I know you’re constantly hearing about the benefits of exercise—how it improves cardiovascular function, increases your metabolic function, reduces excess body fat, builds bones, and improves mood. But there’s a more subtle benefit that’s often overlooked. The right kinds of exercise strengthen “stabilizer” muscles--various muscles throughout the body that allow you to perform simple movements with more ease. The ability to perform these movements has been found to be a strong predictor of mortality. Research indicates that people who are better at simple physical tasks, such as gripping, walking, rising from a chair, and balancing on one leg, are more likely to live longer.
There’s a saying about the human body: “Use it or lose it.” When we’re younger, this doesn’t seem to be an issue—but as we age, we develop routines and habits that over time can rob us of our ability to perform even the most simple of tasks. This is exacerbated by conditions like arthritis.
When I was growing up, one week kids rode their bikes and then played baseball. The next week they shot hoops, went swimming, or rode a skateboard. The wide variety of activities developed different muscle groups and improved neurological pathways. Without even trying, children naturally were the ultimate cross-trainers.
Nowadays things have changed somewhat. Children who seem to be better in one sport or activity are often pushed and encouraged to concentrate on that one activity. Their bodies become less adaptable and not as “well-rounded.” As a consequence we’re also seeing more and more repetitive-type sports injuries in children. As we age, we fall into similar routines and patterns that eventually begin to limit our mobility and abilities.
Variety is not just the spice of life; it is the key to life.
If you want to live longer and remain independent longer, change your routine constantly.
Ideally, we should all participate in a variety of different types of exercise and activities. If you have an exercise routine, keep varying it. Try different types of exercises.
If you do nothing else, at least start walking. But rather than continuing on the same route every day, change the routine so you’re walking on inclines. Get off the path and walk on irregular, rougher ground. Walk up the hill and back down. Walk up and down the stairwells. Change your pace. Walk faster. Walk slower. Walk barefooted in the sand. Change shoes.
Switch hands doing chores like washing the car or doing the dishes or shaving. To your body, it’s like learning a new skill and a challenge to both the nervous system and your coordination. Start opening doors with your left hand instead of your right. Unload the dishwasher from the other side. Hold onto the counter and practice standing on one foot and then the other, to help improve your overall balance. Start stretching in the morning. Change the chair you sit in when you watch TV.
Every day, every joint in the body needs to be put through its full range of motion. Spend a few minutes each day moving each and every joint.