You've heard all the claims about the value of exercise. Yet, do you still find it difficult to motivate yourself to hop on that treadmill, lift those weights or stretch those taut quadriceps? Perhaps this latest research, from an ongoing study called "Berlin Fit," will give you that added boost to your exercise motivation. Even if you're tied to your treadmill, you'll find renewed reasons to keep that workout routine an important part of your life.
As reported by University of Konstanz psychologist Verena Klusmann in the March 2012 issue of the Psychology of Sport and Exercise,, regular physical activity can make you both stronger in body and mind. Using a rigorous experimental design, Klusmann compared three groups of sedentary older adult women before and after a 12-week period to pinpoint the effects of physical exercise on attitudes toward getting older. The women, ranging from 70 to 93 years old were randomly divided into three groups with about 80 participants in each group. The physical exercise group completed three 90-minute sessions per week, during which they rode a stationary bike, lifted weights, and improved their balance. They were compared to a cognitive exercise group who received classroom training in the use of computers. The third group went about their usual everyday routines which did not include either type of specific activity.
All women in the study completed a brief six-item scale that measured their attitude toward getting older. The items tapped such sentiments as whether, as they aged, they felt worse about themselves and their lives, had to give up things they enjoyed, and felt less useful. On the average, at the start of the study, participants scored at about midway on rating scale, and all three groups received about the same beginning scores. Klusmann also measured their "approach" motivation regarding physical exercise, in which they answered questions about whether they found it fun and enjoyable.
By the end of the six-month period, the women in the physical exercise group showed a significant improvement in their positive attitude toward getting older compared to the women in the two control conditions. Surprisingly, though, the women in the computer training group actually became slightly more negative toward getting older over the course of the study. This shows that the results were specific to exercise, not just group activity. If anything, it's possible that the women in the computer class felt worse about aging because they became more aware of some of their cognitive limitations, especially if they found the material to be difficult to learn.
Over the course of the study, the women in the physical exercise group became stronger in their approach motivation to physical activity. The more they exercised, the more they found the exercise to be rewarding for its own sake. The exercise became less of a chore and more of a pleasure as the weeks went on. In fact, that improvement in their attitude toward exercise itself seemed to play a major role in transforming their views about aging in general.
The motto to "use it or lose it" is generally one that helps people age better. The more you use your body and your mind, the better you will preserve your abilities. However, as shown in this study, there is something special about using your body that gives physical activity particularly unique advantages over mental activity. Once you get yourself moving, the activity will become rewarding in its own right. It will seem less like a chore and more like a pleasure, and you'll have conquered half the battle.
It's also important to consider the fact that the women in this study exercised as a group over the 12-week period. There's no denying the fact that the social aspects of exercise can become an incentive for many people, especially those who need the support of their gym buddies. By working out in a group, these women undoubtedly were able to benefit from their shared experiences, particularly in the early stages before they gained confidence in their physical abilities. It's unlikely that the same bonding occurred among the women taking the computer class. In any case, a combination of social benefits plus some endorphin (the "feel-good" hormone stimulated by exercise) would have made for a powerful combination for the women in the physical exercise training condition.
The Kunsmann study also points to the value of a variety of types of physical exercise. The women in the study worked on improving their aerobic fitness, but they also spent time in weight training and perfecting their balance. This is the trifecta of a good exercise program. It's not enough to run, hop up and down off a step, or work the treadmill or elliptical machine. You have include resistance training in your workouts not only to strengthen your muscles, but to strengthen your bones. Improving your balance also helps you carry out your daily activities and, importantly, avoid falls.
Although this study was conducted on an all-female sample, it's a safe bet that men and women alike can benefit from these ingredients of a healthy workout regime. What's even better, the more active you are, the more you'll enjoy your new levels of activity, health, and -- eventually -- your outlook on life.
Yoga offers a myriad of wellness benefits: flexibility, balance, centeredness, strength, mindfulness and others. Yoga is a great option for aging bodies, as it promotes working within your own comfort zone. Postures and sequences range from gentle and relaxing to more intensive for advanced yogis.
Another way to promote flexibility and overall health is incorporating some simple stretches into your daily routine, be it at home, at the gym or even outdoors. Stretching prevents injury, can relieve back pain and boosts energy. Note: It's important to stretch properly to avoid injury. Check out some good examples of stretches here and these common stretching mistakes.
Biking is a great low-impact, cardiovascular workout, not to mention it's a lot of fun. There are a few ways to incorporate biking into your routine. Joy rides in your free time are always a good option -- alone or with a group. You could consider joining a local bike group or riding to nearby destinations instead of taking the car. Stationary bikes also have great health benefits. Already a cycler? Here's how to get more benefit from your bike ride.
One of the most beneficial exercises is something humans have been doing for centuries: walking. Simple modifications to your routine, like parking further away and walking the extra distance or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can really add up to boost your overall health. For an even greater benefit, take brisk walks that get your heart rate up.
Pilates is another low-impact exercise that's ideal for aging bodies. It's similar to yoga but puts more emphasis on gaining control and balance of the body by strengthening the core muscles. Pilates can be done in a class or at home with a video or other guide. This piece offers a great run-down of the activity, along with images of some classic pilates stretches and workouts.
Tennis is a classic sport, well-loved for being fun and great for you. It's a strong aerobic workout and helps keep you agile, especially important as you get older. Tennis is also a very social activity -- great for the body, mind and spirit!
Swimming is easy on the body and is also one of the most comprehensive workouts, hitting all the major muscle groups: shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips and glutes. If you're getting serious about swimming, it's important to learn proper techniques, but even free-styling in the local pool or outdoors in the summer is a great way to exercise.
Dancing is one of those activities that doesn't feel like working out, but is an incredible aerobic exercise. It's a good option for those that want more physical activity but don't like the gym or in the winter when it's harder to get outdoors. There are a bunch of styles to choose from: ballroom dancing, contra dancing, salsa, ballet, tap, country and others.
As the body ages, running and jogging can take a toll on the joints, knees or back and potentially cause injury. An elliptical cross-training machine is an alternative to running, which still gets your heart rate up but at a lower impact.
You can take a simple walk to the next level by bringing weights along to build strength in your arms and boost the cardio benefits. Strength-building techniques like pushups, squats and lunges are easy to do at home or can be squeezed into buckets of free time throughout the day.
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