"The weakest and oldest among us can become some sort of athlete. But only the strongest can survive as spectators. Only the hardiest can withstand the perils of inertia, inactivity and immobility."

— Drs. J.H. Bland and S.M. Cooper from "Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism"


I am about to repeat myself, and I must. Every time I read what’s above, I’m moved to move. Read it again. I used to have it taped on the mirror in our bathroom to motivate me in case I failed to take a morning walk. I recently posted it on Facebook, and I hardly ever post anything.

Aerobic (meaning “with oxygen”) exercise requires moving the large muscles of our bodies using intentional and rhythmic activities such as walking, biking or swimming. I do that, but not nearly enough. Do you? Not enough, I suspect.

The Centers for Disease Control says it like this, “the U.S. is a leader in sloth, with 43.3 percent of Americans failing to meet even modest goals for physical activity. The rest of the world is catching up, though, with 24.8 percent of people sedentary in Europe, 30 percent in Russia and the Middle East.”

We’ve always known exercise keeps us fit, keeps weight off and even improves mood. And now we’re learning it’s a key and critical factor in keeping our minds and memory intact as we age. There is a definite relationship between physical activity and your brain. Exercise reportedly helps maintain and even restore the hippocampus (the memory center of the brain).

Researchers have identified a set of factors that seem to predict “exceptional survival.” They define it as “living to age 85 free of any major disease, with physical and cognitive function intact.” And one of the major reasons — I think you know.

A study of Harvard alumni done over the course of several years showed the lowest death rate occurred for those who burned 300 or more calories in energy each day through exercise or activity. (For the record, walking slowly burns five calories per minute).

“Exercise is the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth,” says longevity researcher Dr. Jay Olshansky.

With those types of recommendations, it seems like we should all strap on our walking shoes right about now. And yet we don’t. I know, it’s hard to get started. So, let’s make it easier. Here’s an idea. It’s called “exercise snacks.” Start like this. Keep track of your activity for an entire weekday and an entire weekend day. Then tally the minutes you spend moving vs. sitting or lying down. Decide to increase the active portion by just 10 minutes a day (that’s the snack concept).

For example, instead of sitting, walk around your living room while you’re talking on your cellphone. Got a cane or a walker? Take that for a 10-minute walk. Or try this, hang on to the edge of your kitchen counter and do repetitive heel-toe raises. If you have limited mobility, focus on upper-body strength. Wheelchair users — think about some heel-toe stretches perhaps? Choose your own personal way of moving … and then move.

You might think of it this way. Need a snack? Take 10.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.