HeartSense Helpathon: Fourth in a Series

I noticed on Twitter that Liz Scherer mentioned time and again that she was at the gym for her workout, even going in bad weather.  So I asked her to write about why and how she exercises for good health. Turns out she is even more dedicated than I thought.  Below is the guest post of a very determined woman who makes time for exercise daily because it is important.  In previous guest posts, Jody Schoger inspired us with her passion for walking and cycling and Brian Mossop dazzled us with Why I Run.  Here Liz Scherer tells about her gym workout and explains that she just has to move every day.  Maybe something she inherited from her very active mom and dad? Are you like Liz or do you marvel at her story?                                  

Move it or lose it: confessions of a junkie    

Here’s a little-known fact, even amongst my inner circle: I’m a junkie. And when I don’t get my daily fix, I lose my momentum, my emotional balance, my focus, my everything. 

As an aging, perimenopausal woman and a health writer/journalist, I’m well aware of the benefits of regular physical activity, including:

Significant improvements in metabolic and cardiovascular capacity 

Reductions in breast cancer risk, especially during menopause

Maintenance of normal weight as the metabolism slows

Better balance to counter bone loss, and along the same line, preservation of bone as estrogen begins to wane.

However, these benefits aside, it’s also personal; my activity regimen helps to keep the blues and life stressors at bay or, at the very least, temper them. Moreover, as an individual who’s been plagued with back and other joint issues most of her life, I know that movement keeps me upright.

HeartSense Helpathon

Here’s another confession:

It’s in the genes.

I have yet to see any data that demonstrate that interest in exercise and physical activity is genetically based. Hence, as an “n=1” example, I’d like to offer the following hypothesis:

The need/desire to exercise is hard-wired at birth.

If true, this would provide a rationale for why I went from the gateway of jungle gyms to the harder stuff: gym workouts, running, biking, hiking, and walking miles and miles and miles all over Manhattan. It would also explain why exercise doesn’t simply keep me alive and healthy, but it makes me feel vibrant and powerful. Moreover, every cell in my body craves it when I stay away for too long.

Physical activity. It’s my family’s genetic pool. Say what you will but one of the most vivid memories I have of my grandmother is her single-handedly moving a piece of furniture in her apartment, a piece that was at least twice her size and almost equivalent to her weight, and at the age of 87, no less.

My parents, currently 84 and 79, are also addicted. Back in the 70s, it was running and tennis; today, it’s horseback riding, exercise class, half-court basketball, tennis and golf, minutes on the BOSU, Qigong, you name it.  

For me, my routine is as varied as my interests. However, there are two constants:

A minimum of 50 minutes of cardio/aerobic activity daily.  Recent data suggest that women need a minimum of 55 minutes daily of moderate-intensity physical activity to maintain daily weight. I work out at a gym where I rely on a combination of the recumbent bike, elliptical, rowing machine, or walking backward on the treadmill. Not only is my aim to maintain a target heart rate but I also want to ensure that I am hitting both lower and upper body areas during the course of my daily workout. In addition to metabolic boost, the goal is multifold: cardiovascular/aerobic conditioning, upper and lower body strengthening, and core conditioning, all of which keep me healthy and upright. Of note, rowing has been a recent addition for me; not only does it work out my entire body, but it’s incredibly meditative and hence a stress buster and creativity enhancer.

An every-other-day weight/machine regimen as an add-on to aerobic activity. Due to time constraints, I tend to focus on either the lower or upper body on these days but ensure that I get both into my week. Of note, workouts should be individualized and take into account physical limitations, age, and overall health. My workouts were developed by a trainer who understands the challenges of an aging body in conjunction with my physical therapist, who is also a physiologist and is responsible for helping me to eliminate much of the joint and back pain I am prone towards. Specifically, my weight/machine regimen is designed to strengthen my core, develop my upper back/shoulder strength and combat the middle-aged bulge that accompanies waning hormone levels in women. It includes free weights, the use of resistance bands, and Free Motion Cross-Cable machines that allow a customized program and smoother resistance. Importantly, I focus less on the overall weight I’m using for each machine and more on repetitions; this helps me to achieve fitness goals without overtaxing any area of my body. 

Whether you’re 25 or 35, 50, 70, or older, do yourself a favor: move. Physical activity is an addiction that’s not only good for you, it’s also bound to make you feel good and can help keep you feeling good for the rest of your life. The one rule of thumb is to make sure that your healthcare practitioner supports whatever physical activity that you decide to engage in and that you work with a knowledgeable team of trainers and physiologists who can individualize programs.

Yes, I am a junkie and I come from a long line of junkies. I don’t need a pusher because I push myself every single day.  Kick the habit? Not a chance!