for pre-breakfast workouts with eggs eaten for breakfast.
- Mental: Exercise has mental benefits—improves brain function, slows progression of dementia, reduces anger build-up, and improves stress tolerance. It's smart to exercise.
You Design It
Most gyms have trainers that will help you design a workout that builds strength and minimizes injuries. But busy people need a program that fits their lifestyle. If I was a hard working office guy, I would try to get in 20 minutes before breakfast most days, interrupt desk time with quick strolls that included stair climbing, and take a brisk lunchtime walk in the sunshine (even when it wasn’t shining).
You don’t need a gym. If I sat on my porch for a day I’d see the following: Several committed people who run by our house about 5:00 a.m.; groups of homemakers who walk and talk together around sunrise; animal lovers walking their pets morning and evening; a few guys jogging or cycling at midday or after work.
The challenge is for us all to recognize the laborsaving century is over and learn to enjoy laborious activities again. Plant a kitchen garden or do your own yard work; I’m a cheap guy but there are other benefits to working outdoors. There are lots of internet-based workouts also.
From my own experience I offer this guidance: First, be the tortoise, noi the hare—start slow, then steadily add difficulty. Second, do something you enjoy but that makes you sweat, but do it in a way that’s convenient. Third, get a nice outfit for working out. Style matters; if you run around the neighborhood in your regular clothes, people will just think you’re late to wherever you’re going and won’t appreciate your improving shape.
Please comment: You can read the comments from the two prior exercise posts, go here for 2011 or here for 2012. Please share your best exercise, or tell about the benefits of what you've done. We should inspire and encourage each other.