Scared Skinny

I have a slogan for people over forty that goes like this. “Exercise is not optional, it’s a necessity.”

While we hear from television, the Internet, and magazines on a daily basis, the need for exercise and proper nutrition, few of us are taking action. You noticed that I didn’t say that we weren’t hearing. With the amount of information being hurled at us we can’t help but hear it. The problem is that few of us are “listening”, and even fewer are taking action.

In order for us to make changes in our daily lives we need to listen, learn, and take action. Now, more than ever, even for people who would like to take action, just the amount of information could be problematic. We hear of this study and that study and the new study that contradicts the old study. I think this leaves many people in a state of confusion and complacency.

Regardless of all of this information, exercise, weight loss, and eating properly is an undeniable no-brainer. We know that if we form the habit of exercise, if nothing else, it will make us feel better.

You may have heard of the program called “Scared Straight”. It’s where they take juveniles who have committed minor offenses into prisons, to show them what kind of life they can look forward to if they don’t change their ways.

Let me give you a few facts that may scare you skinny. You may be asking yourself why I’m trying to scare you. The fact is that people’s fear of loss is greater than their desire for gain. Put another way, people are more motivated to take action because they know they could lose their health or their life, than they are to exercise for its benefits alone.

Here are a few scary facts:

  • 66% of Americans are overweight
  • 17,000,000 (that’s million) Americans suffer from Type 2 Diabetes and it’s the most prevalent form of Diabetes for people over forty
  • If you have Diabetes your chances for having a heart attack increase by almost 100%
  • Our body starts the aging process around the age of 27 and its life giving hormones are reduced substantially
  • Cancer risk if you are obese is 52% higher in men and 62% higher in women. (This was concluded from a twenty year study of almost one million people and published in “The New England Journal of Medicine” in 2003)
  • Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass) affects both women and men

I could go on and on with other problems like heart disease, respiratory problems, and high blood pressure, but I think you get the point. I’m not going to dance around these issues. Perhaps your doctor hasn’t mentioned these things to you or has been less emphatic than he should be. Our health culture in general is more reactive than proactive. If you think these statistics apply to others but not to you here’s some first hand evidence. When my brother was only 49 years old he suffered a heart attack. He also has Type 2 Diabetes.

In the year 1900 the average life expectancy was around 56 years old. Today it’s around 80 years old. Because we are living much longer it’s important that we are functional and enjoy those years as much as possible. In addition, because our society is getting older as a whole, we want to minimize the possibility of becoming burdensome to our families or on our burgeoning health care system, because we failed our responsibility to take care of ourselves.

So where do you start? Walking is one of the very best and easiest exercises you can do. It burns fat and gets your legs, your largest fat burning muscles involved. By the way, don’t think you have to walk 5 or 10 miles to make things happen. Studies are now showing that 25-26 minutes maximum, is optimal. If you can’t walk for 25 or 20 or 15 minutes, do what you can, be proud of yourself, and do a little more each time. The important exercise is to make the commitment.

While exercise like walking, riding a bike, stationary bike or treadmill is beneficial when done properly, I think it’s even more important to do strength training. The reason is this. What difference does it make if you have the heart of a horse but can’t get up out of your chair? Now I’m not talking about bodybuilding for huge bulbous muscles. I’m talking strength training. Strength training, like calisthenics, bodyweight exercises, and dumb bells help bring your bones the proper nutrients to retain their size by challenging the muscles. For some people with Osteoporosis it can actually stop the disease and reverse its affects. Strength training is not just for the muscles, it helps avoid and in some cases, reverse osteoporosis as well.

If you like weightlifting with heavy weights, fine. I don’t recommend it because it isolates your bodies muscles, poses a greater chance for injury to your lower back, causes inflexibility, and takes too long.

When I was 47, I decided to make a commitment to life long health. I lost four inches off my waist, going from a 36” to 32”. I had clothes that I had given away because I thought that I was just older now, that my body had changed, and that I would never fit into them again. Boy was I wrong!

So it’s up to you. Do you want to live a long, functional, comfortable life and enjoy travel and grandchildren? Or do you want to think about it and live a long, dysfunctional, uncomfortable, burdensome life on the sidelines just existing? Make that decision now! I did, and I feel twenty years younger.

Copyright Kevin Furey