NEoma_151304 ADULTSWIMc

Jean Deupree, left, and Dorothy Prill at the Prairie Life pool. Deupree never took swimming lessons as a kid, but when she retired she gave it a shot. Now the 71-year-old Papillion, Nebraska, woman can cruise through the water at Prairie Life Fitness using the freestyle stroke and others.  JAMES R. BURNETT/THE WORLD-HERALD

Just imagine — a capsule with active ingredients to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer while helping to control body weight and reduce existing high blood pressure.

That same capsule would also help build and maintain bone, muscle and joints and would improve balance and mobility.

Psychological well-being and reduced risk of premature death would top off all of these benefits.

No doubt a pill like that would fly off store shelves. If only we could package exercise in a capsule!

Commitment to regular physical activity invariably leads to a host of positive lifestyle changes. The most immediate is an attitude change — an attitude reflecting a positive self-image that leads to a cascade of positive happenings. Soon other lifestyle behaviors such as healthy eating habits, optimum body weight, stress reduction and the avoidance of risk factors responsible for premature deaths follow.

Medical research and experience confirm that regular physical activity is the cornerstone of heath and the key to longevity. Much of what we usually associate with aging such as difficulty in walking, climbing stairs, and unsteadiness are the result of inactivity. Remember the old axiom — use it or lose it?

The hazards of being inactive are clear. Yet the simple fact is that most Americans are not healthy enough to take a chance on being and remaining inactive. Nonetheless more than 50% of Americans seem to be doing just that — taking a chance — by not achieving the recommended amount of physical activity, as the surgeon general reported in 2018.

Even more disturbing is that one in four Americans are not active at all! The report set a target of 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity, but approximately half of the U.S. adult population does not currently attain this level of physical activity.

It takes little or no effort to be unhealthy, as so many millions of Americans demonstrate. But it is surprising how little effort it takes to maintain a sensible physically active life when a person decides to take control of his or her life and to shape one’s future.

As stated earlier, regular vigorous physical activity is the cornerstone of health and the key to longevity. Commitment to a regular vigorous activity invariably leads to a host of positive changes. The most immediate is an attitude change — an attitude reflecting a positive self-image resulting in a cascade of positive happenings. Soon other behaviors such as healthy eating, optimum body weight, enhanced sleep, stress reduction and the avoidance of risk factors (high cholesterol, tobacco use and abuse of alcohol and drugs) follow.

To those people unwilling or unable to include regular vigorous exercise in their daily lives, there is good news. People who are usually inactive can improve their health and well-being by simply becoming moderately active. Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve a health benefit, although greater benefits are achieved through increased activity.

A study by OSU researchers of 25 active residents of a Tulsa retirement community with a mean age of 82 years demonstrated that regular strengthening exercises resulted in statistically significant improvement in leg strength with no occurrences of falls during an eight-week study period and no reports of falls during a subsequent three-year follow-up period in those engaging in strengthening exercise.

Living independently is important to older adults, and study after study continue to demonstrate the regular physical activity is critical to one’s ability to maintain mobility and functioning, even in frail adults. While greater benefit is found in vigorous physical activity, the good news is that even moderate activity has great benefit; 20 to 30 minutes of daily exercise such as walking, even if one uses a walker or a cane, will bring benefits. If walking is difficult, swimming, water exercises, calisthenics, wheelchair exercises, seated yoga or tai chi and other low-impact exercises will make a difference. And don’t neglect strength building exercises to counter the loss of muscle resulting from inactivity. What is most important is to make regular exercise a part of your daily routine.

It is all about attitude. Remember a quote from William James, father of American psychology: “If you can change your mind, you can change your life”

Dr. Tom Allen is a clinical professor at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.


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