Last week I began sharing my personal longevity formula. I started with Diet. Today I’m providing my Exercise plan.
From a longevity perspective, there are four key area of focus for exercise, cardiovascular health, strength, balance and flexibility.
Taichi and Standing Meditation –
I’ve studied taichi and qi-gong for over 30 years. I have the honor of learning from one the few remaining true taichi masters but…
since the arrival of our daughter, my morning taichi has been replaced by diaper changes, preparing breakfast and convincing a certain little girl that clothes are not optional. (sorry Sifu!)
But the growing body of research on the health benefits of taichi and qigong confirms what my body clearly feels…
… this stuff is good for you!
A 2010 article in the American Journal of Health reported “benefits to bone density, cardiopulmonary health, physical function, falls and related risks, quality of life, self-efficacy and immune function.”
Yet, there is something even better than taichi!
My Sifu (Chinese for teacher) insists that the single most essential practice is standing meditation. Everyone should practice standing meditation for at least 10 minutes every day (longer is better).
Don’t be fooled by the name, this is not just about meditation. Standing is an essential full-body health exercise that absolutely anyone can do but…
Standing must be done properly. I’ll explain more fully in future posts.
In the meanwhile...
Our daughter starts pre-school soon and hopeful we’ll find a routine that includes Dad’s daily taichi.
(In fact, it’s time for a conversation with Sifu about how soon to start teaching taichi to our daughter. That would be a huge win-win, quality time with my daughter, hopefully making her a life-long taichi addict and getting my own practice in.)
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is brief all-out exercise alternated with relatively slower recovery periods. For example, Dr. Mercola recommends 30 seconds on an elliptical machine going all out, followed by a 90-second rest intervals. Repeat 8 times.
Research has shown that HIIT has greater fitness benefits than much longer daily aerobic exercise, lower risk of injury and repetitive stress damage AND…
increases HGF (a growth hormone key to replacing aging or damaged cells) and slows telomere shortening.
Telomeres are the sequence of DNA at the end of chromosomes’ that help ensure accurate cell replication. Telomeres normally shorten as we age. But HIIT is shown to significantly slow that process.
Strength TrainingBeing strong has huge long-term health benefits. I’m not talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger type strong. The ability to easily perform normal life activities requiring strength is not only a key to independence but also for preventing injury and maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Most people believe that loss of strength is a natural result of aging. Yet, recent research shows that even above age 70 we can add significant muscle strength and size using resistance training if we do it the right way.
Clint Eastwood, who is in pretty darn good shape for a man his age, says his “secret” is ensuring one activity for at least an hour every day that demands physical strength and endurance.
If you happen to have a situation like his ranch, where your daily activities can incorporate a variety of physically demanding activity, that’s perfect. You don’t need a gym if you spend your days, digging postholes or bailing hay.
Unfortunately, most of us do not have that kind of lifestyle.
I recommend resistance training 3 times per week. If possible, use weights, not machines or bands. Weight training forces you to also strengthen the hundreds of tiny support muscles key to long-term balance and core strength.
I’ve always been terrible at flexibility. In the past I’ve tended to force the issue, injure myself, recover and start over even less flexible than when I started. I know I’m not alone, so learn from my mistakes.
First, remember, flexibility by itself is less desirable than range of motion, supported by good muscle strength and balance. As a martial artist, I have met many flexible people. In Rishikesh, India, I saw flexibility exhibited that seemed to defy the laws of physics.
However, many hyper flexible people have serious joint problems as they get older. So, your objective should be better range of motion, not Cirque du Soleil flexibility.
This year I’m getting serious about flexibility with a combination of Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF).
AIS is stretching that isolates the muscle to be stretched and coordinates a brief 2-second stretch-and-relax with breathing.
PNF alternates the stretch with a short contraction of the opposing muscle.
I’ll be tracking y results and, if you remind me, I’ll keep you posted about my progress.
That’s my exercise routine to promote healthspan. At this point, I imagine some of you are thinking, “Sounds good but how many hours a week in the gym does this require?”
Not as much as you might think. Except for taichi and standing meditation, you shouldn’t do these things every day. Try alternating strength training 3 days per week with HIIT/Flexibility training (leaving one rest day per week.)
Total time spent exercising is just a bit over an hour per day on average.
If you only have time for one exercise, what should be?
I’m serious. My own teacher, now close to 80 years old, swears by it. I’ve taught taichi and qi-gong for years and I’ve personally seen standing meditation take people from invalids to healthy active adults.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my exercise plan. Over the course of the coming months I’ll elaborate.