(Photo Details: Sydney turning 50 in Hawaii--December 2013)
Ok, since we’ve already established that we retirees are at a higher risk of death from a falling injury than from Ebola, let’s do something proactive to reduce that risk. The great thing is that anything you can do to increase your fitness level helps prevent injury from falls and helps reduce the risk of the even greater probability of heart disease.
The thing is, we already know how to improve our fitness level. We’ve got to get more exercise. And that’s not fun for everyone. So I’ve got some ideas on how to make that more fun, or at least make it less of a chore.
First, go find out your “fitness age.” This was really fun for me because my fitness age turned out to be 28. According to researchers in Norway, a person’s fitness age is a better predictor of longevity than his or her chronological age. New York Times’ Gretchen Reynolds explains that fitness age “is determined primarily by your VO2max, which is a measure of your body’s ability to take in and utilize oxygen. VO2max indicates your current cardiovascular endurance.”
But most people don’t know their VO2max. That’s where the Norwegian researchers come in. It turns out that there is a strong correlation between VO2max and the answers to a few key questions. You can take the test here to find out your fitness age.
The good news is you can improve your fitness age with just about any exercise. As my chronological age has increased, I am more drawn to lifestyle exercise, such as walking or biking around my neighborhood, doing housework and yard work, or home-improvement projects like painting my house. I’m less interested in high-intensity organized fitness classes or gym workouts.
These lifestyle activities can be just as good. But when you do a workout at the gym, the little readout on the machine gives you instant feedback: how many calories you burned, how many miles you walked, or how many stairs you climbed. Cleaning the house results in a clean house, but not very much insight into how much exercise you achieved.
Which is why I love my Fitbit. For far less than a gym membership (as low as 60 bucks), you can buy one of these fun little gadgets that counts your steps, tells you how many calories you are burning, and even tells you how well you slept. And you get this feedback from all the things you do in daily life, not just the time you spend at the gym.
What makes it even more fun though, is that you can play with your friends. I have about a dozen friends with Fitbits and each day we can see who gets the most steps. Believe me, this does change your behavior. Even my husband Doug has us walk the long way to our destination or go on a little bonus walk in the evening if his steps are falling behind some of our friends.
And if you have an iPhone 5S or higher, you don’t even need to buy a Fitbit gadget, you can just download the free app. Although it will only count steps when you are actually carrying your phone, which will impact your ranking among your friends, of course. Besides the fact that I don’t have the right phone, I am too competitive for that to work for me.
Turns out you don’t have to have a competitive personality for this to motivate you though. According to this article, every single participant of one small study increased their activity when using a fitness tracker:
Can trackers really change behavior in people? Last year, Dr. Rajani Larocca, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, conducted a six-week lifestyle program for 10 patients with diabetes ages 50 to 70 that included weekly sessions to encourage exercise and healthful eating; each participant also was outfitted with a Fitbit Zip tracker.
“Every single person increased their activity,” Dr. Larocca said. “People felt more knowledgeable.” Eight months later, about half the patients from the group still wear a tracker.
Increasing your level of fitness not only helps prevent falls, it helps to prevent injury even if you do fall. According to this article, you can also reduce the risk of a fall by getting adequate vitamin D and staying properly hydrated. It also helps to integrate balance exercises into daily life--for example brushing your teeth while standing on one foot. I recommend flossing while standing on the other foot. Some evidence suggests a link between dental health and heart health so you might get double the benefit for this one.
Now it’s your turn, how do you stay motivated to exercise?
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