A little over a year ago, my husband and I decided to update our home with the intention to sell it. We had lived in it for 9 years, and although we knew it needed some exterior work, we continuously put it off for myriad reasons—not enough time, lack of energy/motivation, an added expense we didn’t want to incur, etc. We bit the bullet and dove into working on the exterior last year. Wow, did we have a rude awakening—wood rot, water damage, all sorts of trouble we didn’t even know existed. Suddenly, both the scope and the bill for the repairs ballooned up beyond what we could feasibly handle, and we began to freak-out. Embarrassed and overwhelmed, we decided to consult our realtor.
He pointed out that our decision to fall back on a “deferred maintenance plan” was not at all that uncommon. As he continued to talk, a bell went off in my head as I suddenly realized I was having similar conversations with a number of my clients.
Many people can find logical reasons for skipping the necessary maintenance on their bodies. Exercise can be inconvenient and time-consuming; gym memberships can be expensive; there are so many ways to exercise, it’s hard to know where to start, so they just…don’t. At some point, many people will find themselves with a chronic problem that keeps them from returning to the activities and hobbies they love. Learning that most of their discomfort could have been prevented with “regular maintenance” is terribly frustrating. (And in some cases down right infuriating!)
So what kind of maintenance does the human body need? I have broken it down into 5 broad categories:
- General movement snacks.
Our culture is a sedentary one. Yes, even if you work out at the gym every day, that’s about 1 hour out of your 16 + hour day that you have set aside for movement. Many of us spend the rest of the day sitting: behind a desk, behind the wheel of a car, in a restaurant, etc. To keep your body comfortable, it’s important to build movement “snacks” into your day. By this, I mean 1-5 minute sessions of stretching, walking, or moving in a variety of ways, but not sitting. Just as you build snacks into your day to maintain your blood sugar, movement snacks will help to maintain the joints and muscles, ward off stiffness, and as a bonus, provide a much-needed brain break. How many “snacks” should you take? I recommend starting with 2 per day, and building up to 5 as able.
- Get the heart beating.
Also known as cardiovascular exercise, cardio involves the use of the large muscles of the body for a minimum of 20 minutes of sustained effort. It is important for heart health and blood pressure management. You likely already know that your options include walking, running, swimming, biking, and many interesting pieces of equipment at your neighborhood gym. For heart health, work to keep your heart and breathing rate up to a pace you perceive as “moderate- moderately hard”. I like to describe it as the point at which you can still talk, but you can’t sing. For those just beginning a cardio program, start with 5-10 minutes and increase as tolerated each week, working up to 20 minutes or more. If possible, find an activity or piece of equipment you enjoy; cardio does not need to feel like a sentence. By the way, walking is a great cardio activity, and in most cases, does not require any out-of-pocket cost.
- Get stronger.
The word “strength” may conjure up images of barbells and dumbbells, or even a line of weight machines at a gym. But strength does not have to involve any of these. In fact, functional strength refers to the ability to navigate your daily environment successfully. This may include going up and down stairs, getting up and down from the floor, lifting and carrying a full basket of laundry, or hauling an armful of firewood to the doorstep. Functional strength training may start with bodyweight (or less, as we do in RedCord work (See https://www.re-kinect.com/redcord/ for more information,) and building up to bodyweight or beyond. Functional strength does not require you to block hours of time in an already packed day. I recommend fitting what you need to do into 10-15 minutes, or even in smaller bursts throughout the day (see movement snacks, above.)
- Start a Balancing Act.
Balance training does not have to involve advanced yoga poses or gymnastic feats, but it should include the ability to stand on 1 foot, or negotiate un-level or unstable surfaces like cobblestones or sand. Poor balance often arises from a sedentary lifestyle, as well as from joint stiffness and/ or muscle weakness. In my experience, loss of good balance is slow and insidious, and often goes unnoticed until it becomes a major liability. But you can win it back, and even prevent it from deteriorating. Find easy opportunities to work on balance daily while brushing your teeth, waiting in line or cooking dinner. Walk on un-paved paths off the sidewalk for varied terrain—balance challenges are everywhere!
- Bending, reaching and twisting
Like balance, flexibility can go un-noticed as well and cause just as many problems like the inability to tie your shoes, reach into an upper cabinet for some rarely-used appliance, or safely back your car out of a parking place. Loss of flexibility can lead to more aches and pains, as your body tries to “work around” the stiffness to achieve the demands of the brain. You need not aspire to be as flexible as a yogi or a ballet dancer. As with functional strength, you simply need to be able to navigate your daily environment without strain. A gentle stretching program may take no more than 5- 10 minutes, and should be completed after the body has been warmed-up. A great time for it is after your cardio or strength exercise.
This list may seem like a big one, but chances are, you are already regularly practicing one or more of categories above. Depending on your goals for general health, daily activity or level of engagement in a hobby or sport, you may need to beef-up your efforts in one or more of those areas. Not sure where to start? We’re here to help.
And take it from me, after dealing with all of the headaches associated with deferred maintenance on our house, it’s worth putting in the time and effort to take care of yourself…now!