We expect to get older and slow down.
Our knees don’t like stairs, trips to the chiropractor become more frequent and our heart rate goes up just thinking about exercise.
It’s a predictable downward slide that dumps us in a lazy-boy chair, sipping lukewarm, lite beer watching NBA playoffs.
The funny thing is that when we see someone who looks fit and still enjoys going for a healthy sweat, we’re tempted to excuse it as unusual or tell ourselves they’re different.
So, slowing down and letting gravity take over becomes the norm – staying healthy and fit becomes the exception.
(Hugh’s note: this post was first published in 2014 and I thought it could use a run around the block and trip to the gym. This is the smarter, stronger, better repost – enjoy!)
It’s ass backwards.
Let’s start with the ultimate question I ask my audiences:
Are you happy?
Ultimately, my goal is to be happy. As best I can.
Happiness motivates me to eat better, try to get 7 hours of shut-eye and build exercise into every day. Be happy.
So, let’s see if you’re happy:
Answer these 3 questions (as honestly as you dare) on a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 is happy with your current routines:
- I have a goal for my health that motivates me 1 2 3 4 5
- My exercise routine keeps me healthy and happy 1 2 3 4 5
- If I continue with my current health habits my happiness will be 1 2 3 4 5
Were you honest with yourself? And how do you feel about the results?
When I talk about healthy living to audiences there’s lots of interest. Not surprisingly, most people want to know how to lose weight, sleep better, eat better and run like we were in our 20’s again.
But, for most people the leap is too big.
It’s like telling someone to learn Spanish by living in the highlands of Peru for a month. Great idea – not likely to happen.
The first thing everyone needs to know is you already have everything you need to be healthy. Your body is perfectly designed to recover from almost all the abuse you’ve been dishing out for the last ____ [fill in the blank] years. Full time work, raising kids, paying off the mortgage and being a hockey Mom doesn’t mean you’re locked into a pattern of sedentary living.
Enter Younger Next Year
The New York Times best-seller, by retired lawyer Chris Crowley and the late gerontologist Henry Lodge delivers some of the simplest, most practical advice on healthy living.
Crowley is a recovering workaholic who’d neglected his health to the point of seeking medical help. Enter Dr. Lodge (Lodge passed away this year from prostate cancer). Together they paint a pretty scary picture of what happens when we ignore our health and what’s possible when you put just a bit of attention everyday on your health.
isn’t heavy on theory, but you will get solid advice that’s easy to put to work. That’s why I recommend it to all my friends who’ve long since fallen off the wagon and onto a downward road of physical health.
It’s this kind of advice that helped my shift from being an opportunistic athlete to more consistent and intentional.
In the past, I would train like a mad man when there’s a race on the calendar and than slack off in between. Now I’m very consistent – over the month. Here’s how it works:
My goal has always been one hour of exercise every day. Some days I’m travelling to give a speech and log in not much more than a 15 minute hotel room workout. But my average is always 30 or more hours a month.
That might seem excessive, but a big chunk of that time is made up from a fast walk with my dog (morning and night), added with a hard workout paddling, a run or 30 minutes of weights.
Most important to me is consistency—I don’t want the mental drain that comes from thinking about logging a workout—I just want to know it’s going to happen.
For motivation, I log all my workouts on a calendar and I have calendars going back 20 years. As passive as that might seem, the act of pulling out the dog-eared calendar at the end of the day to record my workouts is extremely satisfying. It a big reminder that I had the willpower to overcome how I felt, how long my list was or even what the weather was and I took care of myself. That’s huge.
Now, let’s deal with resistance.
Anytime is a Good Time
Your knees might be shot, bending over leaves you winded and you’ve let your belt out a notch (again).
That’s not a problem.
According to Crowley and Lodge, it’s never too late to regain balance, coordination, muscle, and aerobic capacity. “Most aging” wrote Lodge, “is just the dry rot we program into our cells by sedentary living, junk food and stress.”
But you have to start somewhere.It’s never too late to regain balance, muscle, and aerobic capacity. But you have to start somewhere. Click To Tweet
In a five-year study of 10,000 men (hard to argue with those numbers), the most fit had one-third the mortality rate of the rest. But here’s the great news – the guys that got fit during the five year study we able to drop their mortality rate by 50%!
Crowley, who’s now in his 70’s and who enjoys daily hard-core workouts, didn’t start turning his health around until his 50’s.
This is an important point: your body is ready to respond to what you throw at it. Sure you might be sore after your first bike ride, or visit to the gym in 20 years. But that just means your body is working – doing what it was designed to do – replacing old cells, adding muscle and burning calories.
I always encourage my audiences to start with convenience.
Choose an activity you can maintain every day, like walking, yoga, meditation or cycling. And then choose the diet change you can keep every day, like drinking water in the morning, cutting back on coffee and alcohol, or reducing consumption of anything white (pasta, bread, muffins, potatoes).
If you look at what you’ve quit on in the past, it probably failed because it wasn’t convenient.If you look at what you’ve quit on in the past, it probably failed because it wasn’t convenient. Click To Tweet
Let’s start with something convenient, like walking and why it might be a waste of time (the way you’re doing it now).
It wasn’t until I read Younger Next Year that I realized I was missing out. With a little more effort I’ve been able to turn my walks into a workout.
Here’s how it works.
According to the authors, we all need to elevate our heart rate to somewhere around 60-65% of our maximum heart rate to get any health benefit.
You can calculate maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For me that is 220-59 = 161 BPM. So a good, steady workout would be: 161 X .65 = 104 BPM).
The whole premise of Younger Next Year is to build healthy living into every day. That means find every opportunity you can in your day to get the body working. When you raise your heart rate you’re exercising your heart, building oxygen carrying blood capacity, burning fat (that only happens when you exercise at 60-65% of max. for extended periods), and building muscle.
And you live longer, stave off dementia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, heart disease, and stay slim. It’s also how you ski, swim, run, cycle, hike, or shoot hoops in your 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
You don’t need a heart rate monitor to know if you’re getting a workout. Just pause and take your pulse for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. That’s your heart rate.
The authors are big on exercising with heart rate monitors (you wear a elastic strap around your chest, a matching wrist watch reads out your heart rate). The idea is to get your heart rate up to 60-65% (at that level you’re working hard, but still able to talk) of your maximum heart rate for all workouts, even walking the dog. At that pace your body is building new blood vessels and mitochondria, basically increasing the size of your blood flow capacity, and (good news) burning fat.
To test this, I took a good long route I would normally take about 1:20 hours to complete and picked up the pace (I stopped a few times to check my pulse). I kept my pulse at about 110 over the whole course and dropped my total time to just over 55 minutes. I was definitely working harder and, at the end, felt like it was a good workout, but it was an easy pace to maintain.
I didn’t check Riley’s pulse, but he seemed pretty happy.
Hunt Sabre-toothed Tigers
Car manufacturers have a trick they’ve been playing on us for decades. They build new models on old chassis. The exterior is all buffed up and new, but it’s running on the same frame.
Our bodies are no different.
Our chassis (the heart, bones, organs, intestines, muscles etc) haven’t changed much from our distant Palaeozoic age ancestors. Sure, we’re sporting Fitbits and eating salads for lunch, but how our body responds to what we throw at it hasn’t evolved much.
And central to how we respond is our design to hunt and hibernate.
Here’s how it works:
When we exercise we’re hunting. Hunting is good. That’s when our muscles are stressed, breaking down, and getting rebuilt. Hunting stimulates healthy disease-fighting white blood cells attacking bacteria, viruses, inflammation, cancer cells, and all sorts of nasties (my word).
When we hibernate (sitting, reading a book, sleeping, watching TV or writing) the body stores fat. Hibernation is good…in moderation. When our ancestors hibernated it meant winter must be coming or times were tough. When we hibernate we also load up.
In Younger Next Year, Lodge promotes a balance between hunting (make the body work for it’s meal) and hibernating (restore, rest and get ready to hunt again). Do this year round and you will avoid the worst health epidemic our developed world has ever experienced:
“About 60 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease. Most of them don’t know it, because it’s preclinical, but it’s there. That’s the vast majority of Americans over fifty. It’s been the leading cause of death since 1918, even before WW II. Being sedentary is formally classified as a major cardiovascular risk factor, increasing risk more than smoking or high cholesterol. Vigorous exercise, the real thing, cuts your risk of dying from heart attack in half.” (Dr. Henry Lodge)
The good news is the solution is simple. In fact, it needs to be simple and convenient or it’s not likely to last.
The Solution is Simple
The solution is simple: build exercise into every day. Here’s some simple, convenient ways to get started:
- Get up 15 minutes earlier and go for a brisk walk right after your first cup of coffee. Don’t debate it: stack your new walking habit on top of your coffee habit (rain or shine).
- Park two blocks further from your office and walk to work.
- Move your recycling box, garbage can and water bottle away from your desk (even your printer) so you have to stand up to use them (this strategy is highly recommended by researchers who study the dangers of excessive sitting).
- Build a habit of standing for phone calls or conference calls and taking short standing/walking breaks throughout your day. Aim for standing and moving at least every 30 minutes.
- Three times a week download a favourite podcast and take in a brisk 30 minute walk or cycle right after work.
- Drink a glass of water before meals so you’re less likely to overeat. Also waiting 20 minutes before getting seconds gives your body time to register how full you feel.
None of these are a big deal—you can easily work them into your day without much sacrifice, but the results will be huge.
Not only will you be feeling a change in your body something else magical will happen. And this surprised me:
When you keep a promise with yourself – especially one that is non-essential – and that builds willpower. Willpower is what it takes to get sh*t done, even when you don’t feel like it.
We can both conserve willpower (choose your clothes the night before) and build willpower. And exercising a simple habit like drinking a tall glass of water before your morning cup of coffee is a small way to make a deposit in the willpower account.
Like magic, you are becoming a stronger person in body and in mind. And that’s healthy.
DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF MY EASY-TO-READ GUIDE
JOIN THE MORNING CLUB
Create extraordinary results while the world sleeps