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Exercise Motivation from a Graph?


By Michelle Wieber PT, ATC

This is part two of a three-part series on how this Faribault, Minnesota Physical Therapist has stayed motivated to keep exercising over the last ten years. You may think that because I have a license to practice physical therapy, I don’t need motivation to keep exercising. Well, you would be wrong.  In the first blog I talked about my struggle with the “cold harsh facts of my reality” and the Stockdale paradox.  Here is my next “go to” for motivation and I hope it helps all of us finish the first half of 2017 strong.

Several years ago my husband, Dave, and I read a book entitled “Younger Next Year”.  This book is co-authored by two men: one, a talented and somewhat irreverent and humorous writer and the other, his bright gerontologist.  They alternate chapters so there is a fun mix of humorous motivation combined with information about the science of aging.  I really like the information about the regenerative properties of our very own bodies.  Guess what?  A lot of the regeneration that helps us keep moving, thinking and doing what matters to us is turned on by exercise.  Yes, blasted exercise turns those chemicals and processes on in our body, and the result is that we move like we are younger.

In the first chapter, the author draws some graphs (the first two graphs in the picture above).  He notes that our biology and God-given DNA have a tide that carries us into our twenties increasing our height, our muscle mass, our speed, our brain development as well as a whole host of other things without any extra effort on our part.  That, like all things in this life, peaks at some point and then starts to decline through the rest of our decades. If the decline continues unchecked, at some point we end up not being able to walk, balance or think, not to mention hike, bike, water ski and carry grandchildren.  The first graph represents a slippery slope… a steady decline until… well, death.  Somewhere in the lower portion of that slope, we end up struggling to get out of a chair or managing a curb and the decline ends in the one thing we all have in common – yes, death.  The second graph shows the same peak in development on the left but then a shallow plateau extending to the right representing a life full of doing stuff that matters and then a sudden drop off (perhaps from a heart attack) and death.

I love these graphs so much! I am not kidding when I say that.  I have found them motivating when I ended up out of my exercise routine for a few weeks or even when I developed pneumonia three days after going for a run last fall.  Two months later my lungs had recovered but I had been unable to exercise for eight weeks! Uggh!   I felt like I was starting all over again but I did it and I pushed that slope back up to a plateau where it belonged.

I showed these graphs to my 70-year-old father, Richard, and being the engineer that he is, he drew a third graph (graph #3 above) and noted that the space between the first and the second graph looked like an awful lot of work.  He is right you know.  It is work and if you have been on the couch for a few years, it is going to feel like an awful lot of work at the beginning. The “brutal facts of our reality” are this:  If you want to live a certain life full of work that you love, with people that you love, and do things that matter, you have to work at it after the age of 45.

Did you know that The Journal of the American Medical Society published research showing that if you go from a fully committed couch potato to just doing something your mortality rate drops by 20%? Now that is just about the best news a couch potato could get, but you can get more out of life than that!

When I look at these graphs, I feel a nudge.  A nudge to change my behavior.  A nudge to acknowledge that the work that keeps my lifetime graph a plateau is worth every minute I put into it.  What do you feel when you look at these graphs?  Are you on the slippery slope?  Are you working on a lifetime of activities that you love?

Physical therapists are movement analysis experts and we would love to help you build an exercise program that works for you.  If you are struggling with pain that limits your ability to exercise, we can work with you to change that.  We specialize in helping people get back to life.  So, if you are hoping to push your sloping graph back up to a plateau and have questions about how to start, please call our clinic and let us help you get started on the work that matters.

By Michelle Wieber

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