The short answer is to exercise 30 minutes a day, every day, like you mean it. You don’t have to hurt yourself, or collapse from exhaustion. But it takes a bit of exertion and may make you sweat.
The question, as found in the title, is how do you extend your life, and improve your brain by working your butt? If you cling to the belief that relaxing instead of exercising is clever, you are only cheating yourself. The human body is a miracle of nature. Like all living things, it can do amazing things, and adapts to the environmental challenges it confronts. We wouldn’t be here if humans had to have things just so. The human body figured out how to clear the hurdles that history has presented.
For instance, if you run to the point of breathing hard, and sustain that exertion, your body responds by growing more blood vessels to deliver additional blood to your muscles. Your body assumes you had a very good reason for running, and begins to build more of what you need to help you run more and faster. If you keep running with consistency, your body will improve its capacity for cardiovascular exertion. Kenyans have a reputation for being great runners. You may think they are born that way, but they aren’t. They grow up that way, though. It’s their “thing” to run everywhere, starting in childhood. There’s just a lot of people in Kenya that run a lot, so some of them become the fastest runners in the world at all the distances.
If you exert your muscles in a particular way — namely, to make them burn off the oxygen and glucose in their immediate energy stores by doing about a minute of heavy lifting — the muscles will respond by growing more muscles. Your body assumes that you need to lift heavy things, and begins to build more of what you need to lift heavy things. If you keep lifting heavy things consistently, you will grow more and more muscle. You may think that some body builders are freaks of nature, but they aren’t. They spend a lot of time exerting each of their muscles, encouraging them to grow bigger, and ensuring the muscles have what they need to grow.
It turns out that you can, within reason, make your body into pretty much anything. You can stretch your muscles so they are really flexible, like a yogi. You can make them stronger by challenging them with nothing but your own body weight, like a gymnast. We all have a genetic pre-disposition for a certain body type, but with consistent exercise and proper nutrition you can change your body.
The one thing the body doesn’t like is complete and continuous rest. When a leg or an arm is clad in a cast for a couple of weeks, the muscles start to shrink and whither. Unused, they withdraw like jilted lovers, and leave us.
A couch potato turns to mashed potatoes. That may be the body that they want, but what you may not realize is how the inactivity harms all parts of our health. Left unchallenged, the body thinks there is less need for blood flow, and arteries and veins begin to disappear. Muscles atrophy. Your heart grows weaker, and must beat more often to keep things flowing.
If inactivity persists, your immune system weakens, your brain activity slows, and the ability of the brain to control the body decreases. Even something as simple as walking becomes a chore, and, with core muscles weaker, people have to lean from side to side to walk forward.
The great news is that you don’t have to run, or lift weights, or practice calisthenics like a gymnast if you don’t want to. A brisk walk for half an hour will provide great benefits. Gardening — if you are digging, lifting, reaching, and moving around — will also provide great benefit. Dancing can be one of the best things to do because you move, challenge your brain to command your body in tempo with the music, and do it in conjunction with someone else. Sex, by the way, wouldn’t hurt either.
The list of fun, simple things goes on: tennis or table tennis; walking a golf course or a frisbee golf course; playing soccer or softball. In fact, playing games has the double bonus of social interaction, having fun, and challenging your mind and body to perform.
Modern life here in America can still present a challenge to getting enough activity into our life. What am I saying? Of course it’s a challenge when we drive through a restaurant to pick up a meal, eat in the car, and then sit in front of a television most of the night. The temptations are great. I recommend you choose some simple techniques to keep your body moving.
I like to do some light calisthenics and stretching first thing in the morning. I barely break a sweat, but I feel the difference. My day goes better when I start it with the light exertion. I know some people that will run or walk a mile on their treadmill, or take their dog for a walk first thing in the morning and for the same reasons: they feel better the rest of the day.
I walk after lunch. Maybe just a mile, but it makes me feel better the rest of the afternoon. If you don’t do it now, give it a try.
For a special, “because it’s there” effect, I will climb the seven flights of stairs in my building late in the afternoon just for the heck of it.
In the evening, after supper, I will run a little, or do some calisthenics (push ups, pull ups, and squats) to the point of exertion. I try to keep it under 20 minutes. And that’s it.
After that, I know I’ve done something good for myself, improved my health, and taken care of someone I love — me.
You should too.