It has become the conventional wisdom in recent times that we all need to take some form of exercise. With modern gadgets and mass car ownership it is easy to slip into a sedate life style and the health risks that go with it. People often wonder what type of exercise they should do and I believe the answer is always the same, do something that you really enjoy! It is no use at all doing some exercise just to get fit as it will probably just be a fad and you won’t keep it up if it does not stimulate you mentally.
The whole idea of getting fit I believe is very modern. People until recent times were fit because compared to us they generally had harder lives. Many people were employed in working the land, which was very physical before mechanisation and with no modern transport anywhere that they went they walked.
Young and old, different needs.
When we are young we have more energy than we know what to do with. Taking part in sports can be a healthy outlet for aggression stress and the competitive need as well as a social activity team spirit and a sense of identity. As we age we no longer have the energy for bursts of extreme activity. The older person can do without any unnecessary sports injuries, extra physical assertion is now more about maintenance, use it or loose it. Hopefully as we age, being more content and comfortable with ourselves, the need to compete and beat others is replaced by personal challenges and our own goals. Over the years I have had more than one new student join a Wing Chun class who had just given up football. The great sin that they had all committed was the same, they had got too old! Wing Chun with its low kicks and bursts of speed that last only a few seconds, was taken up by one such ex football player at forty seven, he got his black belt and was still turning up for the odd class in his sixties! This students motto was , sneaky is best, and with fox like cunning he would delight in catching out his far younger opponents, he was a real character. I got him to try Tai Chi but he never really took to it, we are all different, it was a privilege to have taught you Phil.
A life long pursuit.
The best way to stay fit over the long term is probably to have a passion for a physical activity that lasts for decades. The longer that you have been practicing something for then the better you are likely to be at it. Certainly with greater experience and knowledge you will get more from your chosen past time and possibly be considered by other younger participants to be quite an authority on your sport.
It could be scuba diving South American tango or horse riding, if you stick with something then when you are old you will still have your self respect by being a seasoned veteran and the respect of others.
The problem is that for many our interests change over a long period of time, not many are mad about five a side football in their fifties and not many in their twenties are really big on gardening! In my thirties I once bumped into an old school friend, I look at what old people do he said, that’s why I go swimming, that is wisdom I thought.
A few years ago another friend got an allotment plot. He spoke often with great respect of the wealth of advice that he and others got from an old boy who had the same plot for fifty years. Maybe in the street he may have looked like just another old man but to many other allotment holders he was greatly respected, treasured even, for his wealth of experience and very fit and active for his age.
Little and often
Some forms of exercise can do you more harm than good if done occasionally or even once a week. It’s the exercise that we do regularly that is the most beneficial and in the long term the most sustainable. These are the sorts of exercise that are so part of you that you take them for granted and probably only realise how much good that they were doing you when you have stopped them for a bit. The elderly person that you see riding a bike every day may take a bit longer to complete their journey as the years go by but they probably feel little strain from it. If that person had to stop for several months for what ever reason getting back into the routine of it could be agony and after a certain time maybe impossible.
Something like dog walking is very much a little and often, all weather activity. Amongst many other great things, a dog is a personnel trainer, rain or shine those pleading brown eyes announce that it is time for your twice daily work out and grumble you might there is no arguing. One Wing Chun club that I was involved with at one time had sixteen black sash members. The kung fu forms of one black sash called Mike were noticeably better than any of the other members due to Zak. Being a large Malamute Zak’s energy level required a good twenty minutes off the lead in a local field twice daily and Mike put this time to good use twice daily doing his forms and it showed!
With exercise being in a good routine that you keep up for years or better still decades is everything. Best of all is the daily or several times daily routine that just becomes part ofyour life. Mike was certainly killing two birds with one stone and cross training before the word was invented thanks to mans best friend.
Moderate or extreme exercise, short or long term view.
Extreme exercise definitely has a place in character development and being driven past what you thought that you could do or could ever have done on your own gives confidence. A period of very intense training for some competition or test can teach focus, add to this keeping to a special diet for a time and a person learns discipline and improves their self esteem. So much can be learnt by giving up short term pleasures for a longer term goal that can be useful in life in general. We all need a purpose in life and the devil truly does make work for idle hands, a period of intense training for a demanding goal can be a very good thing for many good reasons.
Anything extreme In nature is always short term. A very high tide the storm or heat wave that everyone remembers are always brief and it is the same in our lives or should be with extreme exercise.
Moderate exercise in the long term is really the way forward, we can’t live on past glories and in the end what counts is what you have done today.What is more important talking about what you could do years ago or planning what you will be able to do in the years to come? As we age the fact that you were athletic when you were young counts for little, it’s the moderate exercise that you do regularly that is important.
Moderate and extreme exercise two sides of the same coin.
I once ran twelve miles on my own I never did it again and could never do it now or in anyway want to but I’m glad that I did and won’t forget it. One summer when I was about twenty four I used to run two miles around a large park each day. It was just too hot one day so I went for my run in the evening, it started to rain. I fell into an effortless glide, this was a one off I have never been a good runner but on this night everything reversed
and it was less effort to keep running than to stop!
My point is that if I hadn’t been in the routine of doing for a fit twenty four year old a moderate two mile daily run, twelve miles out of the blue would have been damaging! When we are young a daily moderate exercise routine that puts the body through its full range of movements can mean that your body is better prepared for the shock of of the occasional extreme exertion that you may ask of it. As we age the extreme exercise becomes less and less realistic and the moderate maintenance exercise becomes more and more important.
Cross training, more than one string to your bow.
Although to do any exercise has got to be better than no exercise to regularly do two or even three forms of exercise is even better again. Getting a good balance by following a few different types of exercise is the concept behind cross training.
There is probably no more natural form of exercise than walking. For lower body strength and working the heart and lungs what could be better and have all the safety of being low impact in nature? The old Chinese saying goes, death starts in the feet, the best way to look after your feet is regular walking.
The exercise involved in gardening is good for building and maintaining strength in both the upper and lower body. As well all that pushing lifting and pulling gardening causes you to connect with the earth and breath in all that fresh air and then eat home grown food the product of your labour.
Stretching yourself releasing tension and body alignment will cause better breathing and calm down the mind. Done regularly this type of mind focus body approach means that you are in a better position to cope with a sudden physical extreme demand. Tai Chi and yoga are both excellent systems for achieving all this.
It’s up to you!
The only person who can say what the best type of exercise is for you is you. A few varied activities will probably be better than one thing done to the extreme, it’s good to be realistic and plan for the long term. Most of all with exercise find something that you really like doing, then it won’t be so hard to do or a five minute wonder!