This problem isn’t a study, but it should be. The study would test the percentage of people over 50 who give up on staying fit because they think of it as an all-or-nothing deal. You have to get your heart rate up at least once a day; you have to hoist weights repeatedly to work every muscle in your body at least several times a week.
Many people over 50 can’t commit to all that. However, the mistake so many baby boomers make is to feel that they in turn can’t commit to any of it. But the fact is, even if you just walk around your main room a few times, your heart has to pump extra blood for the effort, so your heart rate goes up.
Here’s the science: The heart and lungs work as a team. Air breathed in goes to the lungs, which oxygenate the blood vessels. This oxygen-filled blood quickly circulates throughout the entire body. We absorb oxygen with the air we breathe in, and we get rid of our waste product, carbon dioxide, with the air we breathe out.
Whenever we move, we use up oxygen faster. This signals the blood vessels to supply more of that nutrient. That in turn signals the heart to pump the oxygenated blood faster, so the heart starts to beat faster to get the blood moving more quickly. That means the lungs need you to breathe in more air to extract more oxygen and get it into the blood vessels. If necessary, your lungs will make you gasp for that air.
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With repeated sessions, lungs get more efficient in extracting oxygen, and blood vessels get more efficient at distributing it. Getting your heart rate up to a “training zone” for your age and condition (after checking with your physician) expands the function capacity of both your heart and lungs, an essential health benefit.
Additionally, when muscles are moved, their fibers will shorten and/or lengthen in response. Those more active fibers now need more blood oxygen to provide the immediate energy that they need to function.
Muscles, which allow us to move by applying pressure to the bones, are not only in the arms, legs and core. Because muscle is a tissue that contracts, the pumping heart is made of muscle tissue. Smooth muscle tissue holds a contraction as a sheet of tissue rather than a collection of fibers. It lines the blood vessels, some internal organs, and the reproductive tracts of both men and women.
Repeated and more intense workouts will strengthen the ability of skeletal muscle to contract, thus increasing strength. The muscles that are worked most often will respond by growing bigger. That’s skeletal muscle’s response to physical stress, otherwise known as a workout.
But you don’t have to go to any real work to get exercise benefits. When it comes to exercise, some is much better than none. Maybe you will never want to train hard enough to be in shape to run a 5k race. It doesn’t matter. The most important thing to understand is that your body will react when stimulated by physical work, however light the load.
Common sense will tell you that a lightly worked body won’t react by giving you the same degree of benefits gained by those who work harder on staying in good shape. Even if you’d never go into a gym, even if you’re not the least bit active, do a little session of movement every day.
Use this as a mantra: Some is better than none. It’s best to do a consistent and planned fitness program to keep all your body parts in the best possible shape. But don’t forget Plan B: deciding to keep your body functional as long as possible, then deciding what kind of exercises you’ll be most likely to do consistently, writing down a program of sets and repetitions, and then doing it.
Think of exercise as preservation of the body’s physical function, and tailor your conditioning routine accordingly.