We are meant to move

If you ride the Marguerite shuttle service’s Palm Drive Express, this should sound familiar: late-comers cutting it close at the end of the day and running up to the bus just as it pulls off the curb, hopping on board and breathing heavily through a huge grin. For that brief moment, your co-worker is a kid again, giddy to get on the school bus and head for home.

By itself, bolting from the office to the Oval will not keep you young. But opportune moments throughout the day that get you moving can keep you spry. “Over a lifetime, regular physical activity helps maintain mobility, which is critical to quality of life,” says Dr. Anne Friedlander, Director of the Mobility Division at the Stanford Center on Longevity. Recent research also suggests that exercising regularly is one of the best ways to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.


Our bodies are built to move …

… Yet many of us still aren’t active enough. Friedlander suggests that part of the problem is modern life itself: driving to work, taking the elevator, sitting at a computer all day and watching television before bed. So we schedule an isolated event during the day to squeeze in physical activity — in other words, “getting in a workout.”

That’s why, all too often, you hear people complain about having to “drag” themselves to the gym. The workout feels forced, not particularly enjoyable, and before long it may become associated with discomfort or even pain. So instead of back to the gym, we may start going straight home. Now, no one is suggesting a mad dash to the bus every day. But there are other ways to get moving: choose the stairs over the elevator, forgo the golf cart and bike across campus, and embrace housekeeping and gardening at home. Remember: You won’t always feel up to the more active alternative, but you will feel better after you’ve done it.


Start with incremental improvements

And if your lifestyle now is mostly sedentary, here’s the good news: you have the most to gain when you start making changes to your daily routine. World-class athletes have to train hard for incremental improvements. Meanwhile, the couch potato — perhaps ironically — sees results once he turns off the TV, starts washing the plates by hand and takes an after-dinner stroll around the block. And, while these changes to lifestyle activity won’t maximize his physical fitness, they may provide a practical target for health improvement.

“Remember,” Friedlander says, “every step counts, and over the long run, small, consistent changes can make a big difference.”


Stretch for flexibility

Flexibility also plays a large role in maintaining mobility. Granted, when done improperly or overzealously, stretching can do a number on tendons and muscles. But doing moderate flexibility exercises to maintain range of motion means you’ll still be able to reach for that top shelf and clip your own toenails as you get older. Another truism: it’s much easier to maintain range of motion than to get it back.


Targeted training

Lastly, a strategy to keep in mind is “training your deficits.” If you have parents or older siblings who have become physically slower or weaker over the years, take note of specifically how — and then train those specific attributes while you still possess them. As a bonus, you can share what you’ve learned with your family.

Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna Ryan.