Coaching the Couch Potato
We all know that staying physically active is key to a healthy lifestyle and aging. Keeping fit when we’re younger builds a solid base for health in our later years and study after study shows that it’s never too late to add more movement to our days. For people of any age and with practically any health condition including chronic illness and disability, exercise can improve physical, cognitive and emotional well-being.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that exercise:
- Reduces the risk of premature death.
- Delays or prevents many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes, as well as some cancers.
- Promotes independent living.
- Reduces the risk of falls and fall injury.
- Delays the onset and progression of dementia.
- Reduces depression and improves overall mental health.
And yet, for many of us, it’s hard to get up and get moving even during an “active” summer. We might be quick to make excuses and stay put. Here’s how to coach that couch potato in all of us and get moving.
Excuse #1: I don’t have time. The day goes by, and suddenly it’s bedtime—and we haven’t done our workout. Throughout the day other things might seem more important, whether it’s work, family, or laundry.
Solution: Schedule it. Mental pursuits, like web surfing, reading, or working on games and puzzles have resulted in higher average cognitive tests for older adults – which is great! But those same activities are a reason for less physical fitness than previous generations. Remind yourself that physical exercise is just as important as using your brain and put it on your calendar.
Excuse #2: I get bored. A 2019 study found that 63% suffer boredom at least once during a 10-day span. Bored individuals seem to be less engaged with activities, like exercise, that require self-control or adherence. Plus, we are victims of hedonistic adaptation: the more we do something and get used to it, the less gratifying it becomes.
Solution: Start with what you like and change often. If your current exercise options aren’t motivating, try dancing or an exercise class with music you like; go for a walk at a new, interesting place; get a smartwatch or a pedometer and challenge yourself to add more steps each week; find an exercise buddy; or set up your treadmill in front of the TV for watching a favorite program. Variety is the spice of life…and exercise.
Excuse #3: I’ve never exercised, and I don’t know what to do. If you’ve never taken part in a formal exercise program or done any sort of structured workout, it might seem daunting! According to Science Daily, “Studies show that about 40 percent of people’s daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations.” Doing something different or differently takes effort.
Solution: Get advice. A small start in activity is better than none at all; you don’t have to do the impossible. Get instructions and guidance as you begin. Recognizing the value of exercise for health, and for the financial health of our healthcare system, senior centers, parks and recreation departments and gyms often offer introductory programs. For seniors, Medicare Advantage plans may offer a gym membership. Or, ask your doctor for a “prescription” for an exercise program that’s right for you.
Excuse #4: It hurts my body. Typical soreness after exercise should be expected, particularly if it’s been a while since active movement. However, there’s a difference between sore muscles and pain.
Solution: Talk to a rehabilitation specialist. Almost everyone can benefit from regular physical activity, so discuss your pain with a physical therapist. They can tailor an exercise program for your strengths and challenges. Adaptive exercise programs can help people with chronic conditions reap the benefits of exercise, despite physical or cognitive limitations.
Any good exercise program will typically include:
- endurance activities, also called aerobic exercise, to improve fitness of heart and lungs.
- strength-building exercises, such as using weights or resistance bands.
- balance exercises, such as tai chi, special types of walking, or standing on one foot.
- stretching activities, to preserve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury.
But no couch potatoes.
The information in this blog post is not intended to take the place of your healthcare provider’s advice. Before beginning a fitness program, talk to your doctor.