By Les Megyeri
Basic training at Fort Jackson, SC in the 60s was torture for me. I was not at peak performance due to my lifestyle, lack of exercise, poor eating habits and irregular hours. Needless to say, I suffered two months of agonizing muscle aches, foot blisters and headaches. Fortunately, thanks to the Army’s regimen, I left basic training fit and in such good shape that I vowed never again to let myself go.
Consequently, even at my age (79), I start each day with push-ups, sit-ups and balancing exercises of standing on one leg at a time with my eyes closed. Then, I walk/jog for an hour on six consecutive days and take Sundays off. I need no equipment for this regimen and can do it wherever I am. As I’ve aged and now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, I see just how beneficial any and all exercise is. Why is this so?
Just what does exercise do for the body?
First, celebrity trainer Tony Horton says that with so many confined to their homes, maintaining muscle strength has become even more challenging. “You’re sitting around, not moving your body, and as a result, your muscles are going to start shrinking faster which makes your body weaker which in turn leads to falls, prolonged bed rest or hospital stays that can mean even more muscle loss.”
Secondly, according to the Journal of Sports and Health Science, exercise is good for the immune system, beneficial for metabolic health, and enhances the circulation of immunoglobulins, the natural killer (NK) cells or T-cells, that play a critical role in the body’s defense against pathogens and that help reduce inflammation. Exercise also lowers incidents and the duration of upper respiratory tract infections with reductions as high as 40-50 per cent among those who are active on a daily basis. Even short bouts of exercise can amplify the body’s ability to fight off harmful germs.
Third, the American Psychological Association reports positive results of better moods and people feeling good about themselves as stress is lowered. High levels of stress make one more susceptible even to the common cold. And exercise provides a much needed source of social support and camaraderie even when participants keep a safe distance from one another.
Of course, people with chronic medical conditions like asthma and diabetes are at higher risk from infections like the flu and coronavirus. Spending more time being active lowers the odds of metabolic syndrome as science has linked exercise to lower blood glucose levels. Even 30 minutes of walking a day can reduce the risk of diabetes by 30 percent which is really important if you are in the group at the greatest risk of complications from COVID-19:
A. Being older than 65
B. Having chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes
C. Having a compromised immune system
Where should I start?
So, instead of sitting, moderate physical activity can result in better immune function and can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, surely welcome news during these difficult times. Current guidelines recommend 150 minutes or more per week of aerobic activity and 2 sessions per week of muscle strength training. Even without a gym or any equipment, this is what you can do:
- Walk, jog, bicycle or do yard work. Spending any time outside in nature helps our immune function.
- Walk briskly around your house if you’re indoors or walk up and down the steps for 10-15 minutes two or three times a day.
- Dance, jump rope or use exercise videos.
- Yoga, deep breathing and mindfulness help reduce anxiety.
- Add strength training videos or workout apps to your phone such as the seven-minute workout with no equipment necessary.
- Do squats or repeated stand-ups from a sturdy chair or push-ups against a wall or on the floor or lunges or single leg step-ups on the stairs. Simple sit-ups and using resistance bands are good.
- Get up during every television commercial and walk laps around your home or complete an active chore like throwing some clothes in the laundry, doing dishes, or taking out the garbage.
- Do activities as a family like walking in the neighborhood, shooting baskets, biking on a bike path, washing windows, raking up the yard, or pushing a lawn mower.
- Even standing on one foot at a time improves balance and prevents falls. Carrying something simple like soup cans for weights helps.
- Do your exercises daily at the same time every day but keep the regimen simple like even marching in place for five minutes.
Exercise also helps with weight gain and can even lower the risk of developing several types of cancer. It helps prevent depression, diabetes, heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure. It improves your sleep, your mental health, your cognitive functions and your outlook.
Need we say more?
Les Megyeri has been a long-time resident of Venice, FL and is a retired US Army officer, a lawyer and a CPA. He regularly writes for LIFESTYLES AFTER 50.