Updated: Apr 29, 2018
We've all heard it way too many times:
"Exercise is good for you."
"You should exercise more."
"You could lose more weight if you exercise (more)."
What we don't usually hear:
"Exercise can add productive, happy years to your life."
Or how about...
"Exercise can prevent CHRONIC DISEASE."
Most of us still misunderstand or ignore exercise. We think it's too difficult, time-consuming, uncomfortable--or simply beneath us. Even worse, that it won't help anything.
As we close in on retirement, we need to know how even basic low-impact physical activity helps us avoid common (and costly) health issues like:
and MANY others
Exercise, especially combined with Paleo diet choices (eg, avoiding processed food, refined carbohydrates, seed oils and sugar), can be an easy, inexpensive way to avoid aging as a medical cash cow.
Do you really want to experience retirement from your physician's office?
Potential healthcare costs: let's NOT follow the money
It's now fashionable for financial planners to recommend setting aside a half million dollars for retiree healthcare expenses. Yes, that's $500,000.00.
Most of this money is earmarked for extended care related to chronic, debilitating disease (see the list above.) The planning industry, and society as a whole, considers this INEVITABLE.
It seems crazy that something as "simple" as exercise could negate this trend--but not only is this true, it's easier than most people think.
An all-too common (as in, epidemic) diabetes example
In my financial and insurance practice, I worked constantly with diabetic applicants. Some reported managing diabetes with "diet and exercise." They were generally normal weight and had an easier time buying insurance.
Over the years some of these clients maintained this control, while others graduated to various medications.
These "graduates" often became more sedentary and obese over time, surrendering physical activity to business and life pressures. Many would report that the exercise was "too much trouble," even as their pill count, and related health issues, multiplied.
The reduced activity would magnify the impact of their SAD (Standard American Diet), decreasing quality of life--and ultimately lifespan itself.
A closer look at diabetes
Briefly, a sedentary lifestyle and high carbohydrate diet often create a "too much fuel to use" scenario for our liver, pancreas, and bloodstream.
The body's muscles, and liver, already topped off, begin to say "no, thanks" to the excess glucose circulating in the blood. They do this by down-regulating the insulin receptor cells on their surface--literally closing the door to more fuel.
The pancreas, sensing glucose still present in the blood, produces more insulin to get those doors back open.
When the doors stay shut, the glucose ultimately gets stored in fat cells--for a while.
Like the liver and muscles, fat cells can also become "insulin insensitive," Worse, not only do all these doors stay shut, their number dwindles over time.
Toxic levels of glucose and insulin keep circulating in the bloodstream, with potentially grim results:
reduced uptake of amino acids, leading to muscle wasting
potentially cancerous cell growth
fatigue and hunger--for more carbohydrates
cell degeneration and neuropathy
metabolic and thyroid issues
Insulin replacement, after the pancreas collapses, just keeps the cycle going. You live, increasingly, in the magical world of "disease management."
Effective countermeasures hiding in plain sight?
If long-term, over-consumption of sugary carbohydrates coupled with an inactive lifestyle are ultra-common precursors for diabetes--what are some obvious solutions?
1. Reduce or eliminate excess bloodstream glucose by CUTTING THE DAMN REFINED CARBS and SUGAR from our diets. Lack of sugary processed carbs won't kill us, but complications of diabetes sure can.
2. Increase our PHYSICAL ACTIVITY. Embrace exercise.
Exercise burns the fuel stored in our muscles. When the body senses fuel is being used, it "up-regulates" the insulin receptor cells. Literally, the number of doors, and their degree of openness, increase as your need for new fuel goes up.
The more fuel you burn, the more receptors you get. The more working receptors you have, the less insulin you need to produce. Your body will even start burning the excess fuel stored as fat.
Over time, our bodies may regain at least some degree of insulin sensitivity.
Better still, maybe we can head off diabetes and many other old age destroyers:
Heart Disease: exercise strengthens cardiac muscle, reduces bad cholesterol.
Metabolic Syndrome: more exercise, fewer coronary complications, less diabetes.
Obesity: exercise can tame this all-too-common condition, as well as a host of associated chronic diseases, reduced life quality and early death.
Cancer: from lowering possibly harmful hormone levels to preventing obesity-related issues, exercise is associated with reduced incidence of many types of cancer (read this whole post from the National Cancer Institute.)
Chronic pain: doesn't it make sense that if we move more (gently and gradually) our bodies will work--and feel-- better?
Exercise: walk, don't run
We tend to forget we are designed for constant motion--not for sitting in front of a screen with cupcakes and soda at our elbow.
The good news: you don't have to run marathons or do Crossfit to build health. You don't have to join a gym or buy equipment or even touch weights, exercise bands or machines.
You just have keep moving, on most days.
This can mean many things, including "just" walking to the grocery store, post office, a neighbor's house or around the block.
Plain old walking--even, at first, for a few minutes per day--is wildly underrated. This is the first and best way most of us can build exercise into our lives.
Sure, we can add resistance training, yoga, or martial arts later, but we (beginners, oldsters, couch potatoes, insert your category here) need somewhere to start.
My walk into healthy, vigorous advanced age
For me, "going Paleo" meant re-learning about exercise as much as about food choices.
Two years ago I was pretty much an "active couch potato." Yes, there is such a thing. I would work out strenuously for an hour or two most days but still sit around 10+ hours daily--usually at the computer.
Despite almost daily joint-grinding barbell sessions and regular treadmill time (often until I became faint) I was still constantly tired, hungry and not losing enough weight.
It never occurred to me that I was working out too hard to make real progress.
When I began studying Paleo, especially The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, I found that
"chronic" high heart-rate cardio (even around 80% max heart rate) causes too much body stress, including systemic inflammation...not to mention being freaking uncomfortable. Going low and slow actually turned things around for me.
I could still make strength gains with weights while reducing my overall lifting volume by 80%. (Yes, this really happened to me, I just had to be consistent.)
See here for a quick overview of Mark's fitness recommendations--scroll down the post to "retirees."
Note the emphasis on easy walking and hiking.
In January 2016 I switched things around so that I just walked, outside in the sun except the coldest days, for 80% of my excercise time. Normal pace. It felt like slow motion at first, compared to the old treadmill lockstep.
I worked up from about 30 minutes of gentle, low impact hiking to 80-90 minutes most days. This took about 6 months. When I have time I'll go at least a couple of hours. In late 2017 I added a weighted vest, increasing intensity without speeding up.
I got so comfortable being on my feet that I now tend to STAND NOT SIT--even at meals! I enjoy moving around, and even got a Vari-Desk so I can stand while working.
Goodbye, active couch-potato status.
Follow the path of least resistance (training)
The Primal Blueprint recommends alternating one brief, heavy resistance session with one lighter workout. Devotees cannot go wrong just following the steps.
I was terrified I would lose what little hard-won muscle I had built slowly over the years--but I jumped in. The new diet and the walking were already helping too much.
I now hit each body part twice a week only, one BRIEF heavy session, one light. I try to limit the total lifting time per Mark's recommendations (30 minutes if possible.) I split the heavy session into two days to reduce overall per-day lifting time. After each session I am back out walking.
I haven't lost any strength or muscle size, and still make gradual gains over time.
Look good, live longer or both-- but just keep moving
It is also cool that I no longer look like Jabba the Hutt. Over about 18 months I lost 30 pounds and six inches from my waist.
Weight loss was my first reason for going Paleo, like many other devotees.
But as we stare down the barrel of retirement and old age, my wife and I find more interest in how our new habits promotes health, longevity, and independence.
We now embrace the "live long, drop dead" lifestyle, rather than a inevitable, protracted disease-ridden decline in our final years.
This "compression of morbidity" is easily within reach, as long as we keep moving. Regular, gentle exercise along with our game-changing ancestral diet could give us active years right up to the end.
Why not live fast, die ANCIENT, and leave that beautiful corpse?
And don't forget:
DAVID WHITESIDE IS NOT A DOCTOR and does not give medical advice or treatment. He offers information and personal experience only. Nothing you read on this website or blog should be construed as medical advice or as intended to supersede information you get from your medical professional. Following the advice given here or on any recommended resource site does not create a doctor-patient relationship or create liability for David or anyone else. David is not liable for any loss or complication you experience from following any diet or taking any action. You should check with your properly accredited medical professional if you think you are injured or ill.