We’ve heard for decades that exercise is valuable, and those who get it regularly attest to the benefits. Nonetheless, for many of us the decision-making flowchart about whether to exercise leads at every branch point to “no”—except for the question, “Shall I do it later?”
Rather than berate ourselves for shrugging off exercise in the past, consider each new day a chance to join the ranks of the fit—and join them we must. “It’s absolutely true that there is nothing out there more effective than regular exercise for keeping most of our chronic diseases at bay and warding off the ravages of age,” says Jane Brody, longtime personal health columnist for the New York Times and a fitness enthusiast from Woodstock. “I know of a hundred studies that show that people who are physically active are healthier, happier, and mentally more alert, including into their 80s and 90s. Even a simple activity like tai chi, which doesn’t require sweat or any special equipment or clothing, can be done at any age, and has been shown to improve balance and reduce the risk of falls. Exercise helps people sleep better, too, which goes to hell in a handbasket as you get older.”
Mike Arteaga, owner of Mike Arteaga’s Health and Fitness Centers in Poughkeepsie and Highland, avidly follows fitness and health research. “The medical community is finally recognizing the fact that exercise is the most important thing we can do to prevent premature death and thousands of diseases,” he explains. “For many years research about the benefits of exercise used questionnaires, but a study done about those studies found that people greatly exaggerate the amount of exercise they get. So that had really been watering down any appearance of a health benefit.” Now researchers work directly with study participants and collect accurate data. “They find a tremendous correlation between getting regular exercise and disease prevention,” says Arteaga.
Daily living in a mechanized world, unless your vocation is fitness or manual labor, puts few demands on our biological systems. They languish in underutility, like an orchestra waiting for sheet music. Regular physical activity gets the symphony under way: blood circulating, lymph stirring, immune cells prowling, toxins clearing, tissues regenerating, muscles building, bones reinforcing, lipids shuttling, mental faculties revving. Activities that put demands on the cardiovascular system and muscles, and which increase flexibility and coordination, are ideal. Engaging in them at least three times a week is best.
Luckily, the Hudson Valley is a buffet of outdoor recreation opportunities like walking, jogging, bicycling, or skiing the rail-trails or Scenic Hudson’s many open space parks; canoeing or kayaking the Hudson River and its tributaries; rock-climbing in the Shawangunks (or the indoor climbing walls in New Paltz and Albany); hiking or mountain biking in the Catskills; snow skiing on surrounding slopes.
Enjoying these often enough is the catch. To address the nitty-gritty of a regular exercise routine, exercising at home works for some. Lifting weights while watching the news, jogging the neighborhood, vigorous housecleaning, and serious yardworking are examples. Guidance and motivation for individual workouts abound in exercise videos, the cable fitness channel, and online websites.
But quantity and quality of exercise at home often fizzles over time. “If you are doing something that’s challenging, it’s almost impossible to do it on an ongoing basis by yourself,” says Arteaga.” He cites research that followed people who exercised long term: “The vast majority did so at a club.” And those home fitness machines that look so tempting in the infomercials? “I get a lot of knowing smiles when I ask people how many pieces of clothing are hanging on it.”
Gyms, Boots, Yoga
Imagine exercising with like-minded people surrounded by views of the Hudson Valley in fall colors, in winter sparkle, in the flourish of spring. Imagine taking in a classic movie, on a large screen with surround sound, while tread-milling or cycling. Envision yourself rocking out in an aerobics class with choreography and music from world-class fitness experts in Australia. Arteaga made these reality at his Poughkeepsie fitness center. “It helps people stick to their exercise,” he affirms. “One woman said she had to work out longer because the movie was just getting to a really good part. It’s a gigantic home run if we can get people to work longer.”
Ambiance varies among fitness facilities, as does size, clientele, cost, and staff persona. Different gyms appeal to different folk. “Each person needs to find the place they feel comfortable in,” says Arteaga, “because if you hate going there, it’s not the gym for you, and you’re not going to keep it up.” Check out private fitness clubs, the YMCA, a yoga or dance studio, a local school or hospital, a senior club—someplace to enjoy exercise, not just suffer through it. Many offer a free trial class or membership period.