If you can walk, you can dance.
If you can talk, you can sing.
— A saying in Zimbabwe
Fit For Life
“Dance for life” can mean dance for the duration of life, or it can mean dance for the health of life. The two are actually interrelated: to be able to dance, one has to stay relatively healthy; to be healthy, one may want to dance.
Fun or not, fit or not, small starts can yield big dividends, health-wise. A good walking program may improve overall measures of physical health as much as 15% in just three months. Since the human body after age 25 experiences, on average, about a 1% falloff in fitness for every additional year of life, the numbers are simple arithmetic to crunch—that is a 15-year functional rejuvenation.2
The good news is that medical opinion is uniting around the message that getting fit for life can be quick and need not involve a gym or running shoes. The U.S. government’s dietary guidelines were updated in 2005 with its most explicit recommendations to date on exercise. The public has been advised to get 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week; 60 minutes per day if they are trying to control their weight; and up to 90 minutes per day to maintain weight loss.
A rough guide for “moderate,” according to Harold Kohl, the lead epidemiologist at the Physical Activity and Health Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is walking at about 3 to 3.5 miles per hour. If you cannot maintain a conversation and the heart is beating rapidly, then you have probably crossed into “vigorous” physical activity. “Moderate” can be something as simple as group dance lessons ubiquitous in Asian public parks from Singapore to Beijing, or in most senior centers in the U.S.
fIf time is an issue, U.S. government guidelines suggest that there are still significant health benefits to be gained if the 30 to 60 minutes of exercise is broken up into 10- or 15-minute segments throughout the day. Also, do not choose sports that are seasonal, expensive or solitary—each one is a handy excuse for not sticking with the workout program. Dancing, for example, is not seasonal, solitary, nor expensive, and is a lot of fun.
Yet only 33% of Americans say they do get a moderate 30 minutes at least five days a week, and they are bucking a trend. The U.S. government statistics show that between 1977 and 1995, trips made by walking declined 40%, and walking to school fell 60%. To put the whole thing in perspective, the department of health and exercise science of the University of Tennessee studied a group of Old Order Amish, a religious sect that shuns cars and other modern conveniences. Using pedometers, researchers found that average Amish men take 18,425 steps a day and average Amish women 14,196 steps. A typical American, by contrast, takes only about 5,000 steps.
In Shape And Out of Shape
In a culture that makes a fetish of slimness, the idea of being fat and happy raises eyebrows; the idea of being fat and fit isnothing short of apostasy. With 30% of American adults considered obese, some 200 million Europeans overweight and countless millions worldwide on some sort of diet—usually unsuccessfully—at any one time, that is, “globesity” is an epidemic, perhaps we ought to be asking ourselves whether we are going about things all wrong. There is nothing easier than falling out of shape in this age of instant entertainment on big flat-screen TV; cell phones, iPods, iPhones and BlackBerrys a touch away; an arsenal of remotes within easy reach; conveniences of pizza deliveries to the door, fast food chains, all-you-can-eat buffets… With all these conveniences and comfort, climbing out of the couch and getting back into condition is a trickier proposition.
NEAT stands for “NonExercise Activity Thermogenesis” and it is essential for successful weight loss. Basically, it is the extra stuff one does, physically, all day long that adds up. One should make a point to add more “neat” into one’s day so that one can zap another 500 calories! A few ideas include:3
• Do crunches in bed: One could burn about 20 calories in under 5 minutes just by drawing one’s knees to the chest 25 to 50 times, plus it strengthens one’s abs and gets one’s blood pumping.
• Dance around while getting dressed: One could turn up the radio or listen to upbeat music on an iPod while doing all the morning rituals—an hour of hip shaking can burn about 55 calories.
• Stand up! One should not sit when one can be on one’s feet—to burn about 40% more calories. So just take a stand—when one is on the phone, watching kids at the playground, making small talk at a party.
• augh: One should watch something that is consistently funny. That could burn about 40 calories if one guffaws for 10 to 15 minutes straight.
• Walk, pace, jog down the hall: In other words, MOVE! Doing little bits of activity all day—taking the stairs to use the restroom on another floor at work, doing an extra lap around the grocery store—can help one burn an additional 375 calories a day!
In fact, everyday activities do add up as well:
Table 1. Move a little, and lose a lot.
Exercise for Weight Control
People who exercise regularly give many reasons for why they do what they do, regardless of life and occupation’s demands.
They say exercise can improve their health, mood, strength, stamina, or even take them away from their daily chores. But for many, whether they admit it or not, the desire to lose or control weight to stay in shape is a major motivation.
But when one diets without exercising, one loses both muscle and fat, which is counterproductive because muscle loss significantly lowers the basic metabolic rate—the number of calories the body uses at rest.
Table 2. Exercise burns calories, offsetting the calorie intake and helping lose weight. Heavier people need more energy to move, using more calories per activity. 1 kg = 2.2 lbs; 54 kg = 120 lbs; 82 kg = 180 lbs. The weight used in this article is 154 lbs, about the average of these two weights.
Weight-bearing activities that work against gravity—aerobic activities like walking, running, cross-country skiing, dancing, skating and stair-climbing—use proportionately more calories at a given level of effort than swimming, cycling or water aerobics. The more muscle groups are involved in the activities, such as in vigorous or competitive dancing, the more calories one is likely to burn. That is why working out against gravity uses more calories than non-weight-bearing activities. In comparison, because activities like swimming put less stress on weight-bearing joints, many people can do them for longer periods, making up for the lower caloric burn. In addition, the buoyancy in swimming can help the overweight initially as they get into the routine of exercising.
If one engages in resistance exercises—working out with weights or on machines that strengthen various muscle groups—one may gain several pounds of muscle that partly offset the loss of body fat. In other words, one may lose fewer pounds than if one expends the same number of calories on an aerobic activity like brisk walking or swimming, but one will be stronger and better toned. With greater muscle mass, one’s basic metabolic rate will rise and one will burn more calories all day and night. And since muscle holds less water and takes up less room than the equivalent weight of fat, by shedding fat and gaining muscle one can lose inches and sizes without losing actual pounds on the scale. Jack Wilmore, an exercise physiologist at Texas A&M University, calculated that the average amount of muscle that men gained after a serious 12-week weight-lifting program was 2 kilograms, or 4.4 pounds. That added muscle would increase the metabolic rate by 24 calories a day.4
But one should keep in mind that the time spent doing resistance exercise burns fewer calories than if the same time is spent on aerobic activities. How skilled one is at the chosen activity also influences the calories burned. Those less skilled, such as unskilled dancers, make unnecessary movements or have to work harder at the activity, using more calories an hour than those who perform it efficiently. That may sound like it is an advantage to be unskilled, but there is a significant downside: Those with less skill tend to tire faster and thus spend less time at the activity. They are also more prone to overuse injuries; they probably would not enjoy doing the activity as much, giving them a good excuse to quit. Another factor in caloric burn is the increased number of calories the body uses after a workout. Both aerobic and resistance exercises raise energy expenditure over the next 12 to 24 hours, but the range is great—from 10 to 150 calories, depending on the type of activity and how long and vigorously it was done. Though it does not sound like much, it can add up over the long run.
Exercise for All
The older one gets, the more one has to deal with creaky and painful joints. But the benefits of exercise—from lower blood pressure to improved mood—are just too great to pass up. So most people who want to remain active eventually learn to accommodate their aging bodies by changing sports or exercise routines.
There are, however, a few rules of thumb to keep in mind. Recent studies have taught exercise physiologist a lot about which combinations of physical activities work best at different ages. But the same physiologists also warn that one should not get so hung up on the new advice that one abandons the old routines. Herbert Löllgen, professor of sports medicine and cardiology at Bochum University, Germany, says, “Swimming, hiking, bowling and calisthenics are particularly advisable.
But even the smallest units of exercise mount up over the day.”
Whatever the age, do spice up the routine with variety to avoid both boredom and injury. The effects of physical exercise on mortality and morbidity, even in old age, can be compared to expensive medication. But what is even more important is preserving independence and quality of life. There are several excellent sports that one may use as hobby exercises. Examples are badminton, swimming, hiking or dancing. Take for example, badminton, which has a false wimpy perception because of the backyard version of the real sport, is really one of those few skilled sports that one can play from the age of six to the age of seventy, and even offering more intense workout than other racquet sports like racquetball and tennis.5
Dancing, which can double as a hobby, is an outstanding form of social and exercise activity whose intensity can be adjusted accordingly to suit one’s age and flexibility. It is one of the few forms of exercise that on a social dance floor, the dancer gets to meet new people, dance different dances to a variety of songs, that is, no monotony. In fact, it does not feel like exercising at all; it feels like fun. Using one’s hobby as a form of exercise has another advantage: one not only enjoys the “exercise” more, but one is also not likely to find a handy excuse for not sticking with the “workout program.”
Fitness activities can be divided into three broadly categories. On top of the list is cardiovascular exercise—anything that makes the heart beat faster. No matter one’s age, unless one has a truly unstable condition, getting the heart rate up several times a week is really important. The other two types are strength training and stability (balance) exercise. These two come into greater play as one gets older. One does not necessarily have to separate the exercise for each category.
Indeed, some of the best physical routines, like dancing, tai chi or rock climbing, combine two or more approaches. But expect to change the mix as one move through the decades of one’s life.
Dr. Hwa A. Lim: Ph.D., MBA, MA [USA] ; B.Sc. (Hons), ARCS [UK]. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is based on a chapter in a forthcoming book in Hal’s series of “Yours” books: Hwa A. Lim, Healthfully Yours: Diets, diseases, fountain of
youth, and longevity, (2011, eBook), and references therein.
2 Jeffrey Kluger, “Couch potatoes, arise”, Time, 165(23), August 8, 2005, pp. 52–53.
3 Liz Vaccariello, “5 Neat and easy ways to burn calories all day, every day!” Prevention, June 27, 2009.
4 Gina Kolata, “Does exercise really keep us healthy?” The New York Times, January 8, 2008.
Tags: dancing exercise, dancing mental training, retirement training, weight control