Updated: Oct 4, 2021
The fitness industry can be somewhat dumb, sometimes. It's improving, but there will always be some very odd products sold on the late-night shopping channels that promise the world but deliver so little. Suppose you've ever had the misfortune of purchasing one of these products. In that case, I think it's understandable if you look at the industry through sceptical eyes.
When I was bigger, I found myself cynical of fitness professionals. I thought there were two camps in the fitness world: those who wanted to live forever and those who had purely aesthetic goals—neither of those particularly resonated with me. While there is no doubt that these groups exist, it turns out it's a bit more nuanced than that.
When I started exercising, I found some of the population trains for enjoyment, health, skill acquisition and longevity. That stuck with me a little bit more. Today I wanted to talk a bit about the health and longevity side.
Regular exercise reduces the risk of premature mortality. I think that's something we all understand, but I don't believe that many people will change their lifestyle habits hearing it. Is the trade-off worth it? Do people want to get old? Growing old might not sound that appealing to a lot of people.
As a population, we're getting older. Breakthroughs in medical sciences, better living conditions, and a reduction in wars mean people live longer. In 1951 the average life expectancy of a male was 66.4 years, and in 2017 it was 79.49 years. The World Health Organisation identifies physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor associated with global mortality, with 23% of adults not achieving the recommended physical activity levels. What happens when we're inactive and old?
While inactivity causes early death, it also causes premature dependence on others. Getting old isn't appealing, but getting old and dependent on others is even less attractive. Exercise can help reduce preventable deaths, but it can also reduce dependency on others.
Something to bear in mind here is that we're only talking about avoidable dependence. Simultaneously, there are so many diseases and afflictions that are not avoidable. Physical activity can often reduce disease symptoms, but that's beyond the scope of a blog or a Personal Trainer. This is where medical intervention is needed.
Unfortunately, there are always things beyond our control, if you're lucky enough to get older, you can't help but age. There are undoubtedly ways to reduce the risk of you being dependant on others when you're older. With greater independence comes a better quality of life.
Our bodies seem to work on a use it or lose it principle. If you don't regularly practise a movement, you'll lose the ability to do that movement. An inactive person may get into the habit of falling into seats, sitting for long periods and using momentum to get up. It's not noticeable when they're younger, but they're slowly losing strength by not practising a squatting movement. In their later life, they could have lost the ability to squat all together; they'd need help getting out of chairs or even off the toilet.
When you lose mobility, the risk of injury increases too. If your muscles are weaker falls and sprains will become more likely, leading to further inactivity. More inactivity leads to further losses in mobility and the likelihood of dependency increases.
This reduction in mobility is avoidable by regularly moving. You don't need to be hitting the gym and back squatting twice a week, but you do need to periodically strengthen your muscles and take your joints through their full range of motion. Start with walking regularly, and then look at all the different movements your body can make, in what ways do you move that could be handy in later life?
The more you move, the more movement you're able to retain. In the gym world, we can practice these movements. Grab a weight and squat, and we're training sitting. Deadlift and your practising picking something up off the floor. Benchpress is pushing away from you and rows pulling toward you.
With the right training plan, you'll decrease the odds of dependency later in life and reduce the likelihood of injury too. Now not everyone wants to hit the gym but if you can move you've got all the tools you need. Learn to bodyweight squat, do a couple of lunges, pick something up off the floor. Practice going to ground, can you get onto and then back off the floor without falling or using momentum? If it's hard now, do you think it's going to get harder in a couple of years if you're still not practising it?
It's never too late to start and what you do today could help you retain or regain independence in the future.