We just returned from a three-week trip to Bengaluru, India to celebrate a close friend’s wedding. An Indian wedding is a colorful multi-day celebration! In this column I’ll describe what I did – and didn’t do – in India for exercise.
In Anti-Aging: Use It or Lose It, part 1 I explained the different ways and rates at which you lose fitness. I described how I prepared for time off the bike for surgery a couple of years ago.
I turned 73 in India. From reading the literature, coaching older riders and personal experience I know the importance of “use it or lose it” as we age. Before I flew to India, I resolved regularly to do aerobic activities, upper, lower and core strength exercises, stretching and tai chi. My goal was not to fall too short of the New Exercise Recommendations for healthy aging from the US Department of Health and Human exercises and the American College of Sports Medicine.
We were still skiing in Colorado until we got on the plane to India. The humid daily high temperatures around 100F in India were quite a shock. Our apartment wasn’t air conditioned. We opened the windows in the evenings and turned on the ceiling fans and then closed it back up in the mornings. We quickly adapted to being active outdoors in the morning, reading and napping in the afternoon and going out again in the evening.
Permission My goal wasn’t to get fitter while I was in India or even to maintain my current fitness when we got off the plane. My goal was not to fall too short of meeting the recommendations. Very importantly I gave myself permission not to try to do the recommended volumes of each of the different physical activities. Our priorities were the wedding and a vacation.
Here are the different recommendations for total body fitness as we age and what I actually did during the two weeks we were in India.
For cardiovascular health the recommendation is at least 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic activities most days of the week totaling at least 2:30 hours per week or 1:15 of vigorous aerobic activity a week or a combination. The total weekly volume is more important than the duration of each episode, e.g., ten minutes walking to the deli and back for breakfast, five minutes walking to the ATM and back and a 20-minute walk after dinner equals 35 minutes for the day.
Our apartment was a five-minute walk from the 240-acreLalbagh park, one of the top attractions in Bengaluru. The park is very popular and is reserved for walkers from 6 – 9 a.m. and from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Mornings we walked there and then stopped at an Indian deli to get breakfast. I didn’t log my daily exercise activities – we were on vacation. We probably walked about four hours in the park, walked a couple of hours sightseeing, walked an hour doing errands around our neighborhood and walked for several hours at various train stations and airports. We walked around nine hours in the three weeks when we were traveling, which met the minimum recommendation.
Back in Colorado I have good endurance for a 1 – 2:00 hour ride. However, we live at 9,000 ft. in the mountains. Bengaluru is at 3,000 ft. After three weeks there I wasn’t acclimated to our altitude any more. Due to a bad knee, I can’t even jog so I’d done no intensity while in India. The first week at home just climbing a flight of stairs I noticed the altitude.
2. Muscle strength training
The recommendation is to prevent atrophy by doing two or three days a week 20 to 30 minutes per day of strengthening activities involving all of the major muscle groups.
Our apartment was on the fourth floor and we hung laundry up on the roof. I always took the stairs rather than the elevator to work on the strength of my muscles and bones. Going upstairs I used just the upper leg to step up rather than also pushing off with the lower leg, which increased the load on my muscles. I didn’t do any other strength exercises. We were pretty busy and it was hard to get motivated in our hot and humid apartment.
At home depending on the exercise, I now have to reduce the weight and/or the number of reps by 10 – 15%.
3. Balance exercises
The recommendation is to do balance exercises at least two or three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes per day. These will improve the activities of daily living and reduce the risk of falling.
I didn’t do any balance exercises in India. Resuming tai chi at home my balance wasn’t quite as good. Cross-country skiing requires good balance and had we gone to India during ski season I would have been more motivated to do tai chi.
4. Stretching/flexibility exercises
The recommendation is to stretch at least two or three days a week for 10 to 15 minutes a day in order to maintain the flexibility necessary for regular physical activity and the activities of daily living.
We went to a hotel on the Bay of Bengal for several days where I had two massages, which were a pleasurable substitute for stretching. Other than these I didn’t stretch.
The recommendation is to do weight-bearing exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes a day three to five days a week. This will maintain strong bones to reduce the risk of injury from a fall.
Walking downstairs from the apartment rather than using my upper leg to slow the descent off each step, I stepped off letting my full weight land on my lower foot. The higher impact increased the load on the bones. This and the walking were sufficient weight-bearing exercise.
In India my goal was not to fall too short of meeting the recommendations. I didn’t come close to meeting most of the recommendations. In sum I met the minimum recommendations for aerobic exercise and weight-bearing activities. Using the stairs, I worked a little on leg strength but did no core or upper body exercises. I had a couple of massages but didn’t stretch. I didn’t do any tai chi for balance.
I didn’t meet my goals, which is okay. Now that I’m home I’m resuming all the different types of activities. I’m starting at lower levels of fitness for upper, lower and core strength; for flexibility and for balance. I am where I am and I’ll build from here.
I’m following the principles I laid out in this column about how I recovered from surgery: Anti-Aging: Consistency, Specificity and Variety.
- Consistency: To improve you need to ride at least four days a week and five are better. If you ride less than four days a week you may start to lose fitness. I’m riding my bike most days of the week. The longer rides help my endurance. Some days I just ride 20 minutes around a hilly loop.
- Specificity: My endurance on the bike is okay. My power and hill-climbing suck. I did a very hilly one-hour ride yesterday. When I got home, I had to lie on the couch for an hour before fixing dinner! I’m prioritizing power and hill climbing as the key rides of the week. I’m doing just enough longer rides to maintain my endurance. I also know the priority of specific strength, flexibility and balance exercises.
- Variety: I’m not just riding my bike. I’m making time for strength workouts, tai chi, stretching and weight-bearing activities.
Just doing the minimum recommended amounts for the different non-aerobic activities totals about three hours a week and the maximum total about nine hours a week. I’m playing catch up and am doing more than the minimums although not close to the maximums. I’m doing multi-component activities so I get more value for the times I exercise. Multicomponent refers to exercise that includes more than one type of physical activity, such as combining muscle strengthening and weight bearing exercises or muscle strengthening and balance training. You can read more about the benefits in this column Anti-Aging: The Value of Multi-component Activities.
Two of the 8 Exercise Mistakes Older Riders Make are doing too much and insufficient recovery. Because I didn’t do much in India and am playing catch up, I’m risking injury. To be careful I’m following these 9 Recovery Tips for Older Riders.
After reading Anti-Aging: Use It or Lose It, part 1 William W. wrote, “This is great information. My mother-in-law is now over ninety and has always said ‘If you rest, you rust’.” Don’t rust! And don’t beat yourself up for occasional planned time exercising less!
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Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.