Just like you exercise your muscles, practice your skills

Use it or lose it!

They say, “Use it or lose it!” And that’s true of pretty much everything.

We exercise to improve our health. If we don’t exercise, our health tends to decline.

We exercise to improve our cognition. Yup, exercising our body helps our mind.

We exercise to get stronger. Use those muscles or they become weak.

We exercise to retain flexibility. Don’t stretch and our flexibility decreases.

We exercise aerobically to strengthen our heart and increase lung function. Don’t exercise for a few days and we’re out of breath faster.

Practice not only makes perfect…

The same holds true for other skills. If you played piano when you were younger, you know what I’m talking about! Don’t practice and you won’t even remember where the keys are.

We practice our balance to stay upright and prevent future falls. Falls, especially as we get older, can be dangerous, if not tragic. From slipping and falling on the ice to rolling an ankle on broken pavement, improved balance can help.

Download my “Week of Balance” booklet. A free .pdf file to help you get started retaining your balance.

In dog training it’s the same. Lots of skills are involved in training a dog to compete in obedience or agility. Don’t practice one of them and the behavior deteriorates. My agility instructor likens this theory to circus performers spinning plates on a long dowel. He’d get a row of plates spinning, and when the last one started the first one would start to slow down and topple. The performer would have to run back to the first one and start it spinning again.

Calm your mind

Being able to calm your mind is another skill that requires practice. There are so many distractions in the world that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to focus on a single thing. From our own devices – phones, tablets, laptops, TVs – to the world around us, there’s a lot to take in.

I find it imperative to be able to narrow my focus. I get more done when I’m not trying to do several things at once. We all have heard people extol the virtue of multi-tasking, but the only things that benefit from multi-tasking are computers.

We’re much more productive when we can focus on a single task and then move on to the next one.

Guided meditations can help calm the mind

But many find it hard to calm the mind at first. It just takes practice. And sometimes a little help. Check out my free short, guided meditations. Sometimes just a couple of minutes of a guided meditation helps clear your mind. And there are also lots of free smartphone meditation apps. (I find these to be a little long, but everyone’s different.)

Guided meditations:

Garden meditation

Ocean meditation

River meditation

Yet another study supports what we know …

Another study that supports what we already know: that those who exercise  are in better health than those who don’t.

Cycling and exercise for health

82-year-old Norman Lazarus, a professor emeritus at London’s Kings College, requested that a study be performed on the health of older active cyclists. King’s College and the University of Birmingham took him up on it. Researchers compared 125 amateur cyclists, ages 55 through 79, with a group of people ages 57 through 80 and with a younger group ages 20 through 36. All of the noncycling group were healthy but did not exercise regularly.

Lazarus had noted that he and his riding group were not experiencing many of the frailties, such as joint problems or chronic illness, that affect so many other people as they age. His group had been avid cyclists for most of their lives.

Less evidence of aging in cyclers

The researchers found that those who exercised – in this case cycled – regularly did not show evidence of the outward signs of aging.

The male cyclists in the study had to be able to ride 62 miles in 6½ hours, and females had to be able to ride 37 miles in 5½ hours, according to the study, published in the journal Aging Cell. I’m not a cyclist but seems like a fairly intense regimen.

Less loss of strength

In a series of lab tests, researchers found cyclists did not lose muscle mass and strength like the noncyclists did. The cyclists also stopped the clock on increased body fat and cholesterol, and the men’s testosterone levels remained high.

Improved immune systems

One of the most surprising findings was that the cyclists’ immune systems were equivalent to those of healthy young people in the study, as measured by the presence of immune cells, known as T-cells. The cells are produced by the thymus gland and typically start to decrease as the thymus begins to shrink after age 20. Depleted immune systems are one of the greatest barriers to health in the elderly.

Intense exercise is the key

We know from other studies that cycling is not the important part of this – the intense exercise is.

The CDC recommends that adults get 150 minutes a week of moderately intense exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

The moral

The moral here – do something! It’s better than nothing. And even if you can’t do even moderately intense exercise now, you soon will be! So get moving!