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As a personal trainer and yoga teacher I teach the philosophy, “Today’s workout is to keep us working out tomorrow and the next day and the next…”
Fitness and exercise are not all about running the fastest, jumping the highest or even competing at all.
At the core of a functional fitness philosophy is the development of an enjoyable and sustainable exercise habit that infuses our lives with strength-building activities, opportunities to socialize and ultimately, make our bodies healthier and our minds more resilient.
I believe this is something all ages should subscribe to. After all, isn’t most exercise modeled on play? What are some of your favorite ways to move?
There are numerous and powerful ways to move our bodies. I recommend 10 exercises because research and personal experience indicate the longevity of an exercise habit makes our lives better in a myriad of ways: improved physical and mental health, less pain, more energy, and perhaps, even more joy!
Walking is one of the easiest, most enjoyable and lowest-cost activities you can do. If you don’t describe yourself as an “exerciser” or don’t like scheduling exercise, infuse more walking into your daily life.
Studies have also shown that walking 30 minutes, five times a week can increase gray matter in the brain and discourage memory loss.
Functional Strength Training
This doesn’t mean you need to go to the gym immediately and start pumping iron. What functional strength training aims to do is strengthen the muscles that support your daily movements.
Squats are very important to getting up and down from the couch, car and other low places.
Other body weight exercises that are good for functional strength are lunges, planks, holding your core tight through the day and modified push-ups using a wall. Moving your core side to side in a swinging or twisting motion is powerful for spinal flexibility and core strength as well.
Yoga is the ultimate mind-body experience. It’s important to keep mental health in mind when you exercise your body. Because certain styles of yoga (vinyasa) emphasize movement with breathing, risk of injury is low and it’s both an up-regulating and down-regulating exercise. Meaning: You get a workout for the body and respiratory system with yoga but you also have an opportunity to warm up and cool down, which calms the mind and body. For example, running is more of an up-regulating exercise, where you can often feel hyper afterwards, but yoga leaves you more serene.
Another bonus of yoga: It builds core strength and, as many poses test and improve balance, decreases the chance of a fall.
Swimming or Aqua Exercise Classes
Swimming is low-impact and builds strength through resistance. Swimming also trains your body to breathe more efficiently. Aqua exercise classes are a great alternative to traditional weight training and have a lower soreness/impact factor too!
Riding a Bike
Riding a bike outside is great because you can connect with nature, perhaps a friend, and improve lower-body strength and balance, all while enjoying a low-impact workout. Balance your bike rides with stretching and some upper body strengthening work.
Isn’t dancing one of the most entertaining, fun ways to exercise? If you like to dance, count it as exercise. It has a great social benefit too!
Studies have shown that time in nature has a healing effect on the body and brain. It releases stress and tension. Hiking is a powerful calorie burner while being relatively low-impact. So if you want to lose weight, wear some sturdy hiking shoes, pack some water, take a friend and find a trail. Lucky for us, they are in abundance here!
The Mayo Clinic describes tai chi as “a gentle way to fight stress.” Tai chi is an ancient Chinese art that today is practiced as a graceful form of exercise. It involves a series of movements performed in a slow and focused manner. The movements are supplemented by deep breathing.
Like yoga, tai chi is a noncompetitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion. This is a great calming exercise!
Gardening & Yard Work
Being outside, working in the dirt or in the yard is powerful, functional exercise. Make sure for it to count as exercise that it’s prolonged activity that causes your heart rate to rise.
Whatever You Love to Do
If your favorite exercise is running, heli-skiing or surfing or if you define exercise as chasing the dog or playing with grandchildren, that all counts! Keep it up! What’s important is that you move your body in a meaningful way, each day. It can be high-impact or low. It can be calming or highly activating, as long as you consistently do it.
Simply remember to warm up, cool down, hydrate and do the exercises that will keep you exercising well into your retirement. Your mind, body, and soul with thank you. So will your family, friends and pets!