Dr. Beth Hodges is a family practice and palliative care/hospice physician in Asheboro, N.C., as well as a part-time medical director for HealthTeam Advantage, HealthTeamAdvantage.com. She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three teenagers, three dogs, one cat, and 21 goldfish.
As a family practice doctor with an aging patient population, I’m frequently in the position of having to assist my patients through difficult times: cancer, other illness, and the death of loved ones, to name a few.
Through these experiences, I’ve realized there are three things my patients tend to fear more than death itself. Any guesses? The IRS? The dentist? Their mothers-in-law? No, more simply, being bound to a wheelchair, being forced to live in a nursing home, or losing their memory (dementia.)
Luckily, all these dreaded possibilities have one single thing in common that can reduce the likelihood of these things happening to you. What is it?
I’m not talking about Grandpa scaling Mount Everest or asking Grandmama to bike across the Himalayas.
I’m talking about going for a daily walk after dinner; enrolling in water aerobics at the YMCA; taking a yoga class at the senior center; or parking at the back of the Walmart parking lot instead of close to the door. If the weather is too bad to go out, set a timer and wear a hole in your carpet pacing back and forth in your living room. Exercise doesn’t have to be fancy; it doesn’t have to be expensive; it doesn’t even have to make you sweat (though that wouldn’t hurt.)
Study after clinical study shows that physical activity makes for healthier people. The more you move, the more you CAN move. There’s something about moving the body that keeps the mind moving as well. Many studies show physically active people get dementia much later in life or not at all, compared to more sedentary folks.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of physical activity per week. This amounts to 30 minutes a day, five days out of seven.
Of course, it is always wise to ask your doctor how much exercise they recommend for you personally before beginning an exercise regimen.
I do not recommend that a certified couch potato try to start an aggressive exercise program too quickly. This is a sure way to get injured or discouraged. I often recommend folks start with just 10 minutes of walking a day and increase it by five minutes each week until they reach their personal goal. This may be 30 minutes, or it may be 45 minutes, if weight-loss is also desired.
Contrary to past belief, short bursts of exercise several times daily have shown to be as effective or more effective for weight loss than one prolonged episode. For example, a 10-minute walk three times a day after meals can meet this goal.
If your plan is to exercise outdoors in the heat of the summer, it would be wise to do most of it early in the morning before the temperatures and humidity get to dangerous levels. Many people take advantage of air-conditioned indoor malls, which are usually open to the walking public even when the stores are closed.
If walking sounds manageable, but you want to add a little more oomph to your effort, try carrying a one- or two-pound hand weight in each hand while you walk. You’ll be surprised how much that adds to your fitness level after time. If, like me, you’re too cheap to purchase hand weights, a 14-ounce can of tomatoes in each hand will accomplish the same goal for less than $2. Ankle weights are another option and can be purchased from Amazon or a local sporting goods store.
Regardless of how you choose to do it, I encourage you to put some extra thought and effort towards being more active this summer. Your body and your mind will thank you.