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I am not one to make bold, absolute statements. I tend toward a balanced, moderate approach. Encourage, suggest, investigate the facts, analyze the benefits. But this I say unconditionally and with absolute certainty:
The key to a happy life is to keep moving.
Move your body as much as you can every single day.
I have spent my life in movement. The absolute best thing about being a dancer – which I was from the time I was about four until I was almost 40 – was I moved every day. Big, grand, full-out movement, usually accompanied by lustrous music. There is a section in most dance classes called coming across the floor which typically occurs at the end of class. It involves travelling turns and jumps with sweeping arm movements and dramatic gestures. No matter how bad my day was going – maybe I’d had a fight with my boyfriend or I was late on rent or someone else got the part I so coveted – coming across the floor made me feel powerful and alive. My muscles were on fire, my heart was pumping, my balance and coordination were pushed to the limit.
I don’t do all that anymore. But every day I move. Many days it’s quiet and concentrated, Pilates, yoga or weight training. Some days its big and expansive, running, biking, hiking. Other days it’s simply a walk by the lake with my dog. Movement is imperative for my mental health. Not everything can be solved by a tall glass of water and a brisk walk around the block, but it’s a good start.
We all know regular exercise has profound and measurable health benefits. Those of us who exercise regularly live longer, fall less, and have reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. We maintain better bone density and greater cognition. Exercise helps us prevent and manage disease. It decreases social isolation and increases confidence, independence and quality of life.
But we also know how easy it is to stop, to give in to the relentless aging process that can be so unkind. We are too old, or to ungraceful to carry on like that anymore. Once we stop, it’s very hard to start again. When we stop moving, all the benefits of movement disappear quickly. As we lose strength, we lose balance, agility and confidence. We lose continence. We start making choices based on those deficiencies. We choose not to go out on the boat, or go skating, or dancing. We choose not to go for the hike in the woods because we don’t want to be so far from the bathroom for that long. We become more isolated, more dependent. That too is a relentless progression.
Keep moving. Purposeful, productive movement is necessary if we want to live joyous, active lives. Find something you love to do and do it every day. Modify as necessary but don’t stop. It will make you happier. We have a lot more to lose than just our “figure.”