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Is Your Current Exercise Routine Helping or Harming You?
THE MORE you move, the better off you are. You can build a better heart, and recent research shows that you can build a better brain. You can build stronger bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Your blood flow improves, which enables the liquids in your body to circulate more effectively. All of these things are keys to a younger, stronger body.
But there is a dilemma. What if you have been exercising but you are hurting or feel stiff and have to work out the kinks every day? What if the kind of movement you’re doing will become more difficult as you age?
We are familiar with the idea that certain habits are bad for our health or might contribute to premature aging. Habits such as smoking, overeating, overdrinking, or a complete lack of exercise are often mentioned as factors that contribute to the aging process, but we don’t often think about the impact of our movement habits—how we hold tension in our neck or lower back, how inefficiently we breathe, how we shovel snow, or even how we run or do yoga. Over our lifetimes, these movement habits can contribute to aging just as dramatically. How many people have picked up a snow shovel to clean the driveway only to be laid up that night with a bad back? Or gone to the gym after a period of inactivity only to be so sore the next day that they couldn’t continue? How many people, just sitting rigidly at a desk all day, discover that their shoulders have become permanently hunched?
Habits are seductive. We like to think that we could keep exercising or playing sports and maintain all of our old habits. The dilemma is that old habits can become dangerous to our joints by overstressing ligaments and causing strains, injuries, and tears in our muscles.
In fact, exercise could be a dangerous thing.
When we exercise, we become inflamed and overheated. The aftereffects can be either uplifting and energizing or fatiguing and uninspiring. This all depends on who you are and how you move.
We do have a saving grace: If we exercise with awareness, we can prevent most injuries and improve our movement habits and the elegance of our posture and bearing.
Your main muscle, the brain, is the core of your strength, stability, motivation, and self-awareness. Your muscles, sensations, and ability to move would be impossible without your brain. If you want to keep improving as you age, vigorous, routine exercise will not be as effective as using your brain to learn how to move in new ways, just as you did when you were a child.
As humans, we enjoy complexity and variety, and we can exercise in ways similar to how we “exercised” when we were children and, before that, infants.
Can you imagine tying wrist and ankle weights around an infant so that he becomes stronger? Or stretching a baby’s body into different positions to make her more flexible? This is the way we start to treat ourselves by the time we are in our late teens. Learning to become an adult often means learning to perform dull, repetitive routines instead of holding on to the active curiosity and exploratory movements of our youth.
Eventually we don’t need to keep exploring certain basic movements— we “just do it.” But a critically important feature of improving your functional mobility and changing your age is to return to those more youthful exploratory movements.
No matter what your level of fitness is, or your current exercise routine, your concerns about injuries, pain, or restricted movement, or your overall sense of wellness or fatigue, the Change Your Age Program can make you feel younger, more graceful, more flexible, more coordinated, and more at ease. By practicing movements that make you feel younger, you can regain the ease you felt 10 or 15 years ago. This chapter discusses the dangers of exercise and the tendencies toward bad movement that many common exercise programs encourage; I’ll help you discover whether your current routine is actually aging you. We explore things you can do to establish new and more vital habits. You will learn how to improve your body awareness and how to harness that awareness as a tool to transform your functional age. You will also return to learning as you once did as a child, using exploratory movement.
Excerpted from Change Your Age, Chapter 1: How to Assess Your Current Exercise Program