What happens after you start

Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to start exercising. You’ve chosen the program you’re going to use. You have your workout gear and a spiffy new pair of sneakers. Now what? What happens after you start to exercise?

Commitment to your health

It’s been a few days. The initial exhilaration  of the newness of your exercise routine has worn off. You’re starting to realize that exercise may not get easier as time goes on. 

It never gets easier even after you start to exercise.

You’re right! And that’s the point. Exercise will not get easier. In order for you to get all the benefits of exercise (improved cognition, increase bone density, increase strength), you have to challenge yourself every day. Of course, the point is not to challenge yourself until you’re ready to drop, but at the end of a workout you should feel like you really can’t do any more without some recovery time. Your final cooldown and stretch should be absolute bliss. After a cardio workout you should be warm and sweating. And after a strength workout you should feel like you couldn’t do another push-up if your life depended on it – at least for a half hour or so.

You know that old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?” The same applies to exercise. Exercise is tough – you’re tougher. You’re exercising to reap those health benefits I mentioned above. And know that you’re not alone. Exercise is hard every day for me. It should be hard every day for everyone.

Make it a habit

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about habits. It takes about 3 weeks for anything to become a habit. If you do the same thing at pretty much the same time every day (or almost every day) for 3 weeks, the better the chances that it will become a habit. The same for exercise. I work out in the late afternoon 4 or 5 times a week. I get home, walk the dogs, check on the bearded dragon, get the mail, change my clothes and exercise. That’s my routine. We humans love routine. Exercise is a part of mine. A few weeks after you start to exercise, it will be part of your routine too. But before exercise becomes a routine, you must put thought and deliberation into it.

I’ve emphasized the use of a calendar or planner in the past. If you’re serious about making that commitment to your health, make appointments with yourself to exercise. (Here is Zapier’s ranking of the best calendar apps for 2021.) Four days a week for the next three weeks – just write it in or make a repeating event on your digital calendar. And keep that date with yourself. You’ll find that in a few weeks, you’ll start your workout routine as a matter of course. Remember that you’re doing this not only for you, but for those who depend on you. Like an oxygen mask on an airplane – when they drop, put yours on first so that you can take care of others.

No one is going to do it for you.

You have your family and a circle of friends. Your teachers and mentors are, of course, invaluable. You’ve got lots of acquaintances. And there are the influencers you follow every day on Instagram, Facebook, and any other social media platform you subscribe to. No one is going to do it for you. And you know that there are loads of reasons to exercise – including improving your memory and reverse mental decline!

None of these people are going to exercise for you.

You have only yourself to rely upon.

You read everything you can about weight loss. Intermittent fasting. Mediterranean diet. Paleo. Vegetarian. Pescatarian. Low carb. Yes, they all work. But no one is going to do it for you. You actually have to do the work yourself.

The nitty gritty

Once you really decide that it’s up to you to get off the couch and exercise, you really have to do your homework and figure out exactly what you’re going to do. As many exercise pros as there are out there – that’s how many programs there are. Chances are a lot of them are really good. But you have to figure out exactly what you’re going to commit to.

Commitment

No one is going to do it for you. Choose an exercise program you can live with and commit to.

Because it is a commitment. I can shout from the rooftops that exercise is absolutely necessary to avoid the most obvious signs of aging – weight gain, loss of muscle tone, loss of balance – you have to do the work. And no one is going to do it for you.

Yes, it’s work. I’m not going to sugar-coat it and tell you that it’s not work. Because I’d be lying. 

And you have to do it almost every day. I don’t exercise every day, so I can’t tell you to do something that I’m not willing to do. The CDC says that you need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity plus 2 days of total body strength work. That’s 30 minutes 5 days a week of moderate aerobics plus muscle strengthening work on 2 days. I do more vigorous aerobics and combine that with weight work 5 days a week. Most days I do 30 minutes. 

If you’re new, don’t go all-out. Work up to it. You don’t want to wake up the day after you exercise and not be able to move. That completely defeats the purpose!

Choose something you can live with – for a long time

Choose a program you can live with for a long time, because you’re going to be doing it for a long time. Remember – no one is going to do it for you, so you’re going to be listening to that music and that instructor’s voice (if you’re going with a group class – either live, streaming or DVD) most days for a long time.

That’s not to say that you have to live with your first choice forever. If, after you’ve given the program a couple of weeks and find that you really can’t stand it – by all means change it.

And, it is a good idea to change up your routine every once in a while. I rotate the types of workouts I do every couple of months. Both for variety and to give my muscles a chance to experience new growth.

So – be happy with your exercise choice. Because you have to live with it and do it.

Dead battery

I had to replace my car’s battery last week. It was old, hadn’t been used much in the pandemic, and was close to dying.

Pre-COVID, I was on the move several times every week. Classes, practices. Occasionally a road trip to a dog competition or even a major road trip for a working vacation. But after the lockdown, I didn’t go anywhere more than 2 miles away, or do anything.

My car is about 9 years old, and it was still on its first battery. It had regular maintenance, and it had been used to travel many miles every week. But the travelling stopped. The battery didn’t get much use and was dying.

A metaphor

We can use my car’s battery as a metaphor for our bodies. With proper maintenance and a great deal of good use, we’ll thrive for years. With maintenance but lack of use, we’ll fade away.

We’ll see our doctors regularly, have all the prescribed tests. We’ll get the healthiest, freshest foods. We’ll listen to the top podcasts and improve our minds. But without the use, our bodies will wither.

Use it or lose it

That old maxim is true. We’ve got to use our muscles or they’ll lose strength. We’ve got to use our bones or they’ll crumble away. We’ve got to use our heart or it will be subject to decay.

Move it

Don't let your body be like my dead battery. Use it or lose it.

Exercise is like a road trip for the body. Back in the good old days on a road trip I would drive for 8 hours a day, making pit stops every couple of hours. Exercise is not quite like that, as we only really need a few hours a week.

But exercise is crucial for a body that will last and get us through everything we need it to. 

We need strength work for our muscles and bones, and cardio for our heart and lungs. 

And it’s all good for the brain. Exercise has been shown to improve memory and focus. It helps us sleep better at night. Read more: http://fitness-over-50.com/2018/04/more-reasons-to-exercise/

So, don’t be like my car’s battery. Use your body or you risk losing it.

Focus on what you’re doing

I hate running. But if I focus on my form, I get the maximum benefit in the least amount of time.

I’ve said it before – I don’t like to work out. I hate exercising. I hate getting out of breath and sweaty. I hate running. I hate working my joints when they don’t want to get worked.

But I do it. 

The benefits

I do it because of the benefits I know I’m receiving from exercise. Exercise helps my aging brain hold onto memories, as well as learn new stuff. Exercise helps my bones and muscles stay strong. Exercise helps my endurance. Exercise helps me sleep better.

So I do it. But I don’t have to like it.

Maximize my focus, minimize my time

So when I exercise, I want to make sure that I’m maximizing my time and not work any longer than I have to. So I focus on what I’m doing to make sure that I’m really targeting what I’m supposed to be targeting. 

Years ago, when I went to a health club to exercise I saw women (it was an all-women health club) lift one-pound weights with no attention to form. I saw women mosey on the treadmill while looking at their phones. And I saw women in group classes just going through the motions.

Time to kill? Not me!

I wondered about those women. They must have had so much time on their hands, they could afford to be at the health club for hours at a time and burn fewer calories than I did in my half hour or 40 minutes. (How rude were those women – not giving their all to that instructor? She was giving her all to them! The least  they could do was reciprocate.) But I had to get back to work! I was on a deadline! I had to put my time in on the stair machine or treadmill or rowing machine or free weights, clean up and get back to work. 

And now – I work out at home and I still hate it. But I give my all. If I’m going to devote that much time to something I dislike doing, I’m going to do it well and not feel guilty about it. Going through the motions doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m exercising for a reason so I’ll do it right! 

The secret to success

The secret is to just pay attention. Focus on what you’re doing. If you can’t do a move properly, modify that move to give you maximum benefit now and help you get stronger or more flexible so you are able to do that move the right way at some point in the future. Get the maximum benefit from every exercise you do. From your warmup through the workout to your cool-down.

Sharpen your focus

Everyone exercises for different reasons. Sure, some of them may be similar – like staying fit, losing weight, strengthening muscles. But exercise also helps you in other ways: it helps your brain.

Exercise equals food for the brain

Your focus will improve after you exercise.

As we age, it seems like everything deteriorates. It’s the old “use it or lose it” adage. If we don’t exercise, our muscles become weak and may even atrophy. If we don’t do weight-bearing exercises, our bones become brittle and may break.

Exercise provides oxygen for the brain, but even more, exercise helps our brain in other ways.

A recent study of athletes’ brains showed that they were better at ignoring distracting background noise and better at focusing on the sounds that really mattered to them. The study tested athletes and other participants by attaching electrodes to their scalps and studying the electricity their brains produced when different sounds were introduced. 

Dr. Kate Essad, Lead of Sports Neurology, Director of Concussion Management at Aurora Health Center in Milwaukee, says that “by doing activities like sports, which require habituation of reaction time and integrating many different sensory systems, your brain can function faster and it can perform tasks faster – and probably better.”

“Most neurological conditions, migraine, dementia – all of them are benefitted by regular exercise because the brain requires fresh blood flow and cardiovascular conditioning,” she says. “And all of these conditions are reduced by stimulating your brain. It’s the most important thing for dementia and cognitive decline – things people get when they age.”

Take a focus break

So, if you’re sitting at your desk and have been working away for a couple of hours and your mind starts to wander – you’re losing focus – take a break. Get up and walk for ten minutes. When you get back and start work again, chances are you’ll be able to concentrate better and be much more productive.

Dr. Essad also points out that there are other ways to help your brain too, like reading and writing, learning a new language, or playing a musical instrument.

Everyday things to help your brain

And everyday there are things we can do to make sure our brains age as well as the rest of us:

Get plenty of exercise, practice mindfulness or meditation and make healthy food choices.

Read about how I clear my mind so that it’s able to focus on important stuff.

More reasons to exercise!

I hate working out. I do not like to exercise. You know that – I’ve told you often enough. But I like to do active things. I like to eat. So I exercise. And here are some more reasons why we need to exercise:

Exercise reduces bad moods and depression. That “exercise high” is not a myth! Regular exercise helps the brain produce a protein that seems to fortify parts of the hippocampus susceptible to depression, neuroscience has revealed. And Swedish researchers have found that exercise helps to keep your brain safe from harmful substances (one is called kynurenine) that build up during stress. Exercise produce changes in skeletal muscle that can purge the blood of kynurenine before it has a chance to cause the brain inflammation that is linked to depression. Some doctors have even begun prescribing exercise to their patients!

Exercise also helps your muscle memory stick! Try that new skill then do some aerobic exercise for 15 minutes right afterward. A test at the University of Copenhagen showed that people who exercised right after practicing a new skill did better the following week than those who did not exercise. That same brain protein (brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF) improves muscle memory as well!

Aerobic exercise also increases memory power! A six-month study at the University of British Columbia showed that older women who power-walked twice a week for 40-minutes each had better recall than those who just lifted weights or did not exercise. The power walking raised the study subjects’ heart rates to 70 – 80% of their target heart rates.

Still not convinced? Exercise can also reverse the mental decline – the effect of a long-term fatty diet. Now this shouldn’t be a license to go crazy and eat spaghetti and pizza like crazy, but there is hope! At least in rats – a University of Minnesota study found that when rats on the equivalent of a burger-stuffed-pizza diet exercised daily, their mental deterioration reversed itself after four months. At four months, these fat-fed mice who ran had better memory function than non-exercisers on a low-fat diet. And if you like the occasional adult beverage, exercise can help you there too! A new study published in Alcoholism showed that drinkers who worked out had far more white matter than their sedentary peers.

So, I guess I’ll be working out regularly for the foreseeable future. How about you?