Everyone knows that exercise is good for their health and longevity, but so few of us are willing to get off our butts and actually do it. According to a 2009 Roper poll, only one in four Americans can manage to squeeze in a half-hour of exercise five times a week. This despite the mountain of data proving that exercise extends lives. A study by the Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, for example, found that men who became fit decreased their risk of dying of any disease by a remarkable 44 percent.
On Jan. 13, I met David Dworkin, a Julliard-trained musician who has invented a wonderfully innovative solution to exercise phobia. It's called Conductorcise, and as the name implies, it gets the heart racing by turning everyone into an orchestra conductor. "I hand someone a baton, I teach them 1-2, 1-2," said Dworkin, imitating a conductor keeping the beat. "The response is always smiles. People are moving -- even if they're chair-bound."
Dworkin travels around the country leading Conductorcise classes for people of all ages and abilities. "I've taught this in assisted living, nursing homes, to people with Parkinson's," said Dworkin, a retired professional clarinetist, teacher and conductor of several community orchestras. During each Conductorcise session, Dworkin -- who said he's pushing 77 -- mixes in interesting facts about the history and characteristics of the music he and his students are conducting.
Turning yourself into a maestro may not sound like a workout, but when it comes to improving longevity, it definitely qualifies. That's because study after study has shown that moderate exercise can be as beneficial to your health as Mr. Universe-style exercise. In a ten-year project called the MacArthur Foundation Study of Aging in America, researchers found that moderate exercise slashed the risk of developing high blood pressure by half. It also prevented coronary artery disease, diabetes and colon cancer.
"There is a simple, basic fact about exercise and your health: fitness cuts your risk of dying. It doesn't get much more 'bottom line' than that," wrote two of the scientists who managed the project in a book about the research, "Successful Aging." What counts as moderate exercise? Try gardening, walking the dog, or parking far from the mall entrance so you have to walk to it. And yes, even conducting Mozart and Handel works.
Dworkin was at Atria, a Manhattan retirement community, on Jan. 13 for the dedication of the Dr. Robert N. Butler Active Aging Center there. Butler, who died last year, was a Pulitzer-prize-winning gerontologist who promoted exercise as a means to healthy aging through his organization, the International Longevity Center.
Butler was a big fan of Conductorcise, so it's no surprise that Atria plans to hold the conducting sessions in the room they named for him.
Ask Dworkin how society can get more people to exercise, and he offers a simple solution: "It's got to be fun."