Training for life: Keep your body moving for a long, healthy life

During summer vacation, three years ago, we rented bikes. I had not been on a bicycle for more than 20 years. Fortunately, the old adage “it’s just like riding a bike” held true. Indeed, I remembered how to ride, but I’d forgotten the exhilaration of pumping the pedals, getting into a rhythm, body and machine working in synchrony. Nostalgia returned me to the day I learned to ride, and the hours spent cycling up and down our steep, quarter-mile long, gravel driveway. I rediscovered an activity that combined pleasure and exercise.

Upon returning home, I found a bike with a comfortable seat and started riding regularly. Uncertain of my ability to maneuver in traffic, I decided to stick with laps around the neighborhood park. Over several weeks, I incrementally increased the distance and resistance to a level I could maintain for the time set aside to bike. It felt fantastic!

Neighbors started calling out the number of laps as I went past. After a few more weeks, they started asking, “What are you training for?” Surprised that they automatically assumed I was training for an event or competition and unsure how to respond, I simply smiled and kept going. After hearing that question repeatedly, I started saying, “Old age,” which got a lot of laughs.

Then after my older son got married, I changed my response to, “Grandparenthood,” which prompted more laughter. But lately, having considered the benefits gained from being physically active throughout the years, I cheerfully reply, “I’m training for life!”

Reactions to that statement were completely unexpected. People flag me down to ask what I mean. Anxious to be obliging and neighborly, I tell them. My body is made to move. In order for it to function optimally, it needs to be exercised. Since I want it to continue working well, I take it out and exercise it every day. I vary the activity so that none of the muscle groups are ignored. I use fuel that allows my body to work smoothly and prevents blockages that could clog its systems. I attempt to maintain a weight that it does not find taxing. I make sure it gets the rest it needs. In order to do all the things I want to do, my body has to be healthy. Keeping it healthy is my responsibility. Since I want to continue being able to do things with my husband, my kids, and eventually, with any luck, my grandkids, I keep moving. That’s what I mean when I say, “I’m training for life.”

This explanation has resulted in some lengthy, fascinating sidewalk conversations. So often, people will begin by making excuses for why they are not physically active. They don’t have a bike. They don’t have the right shoes. They can’t afford to take the time. They don’t feel like it.

They are surprised when I counter their excuses with: You don’t have to bike, you could walk. You don’t have to have special shoes, they just need to be comfortable. You can’t afford not to make time to take care of your body. There are all kinds of ways to add physical activity into your day, no matter what you are doing. (Having an exercise psychophysiologist for a husband comes in handy when making suggestions.) And doing anything is better than doing nothing. There are lots of times I don’t feel like walking, working out, biking, swimming, or whatever, but I do it anyway. Over the years, I’ve discovered that doing it feels so much better than not doing it. Usually, just getting started is all it takes.

If we want our children to adopt lifestyles that contribute to long, healthy lives, guess what? You got it. It starts with us. So:

Get ready. Evaluate your current fitness level. If necessary, get a physical to determine your readiness.

Adopt an activity. The possibilities are endless. Choose an activity that you are most likely to stick with and make it a part of your daily routine.

Find a partner. Becoming physically active can be a challenge, but having an ally can be motivating for both parties.

Start slow. Every January I see new faces out running — red-faced, breathing hard, struggling with every step. By the second week of January, they are nowhere to be seen. Set realistic goals and ease into the new routine.

Think of food as fuel. A college friend told me, “I eat to live. I don’t live to eat.” Establishing a practical attitude toward food can be empowering.

Focus on health benefits. Increased energy, improved sense of well being, and reduced stress are all associated with physical activity. These aren’t measured on a scale or reflected in a mirror.

Normalize exercise. Make physical activity as routine as brushing your teeth. Commit your family to training for life!

If you won’t take my word for it, perhaps you’ll listen to Dick Van Dyke who, at 90, goes to the gym every morning whether he feels like it or not. According to Van Dyke, when it comes to the body, you use it or lose it. Bottom line — keep moving!

Carolyn Waterbury-Tieman has been married for 29 years and has two sons. For 15 years, she worked as a family therapist and parent educator, and she has written extensively on the topic of parenting. To contact her, please e-mail parent4life@yahoo.com.