By now, it is common knowledge that exercise is not only how to keep our bodies fit and healthy, but also how to keep our brains in good shape, especially as we move forward into our 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. Study after study confirm that physical activity is vital in helping us stay mentally alert as well as enhancing our cardiovascular and immune systems, among other benefits.
But here’s the thing: few of us relish the idea of exercising purely for the sake of exercising. Reasons vary from “It’s boring” to “I’ve never been physically active” to “I can’t get motivated,” to cite but some of the more common ones.
So, if we are going to take the plunge and engage in a regular exercise regime, we need support, help, techniques to get us up off that cozy couch into something more physically demanding than handling the remote.
This technique may surprise some, but it’s very basic. For example, I hate running. I hated running after a ball when I was young and my mother insisted I learn to play tennis. I hated jogging when it was all the rage, and supposedly you could meet cute guys on the track. Which I never did, but that’s another story. If an activity involved running, I instantly counted myself out.
However, if physical activity involved music and dance, I was all over it. Ballet when I was young, jazz dancing in my 30s, ice dancing in my 40s, back to ballet in my 60s, and oh joy – the discovery of ballroom dancing in my 70s.
Know thyself. If what thrills you is running, find a form of exercise that features running. That may be jogging, or maybe not. It could be working the treadmill at your local gym; it could be trotting along with your beloved dog. It could be tennis or running to first base with your local softball team. There is any number of physical activities that incorporate running as a main feature.
There are so many different forms of exercise that, given a little thought and self-exploration, you will find one or more that appeal to you. You will be far more motivated to actually engage in the activity consistently if it resonates with who you are.
Have a Purpose
It’s a lot easier to keep yourself motivated and on track if you give yourself a goal, something tangible you are working towards. Otherwise, you may soon feel like a hamster on an endless wheel – same old thing day in, day out, week in, week out.
Pam Butcher, at 89, found a wonderful way of keeping her exercise choice motivating and rewarding. Although she started playing tennis in her earlier years, once her family was raised, Pam became intrigued by table tennis.
She started, as we all do, having to learn the sport, and in the process, got good at it. With that, Pam began to enter table tennis competitions, and in the years since has traveled far from her native U.K. to the U.S. and China among other countries, garnering medals as a World Table Tennis Champion in her age category.
Competition is a solid motivator for some. I know for myself, that competing as a ballroom dancer certainly gets me into that practice studio regularly. But if competition isn’t for you, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you find a purpose for doing what you do. The easiest way to create a purpose is to set goals.
For example, if your joy is jogging, set yourself some weekly or monthly goals. Put those up on your fridge or bathroom mirror, and check off your goals as you attain them. If your activity involves learning a skill, like tennis or cycling, create goals that track your progress.
Be gentle with yourself. Positive reinforcement works best, so set small goals that are realistically achievable, and reward yourself with gold stars or a latte, whatever says “Yeah, me!” to you.
Be sure to include a victory phone call to your significant other or best friend. Eventually, you can set more long-term goals, such as running in a marathon or cycling with a team. Regardless of how small or large your goals are, sharing the results with someone who knows what your goals are and is supportive of you. It is a time-honored way of helping stay the course.
And staying the course is what it’s all about. Enjoy.
Is there a form of exercise you’d like to try? Why? What type of physical or mental benefits have you experienced after exercising regularly?