If I had to use one word to sum up the biggest danger to a happy and successful next phase of life, it would be “inactivity”. The perils of inactivity are real to your physical and mental health. You’ve got to keep moving and you’ve got to keep thinking because what doesn’t move atrophies. Wasting Away in Margaritaville is a fun song, but your wasting away wherever you are is a very bad thing indeed.

This withering away process is a natural result of inactivity. My mom, who was an active an engaged woman, suffered a serious foot injury in her early 70’s. The injury did not heal properly and she spent almost all of her time sitting in an easy chair watching mediocre television shows. She was never the same and I am convinced this physical inactivity caused her to lose mental vitality, leading to a much earlier death than necessary.

You’ve seen it if you had an elderly relative who fractures a hip or has another debilitating injury. Sometimes it’s as if they had two different lives: before and after the injury. But while this is highly disappointing, it is at least understandable. What is not understandable, and totally avoidable, are the cases where someone who can be active, chooses not to do so.

There is a lot of buzz around the concept of how “sitting is the new smoking”.  Studies, like the one shown in this article at the RISE blog, show that after just two weeks of inactivity (less than 1,000 steps per day), “volunteers developed worse blood sugar control, higher insulin resistance, and some saw the beginnings of muscle mass loss. In fact, there were some volunteers who had to be removed from the study as they edged into “full blown Type 2 diabetes.” Pretty scary stuff but the good news is that the negative effects were pretty much reversed once the participants got back to regular movement.

Here are my nominations for the worst excuses people give for their lack of activity, and my responses:

  • I’m too tired after a hard day at work. Sitting on the couch will make you more tired, not less. Even a short walk (or other movement) will give you energy and help you establish a more productive routine.
  • It’s too hot/cold/windy/rainy outside. Put on an overcoat, raincoat or whatever it takes. Invest in a treadmill, exercise bike or whatever piece of equipment you most enjoy.
  • I’m mentally beat. Do something that that you enjoy that is at least a little mentally taxing. Good examples are crossword puzzles, Sudoku, strategy games (Monopoly, Risk). Bridge is another great choice. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have both played this game for years, often as partners.
  • I’m not in good shape. You don’t have to be in good shape to take a short walk, ride the exercise bike, or swim a bit. Just get started and you will soon be in better shape. That’s the way it works.
  • I don’t have anyone to be active with. Two answers here: either do it by yourself or join an organized club or group that practices your chosen activity. This is a great way to stay active and meet new people.
  • I’m depressed. Please don’t take this as medical advice, but I have read many studies that talk about how physical activity like walking is a great mood enhancer. My experience is that no matter how down I feel before a walk or bike ride, I always feel better afterward.

Being inactive is a habit and the antidote is to create a new habit. Once you get over the inertia, being active becomes natural and easy. Read this article for more information on developing positive habits.

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