Why It’s So Important to Exercise As You Age

Burr in Chair for blogNow that I’m 64 and the aging process is noticeably changing my body, I’ve become profoundly grateful to have exercise in my life. I feel especially lucky that the workout I’ve been doing for the last three decades, the Bar Method, seemed to have assumed the role of protector against time. In my 30s and 40s I loved the workout (which was then the Bar Method’s predecessor, the Lotte Berk Method) because it made me look and feel good. Over the past few years I’ve been stunned to find that my workouts, while not exactly reversing time, are turning it back significantly. Now they’re not just making me more buff and toned. They’re also wiping away fatigue, mental cloudiness, grumpiness, aching joints and a host of other symptoms of the aging process. I can go into a class feeling exhausted and walk out of it almost magically energized. My muscles don’t as easily retain the strength gained from my workouts like they used to decades ago, but the classes always leave me calmer, more centered, and in a better humor. I hate to think how different my life would be at this stage if I didn’t have this workout to renew me on an ongoing basis.

Burr in round-backEverything I’ve reported to you in this blog thus far is old news to the medical community. Doctors and economists have been all over this subject for decades, and their research has been sending up flags about the dangers of older adults not being active. A group of several hundred physiologists found that millions of Americans are dying prematurely each year from “Sedentary Death Syndrome,” or lack of physical activity. Meanwhile, economists have determined that the cost of these deaths to our country are somewhere around three trillion dollars a year due to life-style related diabetes, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, strokes, osteoporosis, dementia, accidental falls, and other lifestyle-related illnesses and issues. Atlanta’s Center for Disease Control estimates that if all these physically inactive Americans became active, we’d save “$77 billion in direct annual medical costs, and an estimated $150 billion in direct and indirect medical costs.”

There are signs that more and more of us in this country are beginning to understand the relationship between inactivity and illness. We see an increasing number of older people whose bodies remind us of cars that haven’t been maintenanced for decades, and their downcast, disappointed, and defeated-looking faces can’t but affect us. We might ask ourselves, ”what happened to those people? Could they have been in accidents?”  More likely, they’ve lived the sedentary lifestyle that our society has made the norm.

Bill CunninghamCall me an optimist, but I believe that at some point in our future history, people will figure out a way out of this pitfall. The results have come in from our mass experiment with inactivity. We know that it hurts us, especially now that we’re living longer. Fortunately, as a species we’re ambitious when it comes to our right to enjoy life to the last drop, and we have the drive, ability and adaptability to reinvent ourselves when it serves our purposes. One example from the past is our dental care habits, which have evolved to become unrecognizable from the way they were 200 years ago. “Sedentary Death Syndrome” is actually a pretty recent problem. People started to become inactive in great numbers less than a century ago when enough modern conveniences were invented to relieve them of the necessary of exerting their bodies. We’re really just in the preliminary stages of tackling this challenge.

Already some Americans have been deciding to lead very active lives in their later years. Jack LaLanne lifted weight into his 90s. Cloris Leachman competed in Dancing With The Stars at age 82, and the wonderful 83-year-old photographer Bill Cunningham still spends his days riding his bike around Manhattan with the grace of a dancer shooting street fashion for the New York Times. I’d like to imagine that in a few hundred years these athletic late-lifestyles will no longer be the exception but our new norm.

20 replies
  1. Christina Laudani
    Christina Laudani says:

    I agree with excercising as you age. My 91 year young grandmother (who still lives on her own) walks miles daily and not too long ago made it through SEVERAL surgeries in one month due to a collapsed lung. Doctors were amazed at how well she came through each time until they found out how much she actually walked. Get out there…Get moving! =)

    Reply
  2. Michael
    Michael says:

    Great article. To get into the exercise habit at an early age is important on those mornings, that one just might want to stay in bed, the habit is to get up and move. It pays in the long run.

    Reply
  3. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    If you are one of those people guilty of having led a FAR too sedentary life, is 55 too late to start Bar Method? I did try a few years ago, for almost a year (just with the dvds as I live abroad) and I must say I really did feel the benefit. Then menopause and a whole load of other health problems appeared and I stupidly stopped! Now I would really love to start again….

    Reply
  4. Hope Goldstein
    Hope Goldstein says:

    I think you found the answer to help reduce America’s deficit i.e. “if all these physically inactive Americans became active, we’d save “$77 billion in direct annual medical costs, and an estimated $150 billion in direct and indirect medical costs”

    LOVE the Bar Method and the Soho Ladies (and gentleman, Tim)

    Reply
  5. Jean Center
    Jean Center says:

    My life goal is to live disease-free. At 55, I know that exercise is not an option–it is a life style requirement to achieve that goal. I started the Bar Method 3 years ago and thought I was in good shape. Wow, was I put in my place–I could not do a full set of anything. Burr you became my role model and I thought if you could have that body so could I. Three years later I am a work in progress and a testimonial to what you can achieve. At 55, some of the 20 and 30-something gals can’t keep up with me in Bar. Yes, the hands of time can be managed to benefit all of us through fitness.

    Reply
  6. Bar Method Headquarters
    Bar Method Headquarters says:

    It’s okay to start The Bar Method at 55. If you have medical concerns, check with your physician before attending class and discuss with your instructor prior to your first Bar Method class.
    Our instructors will guide you through any modifications needed to ensure safety during your workout. Enjoy your workout and we would love to hear your feedback.

    Reply
  7. Grace Huskey
    Grace Huskey says:

    When my husband passed I got busy on a dating site and found my friend Mark. In the past 3 years we have put in over 4,500 miles on his Tandem bicycle. I went from a size 16 to an 8, and my Diabetes has gone away. In Orlando Fl. We have an enormous amount of Trails to ride on. Marrk taught me a lot of good things about riding and opened up a whole new wotld. People see me now and say I look good. at soon to be 67, I`ll take that complimantwith graditude to Mark and God for giving me a healthy way to live.

    Grace Huskey

    Reply
  8. Chris
    Chris says:

    A majority of my clientele is either aged or elderly, and the benefits they reap from exercise are insane – and the turn over time for health and mobility benefits is quite shortly surprisingly.

    Reply
  9. Janet
    Janet says:

    I’m 54 and I do the bar method every other day and I feel great. I love that I can get out of my car without touching it. I can wash a shower stall bent over on one leg and I can pick up the keys i dropped and easily get back up even though my arms are loaded with groceries. I’ll never stop doing this workout as long as I’m able. Thanks for creating these videos Burr and thanks to all the teachers that workout in them with you.

    Janet

    Reply
  10. KarenAnn Collins
    KarenAnn Collins says:

    When will this program be coming to Charlotte, North Carolina? I have a friend from New Jersey who raves about routine, and I can’t help but be interested, but can’t find it here.

    Reply
  11. Blair
    Blair says:

    Excellent article! I am a massage therapist and I notice a huge difference in my older clients between the active ones and the more sedentary ones. Activity and diet are key elements to longevity.

    Reply
  12. donna
    donna says:

    Just tried my first Bar Method class and it was awesome. I’ve got sore muscles in new places and that’s the first workout that’s done that for me in a while now. I do pilates, yoga and strength training but this feels different. I’ll be back!

    Oh, and I’m 52. ;^)

    Reply
  13. Bar Method Headquarters
    Bar Method Headquarters says:

    @KarenAnn There is no confirmed date for a new studio in Charlotte at this time. However, we are constantly scouting locations for new Bar Method studios, so we encourage you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to receive exclusive updates about new openings.

    Reply
  14. Lynne Leahy
    Lynne Leahy says:

    I am a 67 year old Bar Method regular. Six days ago I had a total knee replacement surgery and 4 days later they sent a Physical Therapist to my house – the day after I left the hospital and he wanted to send a nurse and a OT professional – at no cost to me on Medicare. I was stunned into a realty check. Because of Bar Method I have great muscle tone and overall physical fitness. With my Bar Method body and my new knee I quickly graduated from walker to crutches to cane just for balance in less than a week. Thinking over the PT, OT and nurse coming to my house I decided “to heck with that” I’ll just go to my Bar Method class on Wednesday (10 days after surgery) and do a modified workout of what I know works. It really is the best work out for aging.

    Reply
  15. Gregory Brown
    Gregory Brown says:

    I so agree with getting up and moving, as well as starting at a young age. I really wish that I had started years ago, but now that I am going on 50 and have started working out, I feel as though I have a new lease on life. Your story is an inspiration.

    Reply
  16. Kate
    Kate says:

    Exercising in old age is important but starting young is even more important to prevent certain diseases and injuries that may overwhelm someone who has spent many years being totally inactive

    Reply
  17. Marie
    Marie says:

    Okay..59 years old here. Started the DVD’s because there are no studios in Bucks County Pa yet. I have only been doing them with regularity for about 6 weeks and my hips are completely changed. I am working hard to get the stomach in shape. What I experience with this method is overwhelming. It makes my feel great, my husband is just amazed and I stand straighter and have more energy. I do this about 5-6 times a week. If I can’t do it I feel like I missed something really good. Go for it if your body will let you. I hope to be in the best shape of my adult life. At 30 I rocked my Guess jeans. At 60 I plan to do the same!

    Reply
  18. Maria C.
    Maria C. says:

    I feel inspired and relieved looking at Burr. I am 47 and hope to be like her when I grow up. The Bar Method has given me a consistent routine, and I don’t have enough words to praise all the benefits I get from its practice. But, as much as I know where the importance of exercise lies for us (i.e., physical and mental health and wellbeing), the nagging pull of vanity surfaces! I have been doing the dvds (and studio sessions when I can) for ~3 years, and I see small changes still happening today. Like Burr reminds me every few days “our bodies are always changing, working out helps guide that change in a positive direction”. But going back to being meaningless…at my age, can I realistically expect deeply stubborn ‘undesirable traits’ to change? Like my little fatty pillows at the very top of the inner thighs? They don’t appear to be going anywhere…with all the inner thigh work this workout includes, I am starting to think it’s kind of hopeless 🙂
    Thank you Burr, you are awesome.

    Reply

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