The Biggest Hurdle: Getting Off the Couch
Written By: Natalie Stechyson
Older adults wanting to become more physically active shouldn’t overlook training one of the most important parts of their bodies: the brain.
Developing the motivation to exercise is one of the most important keys to a healthier lifestyle.
Dr. Andrew Pipe, chief of prevention and rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, says that like many boomers, he grew up with an inactive lifestyle, and changing that later in life can seem daunting.
“I grew up in a time that if I went jogging I would have gotten beer cans thrown at me,” Pipe says with a chuckle. “Motivation can be a challenge, particularly for those who have not been active.”
Make Exercise A Life Habit
This attitude, Pipe says, is a critical issue for older adults, who are witnessing the growing prevalence of such diseases as obesity and type II diabetes. A 2007 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that eight per cent of adults age 55-64 report having heart disease.
Pipe says he encourages baby boomers to become active in their everyday lives, and the best tip he can give is to start by walking.
“If the benefits from walking every day could be made into a drug, that drug would be priceless,” Pipe said.
“Exercise doesn’t have to be scary.”
Peter Crocker, an expert in sports and exercise psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says motivation is the most important factor in exercise because it determines which activity you choose to do and why you maintain it over time.
“It is fundamental,” Crocker says. “Without motivation you wouldn’t exercise.”
He adds older adults face such challenges as busy work schedules, family responsibilities and the reality of aging bodies: “We’re getting older. Our bodies aren’t in the same shape as when we were 15.”
The key is to find an activity you enjoy and to stick with it, Crocker says. People who feel they have to exercise — perhaps on a doctor’s orders — are more likely to drop out of physical activity than people who exercise because they find it pleasurable.
Crocker adds that exercising with other people is one way to make it more fun. “There will be barriers, but there are things you can do to overcome barriers.”
Susan Sommers, a Toronto marketing expert, had to overcome her own psychological barriers in order to complete her first marathon at age 61.
“I couldn’t even imagine that I could do it,” Sommers says. The race, for her, was as much a mental process as a physical one.
“The last three hours of my marathon had nothing to do with my feet,” she says.
Sommers, 64, has been a motivational speaker for 17 years. She encourages older adults like herself to find the inner drive to get fit. She gives advice — do your research before you start, set realistic short and long-term goals, have a support system, stay committed — and she leads by example.
“Motivation is sometimes other people saying we’re doing it and you can do it, too,” Sommers says.
Once you find your motivation, Sommers says, the attitude carries over into other personal and professional aspects of your life. Motivation allows you to find focus, balance and make changes and sacrifices.
Sommers gives the same tips to entrepreneurs and marketers when she speaks at professional meetings. She has even combined her strategies into a business plan she calls “marathon strategies for marketing success.” Her advice all boils down to one idea: to get motivated, you have to push yourself. And she promises it will pay off in the end.
“You realize how good it feels to take care of yourself,” she says.