Dr. Kenneth Cooper is widely recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on fitness and preventive medicine. His work on the importance of cardiovascular health has led to a worldwide revolution in physical fitness. His first book, the international best-seller Aerobics, was published in 1968. He was asked recently about his personal approach to health and fitness…

At age 76, I'm now in my 47th year of regular, scheduled exercise. What keeps me motivated after all this time? The same thing now as when I first began-better health, improved quality of life and increased happiness.

When I broke my leg a couple of years ago in a skiing accident, for the first time in decades I couldn't have regular activity. I became depressed, I gained weight, I felt my quality of life had gone downhill. As I gradually was able to return to my normal level of activity, I started feeling better and better. I've had to substitute fast walking for running, but that doesn't really make any difference. Once I was moving again, my heart rate went down...I returned to my normal weight...my depression lifted. I felt great again.

What this proved: Even seniors like me can modify their exercise programs to compensate for injuries and other health problems and continue to stay active. I'm still working 50 to 60 hours a week and exercising at least an hour a day. You can get healthier as you get older. What's more, to a great extent, you control whether this happens-not your doctor, not your insurance company, not the government. This is the underlying concept of CooperLife, a residential community devoted to healthy living that I started with my son, Tyler Cooper, MD, MPH, in McKinney, Texas.

We know from many studies that fitness is the single most important predictor of health and quality of life at any age. In general, people with the highest levels of fitness have the highest quality of life.. less-fit people have a lower quality of life...and people with the lowest levels of fitness have an even worse quality of life. That's what motivates my patients. They want to reach and maintain a high level of physical and mental functioning for as long as possible. They want to "square off the curve" that says you get less healthy and have a lower quality of life as you age.

Benefits Of Fitness

Positive things motivate us—and fitness brings a lot of positives. At the Cooper Institute (the research division of Cooper Aerobics Center), we've pinpointed important benefits that go along with increased fitness, no matter how old you are…

  • The longevity benefit. Being fit can add three years to your life-and you are 65% less likely to die prematurely than someone who is unfit.
  • The mental health benefit. Exercise more and you'll improve your mental health, with less likelihood of depression.
  • The physical function benefit. Establish good health habits, and you'll delay by several years the age at which you develop even minimal disability
  • The cancer protection benefit. Exercise lowers your risk for most types of cancer.
  • The strong bone benefit. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or running, lowers your risk of excessive bone loss after age 50.
  • The healing benefit. If you're an older adult who exercises regularly, skin wounds heal faster. It might also help you recover from other ailments.

The Six Motivation “NOs”

In my many years of medical practice, I've heard, over and over again, the same six reasons for not exercising, to the point where I've developed an acronym for them—TEMMPF.

TEMMPF stands for six "nos": No time... no energy...no motivation....no money...no place...no fun.

The good news: All these nos can easily be overcome. Let's take the six nos one by one and turn them into "yeses"...

  • No time. You can easily work exercise into your daily routine, what I call "activity add-ons."

Examples: Take the stairs instead of the elevator...walk or pace while you're talking on the phone...do exercises while watching TV... park farther from a store's entrance than you have to, then don't use a shopping cart for manageable loads.

Smart move: Make a point of spending time with people who have the same health goals as you-you can swap ideas about new activity add-ons.

  • No energy. Just take the first few steps. It will energize you to take the next steps-and to keep on going. You'll be amazed at how your energy level goes up.
  • No motivation. A sincere decision on your part that you don't want to lose your quality of life will be a big motivator to get you moving

Motivation strategy: Think about what makes you feel good. Getting fit and staying fit means that you're more likely to be able to continue doing the things you enjoy as you get older. You might even be able to return to a favorite activity that you gave up because it was too physically demanding

  • No money. You don't have to join a gym or health club, or hire a trainer or buy expensive equipment to get fit. All you have to do is get out and go for a 30-minute walk just three times a week.

Stick with it: Walk with a friend or listen to music on headphones--you'll enjoy it and the time will pass quickly.

  • No place. You can walk anywhere. Try walking in a mall not just to avoid inclement weather, but also if you don't have safe, lighted places to walk outdoors. Walk in circles in your house or march in place while you watch TV if that's what it takes.

Strategy: Many of my patients enjoy the companionship of a walking group members motivate each other to keep going. Your local hospital or Y may be able to help you find a group.

  • No fun. Fitness can be a lot of fun—just ask anyone in a walking group. Saying you're bored by your fitness program is a cop-out. It's easy to vary your routine and find ways to make fitness enjoyable.

Example: Use a pedometer and add steps every day until you reach your target-then see if you can surpass that number

Bottom line: My real message here is that you can…

  • Start your fitness program at any age.
  • Continue your program as you age.
  • Adjust your program to meet changing needs and interests.

Fitness is a journey, not a destination. If you keep it up for the rest of your life, you'll find that you can build muscle mass and improve your overall fitness at any age, even if you've never exercised before.

Walk Your Way to A Better Memory

The brain starts to shrink during middle age, so it processes information more slowly.

Recent finding: As little as three hours a week of walking triggers biochemical changes that increase the volume of brain regions responsible for memory and cognitive function.

Only the Lonely Have Higher Blood Pressure

Lonely middle-aged and older adults have higher blood pressure and higher levels of the stress hormone epinephrine than people of the same age who are not lonely. This increases their risk for cardiovascular problems.

Self-defense: Maintain or expand your range of social acquaintances as you age.

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