Fitness column: Healthy habits can boost lifestyle and longevity

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Paul Robinson says embracing healthy habits later in life can help reset our physiological age.


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There’s a bridge we construct over time that distances most of us from health and vitality. With every passing year the bridge lengthens until the far side becomes a spot on the horizon.

When did stairs become so high? Where are my feet? Was the toilet always this low?

As you age, the length of your bridge is determined by many factors, the important ones being exercise, nutrition and, of course, genetics.

Much like our loving dog, Chai, now in her 16th year, people have the capability of ignoring ongoing aches and pains when immediate gratification is just around the corner. Chai has trouble moving her hips but when the vacuum seal pops on her favourite can of dog food, get out of the way (lean chicken with mixed spring vegetables marinated in a savory gravy…mmm).

As we learned during a recent trip to Mexico, you also don’t want to get between a hungry tourist and an open buffet. Despite walkers, canes and shuffling feet, when the dinner bell tolls, these sedentary northerners move with striking speed, purpose and agility.

Strained waistbands were rampant during our stay. After one Mexican dinner we figured we had consumed more calories in one sitting than we would have eaten in a normal day back home.

Fellow travelers stacked plates high with bacon and croissants, smoking was surprisingly widespread, and desert with wine was served at every meal. Is this Valhalla? Is this where Canadians go to die?

Sure, sunny vacations provide a necessary break from the drudgery of winter living. Its nice to indulge now and then. Thankfully, we were able to exhibit some degree of restraint by day four.

Don’t get me wrong, Mexico was incredible. There were plenty of healthy options as vibrant Yucatan pinks, greens and reds melted seven months of Canadian blah. Problem is, the reprieve these travelers were enjoying is a far cry from anything remotely healthy. By the look of many beach profiles, this didn’t look like a reprieve — more like ‘a day in the life.’

How long is your bridge? Is the far side a stone’s throw away or a journey? Is your bridge stretching or shrinking?

As a client who is making incredible gains laments, “Now that I’m exercising and eating healthy, I no longer fit in with my circle of sedentary friends. Everything revolves around eating! If I could change anything, I would tell my 40-year-old self to smarten up and plan for a healthy, active future — not wait for my place in the buffet line.”

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) epidemiologists, the average person packs on one to two pounds of fat per year starting in their early twenties. Compound this with muscle wasting (that takes place due to lack of use) and the math paints an even bleaker picture.

Over the years, you may have gained 10 pounds of fat due to indulgence and lost 10 pounds of muscle due to inactivity. When you consider I’m being respectfully conservative with my numbers, weighing the same as you did in your twenties is seldom a good thing.

The research shows that weight gain seems to level off in your fifties — more free time, no kids, less stress. That’s good, right? Unfortunately, it’s not. The report goes on to suggest that obesity-related death removes unhealthy subjects from the sample size (resulting in a smaller sample size with smaller samples).

OK, here’s the good news. Staying fit throughout your life may be the preferred strategy but exercisers who start late also demonstrate exceptional gains. Our 65-year-old client, mentioned earlier, has lost many pounds (she refrains from weigh scales), has much less back pain and she’s strong. Not strong for her age, just strong.

As you contemplate the bridge ahead, understand that muscles are waiting to grow and fat is ready to burn. Wishing you could turn back the clock does nothing without action. You may not be able to adjust your chronological clock but you can definitely reset your physiological age.

If you’re looking to build a sunny horizon, skip the buffet line. Health and longevity are waiting on the other side.

Paul Robinson has enjoyed 30 years as a personal trainer, executive, speaker and consultant in the fitness industry. He owns Kneifel Robinson (KR) Personal Training, with his partner Monica Kneifel Robinson, serving St. Albert & Edmonton. KR specializes in helping beginners, boomers and gym-phobics achieve success in-studio and online. You can reach them at info@krpersonaltraining.com; http://www.krpersonaltraining.com



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