Imagine you’re on a raft, which is meandering down a gently flowing river…
You have a paddle with you on this raft, so when you find a spot along the river you especially enjoy, you can row against the water's current to slow your pace and hang out at that spot a bit longer. With aggressive paddling, you can even go back up stream to a spot you past earlier. And if you don’t mind where the river is headed, you don’t have to row at all. But you always have a choice as to where on the river you’re heading.
How the body ages in the context of physical ability and composition is similar to the flow of this river.
From when we’re born until approximately our 20th birthday, your body will do it’s best to maintain your faculties regardless of what you do. But each year after that, it becomes more influenced by what you do and don’t do in your day to day life.
Ask your body to move heavy things regularly, and it will do everything it can do maintain your strength as you age. Ask your body to move quickly or for long periods of time, and it will maintain those capabilities in kind. Ask your body to hangout in a chair all day, and it will maintain those abilities, but jettison any strength or conditioning not required to get it done.
The river analogy serves well to describe this concept because it’s easy to forget that even if we like where we are today, on that river or with the state of our bodies, we have to paddle upstream to maintain it. Not frantically, but consistently. Opting not to paddle when there’s a current doesn’t maintain our present position, it allows the river to take us where it will at a pace of its choosing.
But here’s the good news:
- We have a choice! By no means do we have to exercise, but if we want to maintain or improve how our bodies function, exercise is 100% effective, 100% of the time.
- When you’re doing precisely the right type of activity, it takes very little exercising to maintain where we are. Four minutes per day of the right types of stretches will maintain your mobility. 15 minutes of specific resistance training per day can maintain your current strength levels or even improve them.* If you like where you are on the river, you don’t need to paddle very intensely to stay there.
- Studies have shown that your ability to respond to exercise to maintain or even improve physical abilities stays robust until approximately the age of 97, and only then does it begin to decline. Exercise’s benefits are applicable throughout our lives.
Keep this in mind next time you’re considering getting back into working out (or starting up for the first time). You don’t have to paddle hard to keep what you’ve got, but you can’t float either.
To your maintained health,
*It's just as effective to batch these sessions to longer but less frequent ones. Think about it as weekly minutes spent, not daily.