by Dr. Christiane Northrup: 7 Tips to get you moving!
I grew up in a very fitness-oriented family. It’s simply part of who we are. My mom, Edna Northrup, always incorporated exercise into her daily life. She loved to walk and climb, and because we lived where there were hills, she did it routinely, at least three times a week. In the spring of 2010, my mom spent weeks in Colorado training for a trek to Mt. Everest base camp, which is 17,000 feet above sea level. Edna completed that trek at age 84, along with my sister Penny and her husband Phil Kirk (in May 2010).
My mom set the stage for lifelong health because of her love of an active life. When I was growing up, my sister, Penny, was a competitive skier with the U.S. Ski Team on the World Cup Circuit. My brother John also skied competitively. As kids we started hiking in elementary school, and often hiked and skied as a family. Although I was a bookworm and sometimes resented being forced to climb and ski and keep up with my siblings, it’s a legacy that I’m genuinely thrilled about now.
Move to Be Fit
What does it mean to be fit? A few years ago, I spoke with Debbie Rosas about the importance of exercise. Debbie is the cofounder of Neuromuscular Integrative Action (NIA), an exercise that combines martial arts, tai chi, yoga, dance, and breathing. Before founding NIA, Debbie had been an aerobics instructor who decided to take up martial arts. When she first met her teacher, he asked her to move for him. All she could do was jumping jacks. She realized that being fit meant was more than the ability to “feel the burn.” It was about moving her body in a natural, pleasurable way.
Debbie says one measure of fitness is the ability to get down on the floor and get back up a few times. Another definition of fitness I like is the ability to meet the demands of your daily life plus one emergency. Given what your life is like, are you fit enough to accomplish the necessary tasks? Could you run up or down the stairs if there were a fire or other emergency? Run in the street after a child? I’ve noticed an increasing number of people who can’t perform simple moves like getting up from a seat and walking off an airplane.
It’s Never Too Late
You can’t maintain mobility and good health unless you’ve integrated a movement practice of some kind into your life. You notice this particularly at midlife. If you’re reading this and you aren’t active regularly, know that any time you start you’re going to build fitness. And once you have, it’s much easier to keep it going. In fact, Dr. William Evans did fascinating studies on people in nursing homes who were 90 and older. He taught them weight training and found within a very short period of time that those who had been unable to make it to the bathroom or mount stairs on their own were able to do so. They also developed strength and increased muscle mass in their quadriceps
Tips for Lifelong Fitness
To help encourage a life of fitness, I’ve put together a few suggestions. As a reluctant exerciser in my early years, these tips have stood me in good stead. They’ll do the same for you.
Tip 1. Do what you love. My mom and her friend Anne (now 87) consider it fun to climb unmarked peaks where you have to clear the trail and put your food up in trees so that the bears don’t get at it! I prefer Argentine Tango, Pilates, belly dancing, walking outdoors, or working out on the elliptical trainer. There’s something for everyone.
Tip 2. Don’t overdo. When you’re working out, make sure that you’re working within your target heart rate or that you can easily breathe in and out through your nose. Your target heart rate is determined by a formula: 180 minus your age is the upper limit; 170 minus your age is the lower. A 50-year-old woman’s target heart rate is 120–130 beats per minute. If you are just starting out, are overweight, or are sick, you adjust these numbers down by 10 to 20 points each.
Tip 3. Tone your muscles. To help build bone mass, do a little weight training. Light weights with multiple reps are best. Or try something like yoga or Pilates, which tones your muscles while keeping the spine aligned.
Tip 4. Listen to your body. As with other aspects of your health, your body will let you know what’s right—and what’s wrong. Follow your body’s intuition. Never put up with an exercise program that includes injuries or undue stress, even if it’s suggested by a qualified trainer.
Tip 5. Take thousands of steps, three times per week. Walking two to five times a week for a total of 10,000 steps each time will build stamina and endurance fairly quickly. Does this sound like a lot? Clip on a pedometer. You’ll be amazed at how many steps you take in a day. Ten thousand steps is equivalent to about four miles. If some of your terrain is hilly, 5,000 steps may be enough. If you’re just starting out, 2,500 steps is plenty.
Tip 6. Walk upright. It’s important to walk and keep yourself upright, with your shoulder blades down and your heart open. If you see my mom walking toward you from a distance, you’d have no way of knowing her age, because she doesn’t have a geriatric gait. She strolls along with a bounce in her step and plenty of swing time.
Note: Ski walking poles are excellent for keeping your upper body upright. Data shows that ski walking burns 40 percent more calories than walking without poles. Plus you work your upper body at the same time.
Tip 7. Use your imagination. There’s no such thing as a static state of health. You’re constantly replacing your body parts with new cells. So if you’d like stronger legs, begin to visualize stronger legs right now. You can create them in six short months.
You can have vibrant health in your 90’s. It starts with doing something enjoyable every day. Start now! Breathe in deeply through your nose. Pull your shoulder blades down and open your heart. Now, step into your future!