Sweeney Yogini – Exercise Every Day

Hi All!

I’ve made a commitment to this blogging adventure so here goes again.  I thought to myself, if I want you all to make a commitment to daily exercise, I should commit to regular blogging.  🙂

I talk a lot about how important daily exercise is. If you are over sixty you should definitely be exercising more not less.  I was told the other day by one of my students that I was promoting daily exercise so hard that I sounded like a used car salesmen.  I was saying this:

You do have time!  Exercise makes you more energetic and increases focus so you will be more motivated in everything you do.  It makes you smarter so you’ll get everything done faster and better.   And it reduces appetite so you will save time that might have been spent eating. 😉

But this isn’t a used car pitch!  This stuff is for real.  I think some folks fear that it is somehow unsafe for them to exercise at their age, or unnecessary. The studies all show just exactly the opposite.  If you pick up a copy of Spark by Dr. John Ratey and turn to chapter 9 you can read what he has to say about aging and exercise then you can learn a whole lot about this and make your own judgement.  In this blog entry I will outline / summarize some of what he says.  I will also list Mr. Iyengar’s suggestion for the first six weeks of a daily yoga practice.

Dr Ratey says that in essence, if you don’t move, you don’t need a brain.


Think about it. How many organisms that don’t move do you know of that have a brain? Can you think of any? I actually can’t. Even a barnacle moves in and out of it’s shell.

Your brain will slip faster if you become sedentary. The landmark research project called the Nurses’ Health Study included 122,000 nurses and ran since the 1970s.  Of that group, the cognitive ability of 18,766 women between 70 and 81 was studied.  “Harvard epidemiologist Jennifer Weuve used the trove of data to tackle the question of whether being active on a regular basis throughout adult life translates to sharper mental function when we’re older.  The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, powerfully underscored her hunch: women with the highest levels of energy expenditure had a 20% lower chance of being cognitively impaired on tests of memory and general intelligence.  The medial level of activity for this group translated to walking twelve hours a week, or running just under 4 hours [per week].” – Ratey, Spark, Chapter 9, Aging

Live better, not just longer!

Here’s what else he says about how exercise keeps you going:

1.  It strengthens the cardiovascular system. A strong heart and lungs reduce resting blood pressure. This means exercise lessens strain on the brain, reducing hardening of brain arteries, and can reduce brain damage such as that caused from a stroke.

2.  It regulates fuel.  [blood sugar levels] Those with high blood glucose levels in a study of 1173 people over age 75 were 77% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. -Karolinska Institute

3.  It reduces obesity.  Body fat has nasty effects on the brain.  Being overweight doubles your chances of getting dementia.

4.  It elevates your stress threshold, combating the negative effects of stress hormones (cortisol) on the brain.

5.  Exercise is a natural mood elevator, helping to reduce or prevent depression and anxiety.

6. It boosts the immune system.  The most consistent risk factor for cancer is lack of activity.

7. It fortifies your bones. You need strong bones to keep moving and you need to move to have a sharp brain.  🙂

8. It boosts motivation. Boosting dopamine, exercise boosts the key neurotransmitter in motivation and motor systems.

9. It fosters neuroplasticity.  Muscle contractions release: VEGF, FGF-2, and IGF-1 – factors that improve your brain’s ability to learn and remember.

“For anyone over sixty, I recommend exercising almost every day.  In retirement, why not? Six days a week would be ideal, but make it fun rather than work.” And “Your overall strategy should include four areas: aerobic capacity, strength, balance, and flexibility.  You should consult with a doctor or trainer who knows your history, but I can give you some solid guidelines.” -Dr. John Ratey

Ratey’s paraphrased and annotated guidelines from Spark:

Aerobic.  4 days a week, varying from 30 mins to 1 hour at 60-65% of your max heart rate.  Walking is adequate.  Do it with a friend and do it outside if you can.  Try a more intense pace for 2 additional days a week – 70-75% of max heart rate for 20 – 30 mins.  You’ll need to build up to this if you haven’t been exercising much.  I don’t know if our yoga in therapeutic yoga elevates the heart rate enough.  I am looking for students who are willing to buy and wear heart rate monitors in class so we can find out if your heart rates get to 60% of maximum during yoga.  In the mean time make sure you are walking, biking, swimming, dancing… something each day!

Strength.  Ratey says weights or resistance machines twice a week.  Yoga counts for this.  In our therapeutic yoga class we use our body weight as resistance.  You are building muscles in yoga and it is weight bearing exercise.

Balance and Flexibility.  Twice a week for 30 minutes or so – yoga also covers this.  In our yoga classes we do balance exercises and lots of stretches.

Standing yoga poses are designed to build strength and flexibility.  In yoga class I try to do standing poses for 1 hour every class.  Mr. Iyengar has a sequence of daily yoga poses that I want to write here.  They are from the first six weeks of his 300 week program outlined in Light on Yoga.

Yoga Asanas By Week – 1st Six Weeks – Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar (Translated from Sanskrit to English)

1st – 2nd week

30 seconds to 1 minutes on each side:  Mountain pose, tree pose, triangle pose, extended side angle stretch, warrior I and II, intense chest opener (I call this hamstring torture pose I).

Approximately 5 minutes – shoulder stand (blankets should be placed under shoulders), plow pose, final relaxation (corpse pose)

Shoulder stand and plow can be modified for aging bodies.  If you are interested, I am happy to teach private or small group sessions to instruct on this.  Shoulders stand and plow are powerful “organ” poses.  Not only are they good for your muscles but they are also healthy for your organs.

3rd – 4th week

30 seconds – 1 minute each side: Triangle pose, extended side angle stretch, warrior I and II, revolved triangle pose, intense chest opener, wide legged forward bend.

Approximately 5 minutes – shoulder stand (blankets should be placed under shoulders), plow pose, final relaxation (corpse pose)

5th – 6th week

30 seconds – 1 minute each side: Triangle pose, extended side angle stretch, warrior I and II, revolved triangle pose, intense chest opener, wide legged forward bend,

Adding stomach!  6-12 repetitions of:  leg raises (we do this in class on back, either 1 leg at a time or both legs at once), boat pose, half boat pose.  If stomach is weak, you absolutely can build it up slowly.  In class, I show you how to do that.

Approximately 5 minutes – shoulder stand (blankets should be placed under shoulders), plow pose, final relaxation (corpse pose) adding ocean sounding breath for 5 minutes in corpse pose.

Wow, I know this post isn’t as neat and tidy as my others but it actually took a long time to gather all that information for you!  I hope you find it very useful.  If you want more than the first 6 weeks of Mr. Iyengar’s program you can purchase his book Light on Yoga or speak to me and I can try to help you with it.  His list is in sanskrit and might be hard to translate for a novice yogi.  🙂   Again, I am more than happy to help you build a home practice.  If you don’t have the discipline to stick to a home practice, please come see me at Liberty Yoga.  I’m here for you!

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