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Going for the Gold

It seems that at least once a month, some sort of senior fitness competition is featured on the sports page of local and national newspapers. The Senior Olympics was the forerunner of these types of events, and the designation quickly morphed into the National Senior Games. Soon localities and municipalities began hosting their own senior track, swimming, and ironman competitions. Sociologists would call this a trend.

However, just as younger national-class competitive athletes and professional sports stars are not representative of the population at large, none of these senior athletes is representative of seniors as a group. The important takeaway from the surge of senior athletic events is that anyone at any age can become physically fit and maintain high levels of health and fitness. It's not necessary to achieve an extraordinary level of competitive fitness. What is necessary is to be a person who is fit, healthy, and well.1,2

With very few exceptions, any person, regardless of her or his current status, can become physically fit. The steps to take have been well described over many decades. Broadcast, print, and online media are saturated with articles and programs dedicated to teaching people how to lose weight and start exercise programs. In reality, everyone knows what he or she needs to do. One big step is portion control. Most adults consume far too many calories per day, much more than they need to maintain daily metabolic requirements. In contrast, for most adults, a daily diet containing 1800 healthy calories per day would result in substantial weight loss. The next big step is to begin and maintain a long-term exercise program, consisting of at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. A healthy diet and regular exercise, maintained over time, will result in ongoing high levels of physical fitness and wellness.3

But, if everyone knows what steps to take to accomplish these goals, why isn't everyone physically fit? The answers, for specific individuals, may be complex, but the overall answer is lack of motivation. Merely knowing how to do something isn't enough. You have to want to do something. You have to have the desire to do it. There has to be something in it for you. Having your spouse, doctor, or even religious counselor tell you you need to lose weight and start exercising will never get you to stick with the program. In order for you to make meaningful change, you must provide the motivation yourself.

Importantly, this internal motivation needs to be ongoing. There may be times when you do some binge eating or stop exercising. But the secret is to find the means of re-motivating yourself and returning to your fitness programs. By doing so you will derive tremendous satisfaction and gain real, long-term health and wellness.

1Buford TW, et al: Optimizing the benefits of exercise on physical function in older adults. PM R 6(6):528-543, 2014

2Hills AP, et al: Physical Activity and Health: "What is Old is New Again". Adv Food Nutr Res 75:77-95, 2015

3Myers J, et al: Physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness as major markers of cardiovascular risk: their independent and interwoven importance to health status. Prog Cardiovasc Dis 57(4):306-314, 2015

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