EXERCISE!  Who, When, and Why?

Great Loopers have more reasons than most to exercise:  after-all, much of the day is confined on a boat that might lead to a sedentary lifestyle that is unhealthy.  At port there is the opportunity to walk and job.   There are facilities designed for exercise (swimming, tennis and exercise gyms) that may require difficult to arrange travel.


There are lots of reasons offered by lots of “loopers” for not exercising, but the facts are nobody is automatically exempted.  People who have chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis to name just a few of the common problems of older Americans can and should be involved in some form of exercise that must be approved if not prescribed by one’s physician.  Exercise has been shown to be beneficial and life prolonging even in the face of these chronic diseases.  As for the healthy person, exercise is one of only a very few ways known to preserve this good health.  Thus, there are very few people who can legitimately excuse themselves from some form of regular exercise even if on a long cruise such as the Great Loop.   One prominent authority in the field of exercise physiology, Dr. James Rippe of Boston, quipped that “most people are not choosing between walking and running they are choosing between sitting and walking.”


Daily, and that means every day, is the proper frequency for this self-help key to longevity.  It is important for two reasons that the exercise be this regular: first it is the most reliable way to “stay in shape” and secondly it is a good habit.  Habits being hard to break, mean that it becomes something as natural to you as eating sleeping and other daily activities.  Exercise should not be an ordeal or something that one dreads, it must be fun, recreational, social, or have some other redeeming personal value for you to continue it.  This means that as you structure your individual exercise plan that you make sure to include friends when possible, that you actually can say to yourself at the end of your time that it was enjoyable, and that you vary it enough so that it doesn’t become stale, boring and uninteresting.  Variety in exercise does maintain the enthusiasm for it.





Exercise, it has been scientifically proven by too many studies to count, to prolong life with many illnesses and actually prevent certain diseases.  As we say in the medical profession, “there is good data” to prove that regular exercise prevents or helps control coronary heart disease, hypertension and stroke.  There is fascinating information that regular exercise improves the immune system which wards off bacterial and viral infections.  Cancers are also reduced in those who exercise regularly: Among the cancers which have a lower rate in exercising people are breast, prostate, and colon – all three being major threats to us all.  Exercise is also beneficial in arthritis and in patients with osteoporosis, but clearly patients with these problems need professional advice on the types of exercise to do.  One obvious use for exercise is weight management.  Obesity carries with it a number of risks such as heart disease and diabetes and the combination of exercise and proper diet are the best known methods (despite the many pills and other approaches) to controlling weight.  Exercise also has been shown to reduce accidental falls and to assist in the cessation of a bad habit – tobacco use.  Both of these contribute to disability and death as we get older.   Finally exercise helps with sleep disorders, with improving long-term memory, preventing depression and anxiety and in stress management.  So with all these reasons to exercise it is very difficult to mount a rationale argument against it.


Exercises can be categorized according to different types just like food has different groups.  In exercise, as with diet, it is most healthy to have a balance.  The types of exercise are listed in the table and can be found in a most readable book (which I strongly recommend) published by the National Institute on Aging entitled Exercise: A Guide. This is a magnificent publication that can be downloaded: http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/ExerciseGuide/   ENDURANCE exercises are activities usually thought of as “exercise.”  They are aerobic, meaning they require increased oxygen consumption that improves the function of your lungs, heart and circulatory system.  These exercises produce most of the health and aging benefits.  STRENGTH exercises are generally done with light weights and are designed to build muscles which make you stronger and more independent.  BALANCE exercises prevent falls and other accidents that often lead to disability as we get older.  FLEXIBILITY exercises are essentially stretching and should be done before any of the other exercises, since they prevent injury that might occur with the other forms of exercise.  You should stretch before performing endurance activities.



These are the most familiar exercises and the most healthful.   Any physical activities that cause your heart to beat more frequently and usually provoke perspiration qualify.  These exercises include walking, jogging, biking or swimming – all available to “loopers.”  When doing endurance exercise, keep in mind the target heart rate – stay at or below it to train appropriately (see table below).



Age              Target Heart Rate*

40 126 – 153

50    119 – 145

60 112 – 136

70 105 – 128

80 98 – 119

90 91 – 111

100 84 – 102

certain medicines and medical

conditions make it impossible

to achieve these heart rates.




Even small increases in muscle strength can make a big difference in your ability to stay independent and carry out everyday activities such as climbing stairs and carrying groceries. Some people call using weight to improve your muscle strength “strength training” or “resistance training.” Strength exercises include lifting weights and using a resistance band (or towel).


Balance exercises help prevent falls, a common problem in older adults. Many lower-body strength exercises also will improve your balance. Exercises to improve your balance include standing on one foot, heel-to-toe walk and Tai Chi.


Stretching can help your body stay flexible and limber, which gives you more freedom of movement for your regular physical activity as well as for your everyday activities. To increase your flexibility, try shoulder and upper arm stretch, calf stretch and Yoga.


Above we wrote daily.  It used to be said that doing endurance exercises three times a week was sufficient.  Well,  three is better than two or one day, but now the scientific data show that some form of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes every day of most weeks is best for you.  If 30 minutes is too much at one time, then you can divide the exercise into 10 minute sessions – but no less than 10 minutes, and you should try to do this every day once you are in shape.



Every person has an individual quantity of exercise that is right for them.  The idea is to build stamina and endurance.  The idea is not to overdo it and actually harm yourself.  How do you judge what is right for you?  For starters, exercise should not make you so breathless that you cannot talk (this is just one reason it is good to exercise with others.)  Likewise it should not make you dizzy or cause chest pain.  The way to progress is to measure distance and time while working about the same amount.  For example, for a week or so one might walk a mile in 30 minutes and then increase the distance to a mile and a half in the same 30 minutes using the same amount of exertion – which can be judged by counting your heart rate (see table below.)  In other words, exercising more and more, but achieving the same heart rate over months is the best way to build endurance.  In time you will need to increase both the difficulty and perhaps the duration of the exercise.