Your body is a sentient being. It isn’t just a set of clothes you wear over your mental and emotional self. Your body responds in a dynamic, continuous way to your every thought and feeling. This is confirmed in study after study.

What do you think you are saying to your body when you make the effort to take care of it – by eating nutrients that support its well-being, by stretching and strengthening its muscles, by engaging in aerobic exercise that facilitates optimum circulation of air and blood to your cells?

You’re saying, “I love you.” It’s that simple! And your body responds by being healthy, strong and energized.

Your Body Craves Movement

I’ve been studying happy healthy folks in their 80s, 90s and 100s for over a decade, and one thing stands out. In addition to their optimism and positive outlook on life, most have a dedication to some form of exercise.

A great example are the women of the San Diego Splash, an enthusiastic women’s basketball team where you have to be at least 80 years old to become a player. At first, I thought their team was a fluke.

Maybe it was just this particular group of women that enjoyed an active physical lifestyle in their later years. Now, having researched over 200 long-lived happy, healthy people, I’ve found that these women are no fluke!

Indeed, scientists have discovered that exercise changes your very DNA. Something we have long thought was immutable and unchangeable is in fact responsive to our behavior.

In the research, a group of healthy volunteers exercised one leg, and not the other. Of course, the exercised leg became stronger.

However, of far more interest to the researchers were the positive changes that occurred on portions of the exercised leg’s genome, especially within genes that play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation.

These genes are tremendously important in how healthy we are, which, in turn, impacts our longevity.

Don’t Let Age Stop You from Exercising

Most of us know that “exercise is good for you,” even if we don’t know the exact hows, whys and wherefores. Yet many of us, after the age of 50, and certainly after 60, stop exercising or greatly reduce our physical activity.

“We give up on our bodies too soon,” as my friend Katie Grubiak, a registered dietician, says. As a nutritionist, she’s counseled many of us past mid-life, and her observation is that most of us cease to engage with our bodies in a positive way.

We don’t like our bodies any more. We focus on our aches and pains. With that comes depression and despair, which weakens our immune system, impairing our health and longevity.

How tragic. How unnecessary. No matter what you may have in the way of limitations – or think of as limitations – I guarantee that there is a form of exercise you can pursue in which those limitations aren’t really limitations at all.

Most forms of exercise – other than what might be thought of as ‘extreme’ sports – can be adapted to any body condition or type.

That being said, the single most important criterion is to find a form of physical activity that you really enjoy. Beating your body into health with punishing exercise – which is any exercise you don’t enjoy – doesn’t give that “I love you” message to your body.

It sends a critical, controlling message, which makes it almost impossible for your body to respond with vigor and enthusiasm.

I, for one, could never get into jogging. My parents insisted on my taking tennis lessons when I was young, which I hated because – as with jogging – it involved running, and I just don’t ‘do’ running. I gave up tennis as soon as I could, and found what has become a life-long love, dance. All sorts of dance!

Everything from ballet to jazz to square dancing to ice dancing to ballroom. And I dance with mature adults, all of whom – including myself – have some sort of limitation that we simply don’t allow to get in our way. We dance for the joy of dance. It doesn’t even feel like exercise. It just feels good.

So walk, swim, dance, run, cycle, do yoga, Pilates or whatever else you find that gives you joy. Don’t give up on your body. Send it messages of “I love you!” with exercise and your body will love you back.

What kind of exercise works for you? How often do you exercise? Have you changed the way you exercise? What’s keeping you from exercising? Please share your thoughts, experiences and insights in the comments below.

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