Walking, swimming, gardening
My last blog post fancifully imagined us all dancing to our dream land, which itself is my fanciful way of thinking about Life Two. And so I expounded on the joys and benefits of dancing.
But suppose dancing doesn’t appeal to you, for whatever reason.
It’s obviously the motion that brings a large part of the benefit. There are many forms of motion that therefore must also bring you benefit, forms of regular exercise, like swimming, yoga, weight training, gardening, and the simplest of all: walking. Remember, the key is to choose something you enjoy, or can train yourself to enjoy: that’ll be your way of “dancing” to your dream land. One important thing to remember is that, whatever form you choose, the medical recommendation is typically summarized as needing 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, preferably spread through the week and not all at once. Or 75 minutes of strenuous activity, but if you’re into strenuous activity you’ll already be more advanced than the readers at whom I’m directing this.
Let’s take a look at walking.
How much brings a benefit? A brisk 10-minute walk seems to be the minimum required, for any stretch of walking to count as activity. When you do this, count it toward your 150 minutes a week.
Brisk? What counts as brisk? Something like 3 miles an hour, or a mile in 20 minutes, or a kilometer in 12 minutes. If you’re not timing yourself (which can become obsessive), walk fast enough that you can still talk, but can’t sing the words to a song. There are apps that help you track your pace and time and so on.
You may need to start gradually. That’s OK – this is a long-term plan. You may want to check with your doctor. If it hurts, perhaps swimming is better for your joints, because water supports you while you’re strengthening your muscles.
Can you make walking a habit, one you enjoy? Anything that becomes a habit is useful, as you don’t have to constantly motivate yourself to start. Joining a group, or just walking with a friend, are ways many people use. As I say many times, people often join a group for the activity and stay for the company. If you’re alone, you might listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks, all of which pass the time much faster. Apps suggest interesting walking routes in towns, exploring heritage or just enjoying nature. Perhaps you can also use walking as a substitute for other daily activities, like walking to stores, or climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator.
Again, you get the idea. No doubt you’ll also learn about comfortable walking shoes and clothing.
What about swimming? It’s the same approach – not a surprise. But there may be some who can’t swim or aren’t confident swimmers, like me when I graduated to my Life Two and wanted to learn how to swim properly (as opposed to staying afloat and moving forward awkwardly, which was my limit). I took swimming lessons, and wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that the others in the pool were, shall we say, a couple of generations younger than me. My motivation was simply that my years of running might have caused some damage to my joints, so getting that water support while swimming might be the ideal long-term form of exercise for me, as indeed for most people.
What’s that same approach I mentioned? Making it a habit, joining a club or a group (including perhaps your children or grandchildren, which can be pure joy), adding forms of exercise, or moving to open water swimming like in a lake or the sea – all of which add so much variety while you’re indulging in healthy exercise.
How much swimming? Try for three times a week, 20 minutes of continuous swimming each time (which, with warm-up and cool-down, might require 30 minutes in all), all counting towards your 150 minutes.
I mentioned gardening. I needed to research this, as all my life I’ve been a big-city person with no opportunity (or inclination) to turn to gardening. But I know people who love it, and say it relaxes them and gives them both peace of mind and purpose; and certainly when I see what they’ve accomplished, often it’s a thing of beauty for me, and I understand the pride and joy in their achievement.
But it’s not just the mental health that gardening brings: the self-esteem, the stress reduction, the mood boosting, the connection with nature, sometimes the social connection. All of which makes you feel happier. (Indeed, other forms of exercise bring increased mental health too, in their own way.) It’s also physical health. You grow stronger (just think of the hand strength from weeding and the arm strength from raking), your heart stays healthier, your blood pressure is healthier, your body resists disease more easily, your cognitive function improves, your energy levels increase, it assists if your goal is weight loss. Again, you get these benefits from other forms of exercise too. Gardening adds exposure to the sun, which (as long as you don’t overdo it) adds to your Vitamin D and its resulting benefits.
It’s possible to combine other forms of exercise with gardening. Digging; carrying bags of mulch; mini-squats or lunges while weeding: just use your imagination!
And, speaking of not overdoing it (with any form of exercise), you’ll take the necessary precautions, which I’ll let you find out for yourself, whatever exercise it is that you adopt as your substitute for dancing.
And of course there are dozens of other forms of exercise I haven’t mentioned at all. Maybe another piece on yoga, t’ai chi and pilates, and the four focal points of all forms of exercise.
Discovering what form of exercise you enjoy is a big step to that feeling that you’re dancing on your way to freedom.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.