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Become an athlete in the game of life – training for longevity

When you think of your life when you’re 80+ years old, what do you imagine? Hopefully, you think of spending time with your loved ones, attending family gatherings, and being able to do the things you enjoy, whether that is traveling, gardening or other hobbies. 

Athletes spend their lives training for a specific task, like running or playing football. Their whole day centers around that specific task. What if we could train our bodies to maximize function and quality of life over time? This is training for longevity. 

 

What is the the health span?

The idea of maximizing performance, well-being and physical functioning over time  is known as the health span. Most of us are familiar with the term “lifespan,” as it refers to how long we live. The health span is often overlooked in healthcare. Medical interventions can buy you time, but they can’t always guarantee physical functioning or quality of life. 

Peter Attia, MD, discusses this concept on his YouTube channel. He argues that health span is a “malleable metric,” meaning that you can alter your health span with the choices that you make throughout your life. 

This is where physical therapy can help; as physical therapists, we are highly concerned with your quality of life, ease of movement, pain levels, and physical functioning, AKA, your health span. 

If you look at improving your health span like an athletic event, then the goal of training is to improve your physical function, pain levels, safety, and overall quality of daily life. This can be accomplished through the four "pillars of exercise", even if you are someone who has never exercised or followed a workout plan before. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. 

What are the pillars of exercise?

To maximize function and quality of life and training for longevity, there are four categories that are important to consider. 

The National Institute on Aging defines the four pillars of exercise as: 

  1. Cardiovascular endurance 
  2. Strength
  3. Balance
  4. Flexibility

The pillars of exercise defined

  1. Cardiovascular endurance 
    • Description: Cardiovascular endurance, also known as aerobic fitness, involves exercises that increase your heart rate and breathing, enhancing the efficiency of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system.
    • Examples: Running, cycling, swimming, walking, and dancing.
    • Benefits: Improved heart health, increased lung capacity, better circulation, and reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Improved VO2 max for better endurance for tasks like prolonged walking. 
  2. Muscular strength/endurance
    • Description: Muscular strength refers to the amount of force a muscle or group of muscles can exert in a single effort. Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated contractions or continue applying force against a fixed resistance.
    • Examples: Weight lifting, resistance band exercises, bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats. For endurance, planks, cycling, rowing, high-rep resistance training. 
    • Benefits: Enhanced muscle mass, improved bone density, better joint function, and increased metabolic rate. The benefits of improved muscular endurance are: greater stamina, improved posture, reduced fatigue, and better performance in daily activities and sports.
  3. Flexibility
    • Description: Flexibility involves the range of motion available at a joint or group of joints, facilitated by muscle elongation.
    • Examples: Stretching exercises, yoga, pilates, and dynamic stretching.
    • Benefits: Improved mobility, reduced risk of injuries, decreased muscle soreness, and enhanced overall movement efficiency.
  4. Balance
    • Description: Balance is the ability to maintain the body's position, whether moving or stationary, by using various muscle groups effectively.
    • Examples: Balance exercises, tai chi, yoga, and stability ball exercises.
    • Benefits: Improved coordination, reduced risk of falls, better core strength, and enhanced athletic performance.

 

If this seems overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be! We are here to be your partner in improving your health span and overall quality of life. We can assist you with coming up with a program that matches your current ability level, addresses your long term goals, and progresses over time. 

The current CDC guidelines for physical activity for adults are at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular activity per week and at least 2 days of strength training per week. If you break that down into daily activity, that is just over 20 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per day. If you are not yet able to perform moderate aerobic activity for 20 minutes, that’s okay! Some activity is better than none, and we can assist you with creating a program to progress to the recommended daily activity level. 

 

Here is an example of the base level of a program to help you start improving your health span and training for longevity. 

Building the Foundation

Cardiovascular Fitness:

  • Frequency: 3 times per week
  • Activity: Brisk walking
  • Duration: 20 minutes per session 
  • Intensity: Moderate (able to talk but not sing)

Strength Training:

  • Frequency: 2 times per week
  • Exercises: Bodyweight exercises (e.g., squats, push-ups against a wall, lunges)
  • Duration: 15 minutes per session
  • Sets/Reps: 2-3 sets of 6-12 reps

Flexibility:

  • Frequency: Daily
  • Activity: Simple stretching routine covering major muscle groups (e.g., hamstring stretch, shoulder stretch)
  • Duration: 5-10 minutes

Balance:

  • Frequency: 2 times per week
  • Activity: Balance exercises (e.g., standing on one foot, heel-to-toe walk)
  • Duration: 5 minutes

 

From there, the next progression would be duration and intensity of exercise. The key is to choose activities you enjoy doing. They should be able to easily fit into your current lifestyle without having to make major changes. There is a reason why so many people sign up for gym memberships in January and stop going after a couple of months. If an activity takes too much time or there is a big barrier to getting it done (like getting dressed, getting in the car, driving to the gym, choosing what to do while you are there, etc.), then you are much less likely to consistently do the activity, especially over time. 

 

Tips for Success:

  • Listen to Your Body: Adjust intensity and duration based on how you feel.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water, especially before and after workouts.
  • Rest and Recovery: Ensure adequate rest days to prevent injury and promote recovery.
  • Consistency Over Intensity: Regular, moderate exercise is more beneficial and sustainable than sporadic intense workouts.
  • Enjoyment: Choose activities you enjoy to maintain motivation.

Another tip for success: consult a professional. At Rise Physical Therapy, we are fully staffed with only Doctors of Physical Therapy. We have the expertise and the time with you one-on-one to develop a full plan for you to improve or maintain your health span and to better understand the pillars of exercise. 

Are you ready to get started? Request an appointment today! 

Alyssa Lindau

Written by Alyssa Lindau, PT, DPT 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
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