Exercise for the Aging and the Aged

Fifteen month old Golu  (my god grandson) on a walk in, Nainital Dist.

My daily newspaper – the Times of India – that is truly daily here in India, unlike when I lived in Canada and the daily newspaper took a holiday every Sunday, as any sensible human institution should, has a very sensible weekly page on health issues that I read with much interest. Today’s page reported the effects of exercise on longevity from a recent collaborative study between the Brigham and Women’s hospital and the National Cancer Institute in Washington. I presume Brigham is a man and therefore the study applies to men just as well as women although I fail to understand why the Brigham and Women’s hospital has excluded all men except Brigham, from its nomenclature at least, if not from its corridors.

The study reported that just 75 minutes of brisk walking per week resulted in an increase of life expectancy by 1.8 years whereas 450 minutes of brisk walking was associated with a gain of 4.5 years. Based on this finding I hope the reader is not tempted to increase the walking to a thousand minutes a week in the hope of further gains because in this latter case one may die of exhaustion quite soon, especially if one is aged.

This report reminded me of the need for regular physical exercise for all, especially the aged, but for reasons quite different from those of Brigham and Women’s hospital. There is something else I disagree with this prestigious hospital aside from their nomenclature. Let me explain.

During my younger days when I went to receive far more education, a Ph.D., than most of my friends and family I discovered that my views, although in agreement with many of my learned colleagues, at the universities I worked in, began to differ from many of my friends and family on some matters. However, the differences were for the most part not of a major kind. Aside from my profession I have had deep interests in the spiritual side of life. Explorations, reflections and study in this arena have caused a major difference in views from the majority of persons I know in some fundamental beliefs about life. Since these views are so diametrically opposite to widely held beliefs, for the most part, I usually keep these to myself. However, when I do explain the logic behind them, friends are convinced although only temporarily. They soon revert back to their old beliefs out of long habit. I shall mention just two of these here that has bearing on the topic at hand – the benefits of physical exercise for the aging and the aged.

The first is that I believe regular physical exercise is beneficial not for the purpose of increasing longevity but for improving the quality of life for the year’s one is destined to live. As regards longevity – I am not in favor of it personally and would not like to prolong my life unnecessarily more than desirable. From my spiritual beliefs I believe in reincarnation and have no fear of leaving this body for a new one. Each time around, if I go sooner rather than later I would get to spend a greater number of years as a younger person on this planet rather than a tottering old man. I much prefer the former and feel that when one has done one’s bit for children, seeing them into mature adulthood, parents, seeing them rested comfortably in the next world and the wide world in whatever one is able to do, given one’s circumstances, it is best to move on to the next world. For this reason, I do not appreciate when out of good intentions some one wishes me a long life, even though in this area I do not do unto others as I would wish them do unto me (a fundamental prerequisite of a spiritual life) but rather wish all my friends and others a very long life, knowing that they would be offended otherwise.

A second difference that I have from my friends is in the manner of leaving this world when the time comes for it. In my view the best way to go is one that causes least pain and discomfort and I can imagine none better than a cardiac arrest during sleep or the next best thing - a briefly painful heart attack if necessary. Therefore, if a doctor advises reducing the possibility of a cardiac arrest with a procedure such as angioplasty or something I will quickly reject it because I would rather have my heart stop first than begin with a cancer or a progressive failure from bladder to kidney, liver and eventually the heart. I know from engineering that a machine breaks down by beginning at the weakest link and I do hope that is the heart in my case. I fully know that not a single human has ever been born on the planet that did not eventually end up with Cardiac arrest (except for Jesus Christ) and I am no Jesus despite my spiritual dabbling. I would rather have mine right away rather than through a painful and progressive failure beginning with my legs or bladder. Prompted by such thoughts there is a much older post in this blog ‘when heart disease is a blessing’ for more on this.

Returning now to the topic of exercise, I am reminded that I have been missing it. During my younger days and working life, I led an active life that included much brisk walking, hiking, running, swimming etc. and there was no need for a contrived program of physical exercise. However now as I am semi retired, a lot of my time is spent in front of a computer, reading, writing, TV etc. and I have help for looking after my home, cooking and so. Therefore a desperate need has emerged to draw out a program of regular physical exercise and as mentioned it is not for longevity but for improving the time that I have in this body.

I agree with Brigham that walking is an excellent exercise and after much deliberation I have chosen half an hour a day around the park, six days a week. This will give me 180 minutes a week. However walking is insufficient in my view for an aging person. If there was a swimming pool within convenient reach I would have replaced a couple of days of walking by swimming but there is none near where I live presently. To lesson the stiffening of joints as one ages, some non-walking exercise is required too. This must include bending, stretching, sit ups etc. so that all the joints can be exercised. I have chosen ten minutes a day, except Sundays, for that in my backyard. That gives me another sixty minutes a week; together that adds up to 240 minutes a week, far short of the proposed 450 minutes by Brigham and Women’s recommendations but then what do they know about men having to deal with just one - poor old Brigham. Wonder how many years that will add to my life. Not too many I hope!


HP said…
Brisk walk of about 20-30 minutes per day is good for cardio-vascular and general health since it boosts blood circulation, exercises and aids the heart, helps remove toxins, etc. It has its limitations, however, and you're not likely to get rid of stiffness in muscles and joints unless you do something extra.

For flexibility I'd suggest half an hour of Yoga, Pilates, or Qi-Gong in addition to walking outdoors.

Naturopathy believes, on empirical evidence, that most stiffness can be taken care of by changing over to a natural diet. That means eliminating (or drastically curtailing) one's daily intake of white sugar, white salt, boiled milk, trans-fats, and cereals; and increasing that of fresh fruits & vegetables (green leafy ones being preferred), raw milk, all sprouts, and nuts & dry fruit (after they've been soaked overnight in water).
ashok said…
Great suggestions about food HP. We appear to be full agreement over the exercise part. Your comments are appreciated. Thanks.
ashok said…
I would not risk raw milk in India with the amounts of bacteria floating around though. In any case I prefer yogurt to milk and feel that is best for grown ups as milk is for kids, provided it is consumed before or during lunch hours when day temperatures on the rise and not after midday when day temperatures are falling.
It has its limitations, however, and you're not likely to get rid of stiffness in muscles and joints unless you do something extra.

Chiropractor Kansas City
ashok said…
Thanks for your comments Chiro Kansas. You are quite right because I could only reduce some of it with exercise. However, my stiffness was probably linked to something that caused chronic fatigue too. Just by chance I tried some deworming medicine ( I was going to the toilet a bit too frequently) and now all three problems - CF, toilet, and stiffness have gone more or less, perhaps as much as they can for a sixty plus.

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