Everyone has a reason for not being in as good of physical shape as they want to be. Often, the press of family and career obligations make it difficult to get to the gym or go for a run. Good intentions about what we will do tomorrow seem to give way to what needs to be done right now – the immediate pushing away the important. Unfortunately, when retirement eventually rolls around, many feel like it is too late to make any serious improvement to their physical health. They’re wrong. Here, Greg Bishop, a Utah-based attorney and fitness enthusiast, shares details about improving physical health in older adults.
Studies have shown that it is never too late to reap the benefits of an exercise program. Dr. Thomas W. Storer, the director of exercise physiology and physical function lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (which is affiliated with Harvard), explains: “It takes work, dedication, and a plan, but it is never too late to rebuild muscle and maintain it.” Similarly, a recent meta-analysis (a systematic review of the findings of individual studies that are pooled to reach better overall conclusions) concluded that healthy older adults who are sedentary could greatly improve their physical fitness by aerobic training.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
However, the good news that it is never too late to improve your physical health must be viewed in the context of this annoying reality – a body at rest tends to stay at rest until it is acted upon by another force. That force – the metamorphosis from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one – requires both physical and mental toughness. Despite the difficulty, the challenge to get in better shape can be accomplished by following the three phases of exercise training that have been identified by fitness coaches – each phase building on the prior one.
Phase 1 in a new exercise program is frequency – how often you work out each week. Some find that they respond better by figuratively jumping into the deep end of the pool, going from not exercising very much if at all, to exercising nearly every day. Others prefer to wade into the fitness pool more slowly, starting one day a week and increasing the number of sessions per week over time. While older adults often have a good sense of whether they respond better to quick or gradual changes, fitness experts suggest that it will take four to six weeks to establish a habit of exercise frequency (longer if you take a more gradual approach).
Once exercise frequency is a firmly established habit, it is time to move to Phase 2 – duration. Duration is the amount of time dedicated to each exercise session. As you begin to focus on duration, make sure that it doesn’t impact frequency – avoid exercising so long one day that you feel like skipping your next exercise session. Once again, it will take about four to six weeks to establish a firm habit of exercise duration. The objective is to achieve a desired amount of time on a consistent basis, rather than to increase the duration over time.
Once frequency and duration become a habit, you can move to Phase 3 – intensity. Although the intensity of your workouts will likely have increased over the prior weeks, the purpose of Phase 3 is to be more intentional about your exercise output, but in a way that does not cause injury. While seeking to increase your intensity, do not push yourself so hard that you have to take time off to recover from an injury. The key is to push yourself hard, but still, listen to your body.
About Greg Bishop (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Greg Bishop is a Utah-based attorney with extensive experience in litigation, corporate work, M&A, licensing, IPO preparation, and HR, as well as corporate and board governance. Personally, he is passionate about helping others, including spending seven years working closely with the largest organization helping the homeless in Washington, D.C. In his free time, he enjoys the outdoors, mountain biking and traveling, as well as helping others achieve personal and professional success.
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