One step at a time

Whether you walk, run, cycle or swing a golf club, research has shown that daily physical exercise is essential for maintaining your health and happiness.

At the age of 66, The Links of Waterford resident, Anne Kilpatrick, played golf for the first time in her life. She describes that initial game as ‘horrible’ (“You have a stick and a stupid little ball, which is impossible to hit – it’s very frustrating,” she quips) but it was the beginning of a love affair that she now embraces every Monday, without fail.

“My partner Graham has always played golf, and he was eager for me to join him – but it was only when we moved into the village and had an 18-hole golf course practically in our backyard that I decided to learn,” she says. “There’s a lot to think about, from how to hold the club, to the position your feet are in, but I really enjoy it – more for the fun of it than for the competition. Playing 18 holes can take four to five hours so it’s a very physical game, there’s a lot of walking and you have to have decent strength in your arms to hit the ball. But at the end of the day, we have a good laugh – and the workout’s a bonus.”

Kilpatrick also cycles every Saturday with The Links at Waterford cycle group (“We ride to the upper Gully – it’s about 16 kilometres there and back – and we have a coffee and a laugh at the top,” she says), and does Pilates in the village on Tuesday afternoon. She describes herself as someone who’s always been active, but like many, the fitness aspect comes second to the joy of connecting with friends; being able to burn calories while simultaneously enjoying conversation.

“For years, a friend had told me I had to try Pilates, though it’s something I didn’t start until I moved to The Links at Waterford. It’s very gentle exercise, but it’s amazing how it builds your core. You learn to walk better, you improve your posture, you hold your shoulders back,” says Kilpatrick. “So many of us here want to stay young – I turned 69 in January, but I easily still feel 35 – and the exercise definitely helps. It may only be light stuff, but it all works and it makes you feel good.”

A recent University of British Columbia study found that regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Other benefits of getting your heart pumping include reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, losing weight, lowering your blood pressure and reducing inflammation in the body.

The national health guidelines recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, if not all days, embracing a range of exercises which incorporate fitness, strength, balance and flexibility. But you don’t have to be a seasoned athlete or run a marathon to reap the benefits. Enjoy gardening? Then you’ll love this: just 45 minutes of indulging your green thumb (whether you’re digging, weeding, planting, potting, hoeing or sowing) can burn over 200 calories – that’s more than if you were to do 30 minutes of low-impact aerobics, and probably twice as enjoyable. Even better, an article in the Journal of Health Psychology found that gardening leads to a decrease of cortisol levels, increasing positive moods which can “promote relief from acute stress.” Not bad, for something you can do, meditatively in your backyard.

Dancing’s another winner. While it’s a pursuit which typically conjures images of fun, social engagement and fancy footwork, it’s also linked to a wide range of physical and mental benefits that range from improving the health of your heart and lungs, boosting general fitness, increasing muscle tone and strength, reducing risk of osteoporosis, bettering agility, flexibility and balance while simultaneously upping your self-esteem, confidence and social skills.

Still, you don’t have to have perfected the hot shoe shuffle or even be particularly fit, strong or coordinated to improve your health with physical exercise. Numerous studies have confirmed that the benefits of a daily walk are many and varied. Walking can increase your energy, release mood-enhancing endorphins, support joints, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, relieve insomnia and enhance muscle strength. And that’s in addition to a 2015 study by the University of Cambridge, which found that just 20 – 25 minutes of brisk walking per day can be enough to significantly extend your lifespan (by as much as seven years). Boost your health, improve your strength and increase your longevity? It really is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.