By Jan Cullinane
NABBW’s Expert on The New Retirement

I confess: In the secret recesses of my mind, I believe I’m immortal.  I don’t think I’ll ever succumb to heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, or any of the lifestyle-related diseases that bedevil so many of us.  And, I like to eat junk food.  Not all the time, but much more than I should (I just devoured two large chocolate covered marshmallow cookies as I sat down to write this).

jan cullinaneYet, as a mature woman, my “numbers” —  blood pressure, glucose, “bad” LDL, triglycerides, creatinine levels, and the other results from my physical and blood work — are something “most people would kill for,” to quote my doctor.

I think I’ve stumbled onto the reason why I am healthy.  Yes, I know I’m blessed with good genes, and that genetics play a big role in our health.  But, there’s another reason:  I love to exercise because of what it does for me NOW, not just what I think it can do for me in the FUTURE.

We can all recite a laundry list of the long term benefits of exercise. In short, regular exercise:

  • Strengthens bones and muscles (and of course our heart is a muscle)
  • Makes our blood vessels more pliable through the release of nitric oxide
  • Decreases levels of harmful LDL
  • Improves our range of motion, lung capacity, and flexibility
  • Elevates mood and energy level
  • Decreases our chances of getting high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, colon cancer, gallstones, and diabetes
  • Enables better connections between nerve cells (synapses) in our brain
  • Lowers body fat levels, including visceral fat, which is linked to disease
  • Effectively treats moderate to mild depression
  • Enhances the immune system
  • Improves sleep
  • Increases lean body mass, which increases calorie burn
  • Relieves symptoms of menopause; and
  • Improves our appearance and feelings of self-worth

But, for many of us, the compelling evidence about the importance of exercise isn’t enough to change our behavior.  A third of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll, don’t exercise at all.  Another 18% exercise just once or twice a week.  Why?

One of the big reasons is because exercise is often touted as a benefit for the future, not for what it can do for us now. We often don’t do things that have benefits years down the road (look at the dismal statistics on saving for retirement, for example).

In fact, psychologists have a term for this: future discounting.  We tend to discount the value of a future reward (losing weight, living longer and healthier), and emphasize short-term rewards.

So, if you can think about the benefits of what exercise does for you NOW, you’re on the road to success.

Notice how exercise immediately:

  • Enhances your day-to-day quality of life
  • Makes you feel more energetic, productive and happier, less stressed-out, and
  • Provides social interactions with others (if you have a walking buddy – human or not, take dance lessons, do a water aerobics class, or play a sport, for example)

Once you’ve switched from thinking about exercise as something that benefits you down the road to realizing and experiencing that it’s something with an immediate pay-off, you’ll be hooked, and you’ll see exercise as something you need and want to do every day, rather than as a prescription to prevent future maladies.

Well, time to hop on my bike and ride over to the tennis courts to play a few sets with friends.

Jan Cullinane is a speaker, author, consultant, and retirement expert. She has been featured on TV, radio, and in many newspapers and magazines. Clients include Ford Motor Company, Deloitte & Touche LLP, the federal government, the Smithsonian Institution, Wachovia Securities, and Wells Fargo Advisors. Jan has a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Maryland. Her books include “AARP\’s The Single Woman\’s Guide to Retirement” (John Wiley & Sons), “The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life” (Rodale), and “Retire Happy!” (Hallmark Gift Books). Jan lives in Palm Coast, Florida and can speak backwards fluently!  Visit Jan at http://www.jancullinane.com/.