Aikido is a Healthful Activity for Post-menopausal Women

This seems intuitively obvious, but it never hurts to have science that backs up a sensible idea:

“Women who exercise regularly after menopause tend to maintain their physical strength and mental acuity longer than those who don’t…”

Kathryn Doyle, Reuters Health
Exercise may slow physical and mental decline after menopause

Stunning revelation, right?

The Reuters article, Exercise may slow physical and mental decline after menopause, by Kathryn Doyle of Reuters Health discusses the research of Debra Anderson, Charlotte Seib, and Laura Rasmussen: Can physical activity prevent physical and cognitive decline in postmenopausal women? A systematic review of the literature.

“We found that all the studies showed that physical activity was associated with decreased rates of cognitive decline and that even becoming active in later life as opposed to a lifetime of physical activity still lowered the risk compared to those who were inactive,” said Debra Anderson.

From the above article. Emphasis mine.
Debra Anderson worked on the study at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation of the Queensland University of Technology in Kelvin Grove, Australia.

Current guidelines call for older adults to get the equivalent of 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times per week.

“For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.”

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, Executive Summary (PDF)
United States Department of Health and Human Services

To put those US HHS guidelines in a bite-sized bit of advice, each week we should all be getting:
– 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise
or 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise,
or a combination of both,
spread throughout the week.

That’s a lot. At a minimum, that’s 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, or 50 minutes a day, 3 days a week, doing moderate-intensity exercise. That would be activities that get you breathing fasting, raise your heart rate, like fast walking, fairly intense housework, bicycling, yard work, hiking, or dancing. Minimum.

Returning to the article…

“We found that moderate to vigorous exercise is better than mild and gentle exercise,” Anderson told Reuters Health in an email. “There was a dose response in moderate to vigorous exercise which showed more was progressively better.”

You know what I call “mild and gentle exercise?” Not exercising. Yes, if you need to do lightweight physical therapy exercises for rehabilitation, great, do that. But if you’re doing a few curls with 5-pound weights and think you’re “getting your exercise,” no, you’re not. Yoga, Tai Chi, and stretch classes are great. Keep doing them. But they don’t count toward the amount of exercise we need to be getting.

Taking those guidelines further, the authors of the study discussed in the article suggest:

… doctors might consider ‘prescribing’ more intense exercise to older women.

Based on our findings we feel this should be 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least five times per week for midlife and older women,” Anderson said.

Previously, older women have been encouraged to keep their exercise moderate, but now it seems very important that women exercise to a point where they cannot finish a sentence while exercising and breathe hard and sweat, she said.

Kathryn Doyle, Reuters Health
Exercise may slow physical and mental decline after menopause

You do not have to wait for your doctor to “prescribe” more activity. Find something you love to do (or you won’t do it), and get moving. For you it might be hiking, swimming, dancing, training with kettlebells, or group exercise classes.

Conveniently, Aikido is a great activity to consider. Classes tend to vary between moderate and vigorous. In addition to the physical aspect, training is inherently social, and also cognitively challenging. These are great qualities for activities at any age, but particularly important for older people.

Another important point is that Aikido training improves mobility and balance, builds muscle mass and bone strength, and teaches us how to fall safely—a potentially life-saving skill for older women.

Cholesterol and Aikido—Fewer Drugs, Better Health

At first glance, this article from 2013 appears to say that darned near everyone should be on statins for cholesterol. It begins: “If you’re not on medicine to lower your cholesterol yet, you might be soon.” But way down in the middle of the article there’s a lot more said about the benefits of consistent physical activity.

I encourage you to read the entire article, and watch the associated video to better understand the new guidelines, and be informed to discuss options with your doctor.

“We tend to focus on ‘quick fix’ answers such as a pill … whereas the risk reduction from lifestyle changes, such (as) exercise three-four days a week, reduces risk nearly double to that from any one of the medication interventions.”

Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory University
Quoted in CNN article, Not on cholesterol meds? New guidelines may change that

Did you catch that? Lifestyle changes like exercising 3-4 days a week are twice as effective at reducing your cholesterol-related health risks than drug treatments like taking statins.

Seriously. That’s important information. Don’t just sit there, do something!

One excellent option is (of course) Aikido. Training is a fun, vigorous activity as a member of a committed, supportive group of friends. Three or four one-hour classes per week would be a nice, steady practice. Find an Aikido dojo near you and check it out!

Aikido, and Exercise for Disease Treatment

A regular habit of vigorous physical activity can be as effective as drugs in preventing, treating, or managing many health conditions – especially “diseases of civilization,” also called “lifestyle diseases,” like diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity, and many more.

“… The review, which analyzed more than 305 trials with 339,274 participants, compared drug and exercise interventions and found that exercise proved similar to medications for heart disease prevention, heart failure treatment, and diabetes prevention. For those who had suffered a stroke, exercise was more effective than drug treatment. In addition, physical activity often provided patients with fewer side effects and injuries. …”

Exercise as Effective as Drugs in Disease Treatment
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Health and Nutrition News, Oct. 3, 2013

Membership in your local Aikido dojo is less expensive than many prescription medications, and training in Aikido offers more benefits than taking a pill—increased endurance and mobility, a supportive community, and feelings of confidence, accomplishment, and even joy. It’s a lot more fun to train with your friends than to schlep to the pharmacy for expensive refills.

We might dismiss play and fun as frivolous, but for most people the only way they are going to participate in a physically challenging activity is if they really enjoy it. People often find Aikido pulls them in—they are excited about going to the next class, and eager to keep training. This is exactly what we want if we are to develop consistency—it had better be fun, interesting, and rewarding, or we won’t keep going back.

As they say in the drug ads, talk to your doctor and see if exercise is appropriate for you.

Aikido, and Getting Consistent Exercise

“It’s common wisdom that missing a day or two of exercise makes it harder to get back to it the next day, but The New York Times points out that it’s not as cut and dried as simple motivation. A number of other factors show how important consistency is when sticking to a workout.”

Thorin Klosowski
Why Consistency Matters with Exercise, on Lifehacker

Klosowski points out that even a break of three days starts to have an effect on our fitness.

So it’s important to have an activity that keeps us engaged and excited about coming back. Just another reason to “keep training.” When you practice Aikido, training in a spirit of support and cooperation with others, it’s easy to keep showing up (hard not to, actually). Having regular classes to look forward to is so much more fun than “trying to get around to exercising more.”

Pokémon Go? Yes, go out and play!

A new augmented-reality game, Pokémon Go, was released this month (July, 2016). You would think civilization was coming to an end, so pervasive has been negativity in the press and on social media. “Everything is terrible! The sky is falling! We’re all gonna die!” Throw in a heaping helping of “kids nowadays are ruining everything,” along with a good dose of “somebody has to put a stop to this madness,” and you’ve got the theme of most of the articles making the rounds the past few days. There’s tremendous cynicism and hostility toward the game, and toward the people who are playing it.

I’m here to tell you there’s a huge upside to Pokémon Go, and for the most part it’s being ignored. Good news doesn’t sell ad space or commercial time. It doesn’t get shared by indignant people as proof of their moral superiority over “those people” who are playing.

The News and Reality are Very Different

The popular news media exists to scare us, so we’ll buy stuff. Apparently they are doing a good job of it. A friend commenting on Facebook summed up perfectly how the news media’s message of fear and people’s lack of understanding about Pokémon Go is affecting public perception of the game:

“It’s a security issue everywhere…nothing good to come from this…there have been people hit by cars, robbed and graveyards desecrated, not to mention the police that are tied up with all the people in some places…business owners are losing money because of all of it…it needs to stop before it is hacked and people are led God knows where…” And in another comment, “This is going to be a big problem…disturbing businesses…one kid followed it and was lead to a dead body, others have played and were robbed…”

That sounds pretty frightening, right? But it’s not the whole picture. Not even close.

Millions of People are Playing

Yes, there have been reports of people being stupid and getting hurt, or being disrespectful of private property. That’s not good, and it’s not OK. They should be more careful, and more responsible. But they are a tiny fraction of the millions of people who are playing the game. Millions of people!!! According to this AdWeek article, “Pokémon GO Surpasses 7.5 Million Downloads in 5 Days.” That was on July 11th, so it’s easily many millions more by now. More from that article – remember, several days ago – this is truly insane:

“In terms of engagement, SimilarWeb said more than 60 percent of users who have downloaded Pokémon GO in the U.S. are playing the game daily. As of July 8, the game’s average usage time was 43 minutes, 23 seconds per day. According to SimilarWeb, this is higher than WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger.” [Emphasis mine.]

More current data reported on Heavy.com says: “As of Monday, July 11th, the game was seeing about 21 million daily active users, according to Survey Monkey.” [Emphasis mine.] And that number is even a few days old.

Holy crap!

Putting Things In Perspective

As usual, the breathless proclamations of doom in the news are overstated. Remember that the media makes its living by scaring the wits out of us and telling us everything horrible that’s going on in the world. Even better if there are gruesome photos or video, and people are “getting emotional.” They thrive on that stuff.

People have fallen off cliffs taking photos of natural wonders. People have been robbed while using public transportation. People have found dead bodies while jogging for their health. I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet some people have absent-mindedly walked into the street while engrossed in novels or newspaper articles. Do we freak out about photography, taking the subway, exercising outdoors, or reading? No, we do not. And we shouldn’t freak out over people playing Pokémon Go, either.

Over 21 million people are playing a game that requires getting out and moving. Two guys fell off a cliff because they were being careless or stupid, and it made the national news. There’s some perspective for you.

And hey, it’s a good thing that young woman found that drowned man.

“I probably would have never went down there if it weren’t for this game,” Shayla Wiggins admitted. “But in a way, I’m thankful. I feel like I helped find his body. He could have been there for days.”

How that situation could be an argument against playing is beyond me. I hope his family will find closure, knowing what happened to him.

A Closer Looks at Health Benefits

We are an all-too-sedentary society, and it’s costing us dearly in terms of lost lives, diminished potential, and public and private money spent on caring for the chronically sick and disabled. The US National Health Care Expenditure in 2014 was $3.0 trillion dollars. Much of that was to due to lifestyle diseases, described here in a Cleveland Clinic article [emphasis mine]:

“Poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, overuse of alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity and inadequate relief of chronic stress are key contributors in the development and progression of preventable chronic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer. … Despite an understanding of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, many patients lack the behavioral skills they need to apply everyday to sustain these good habits.”

study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2015, looking at 334,000 people over 12 years, found that being active was even more important that losing weight in terms of overall health benefits:

“The hazards of all-cause mortality were reduced by 16–30% in moderately inactive individuals compared with those categorized as inactive in different strata of BMI and WC. Avoiding all inactivity would theoretically reduce all-cause mortality by 7.35%,” and “… efforts to encourage even small increases in activity in inactive individuals may be beneficial to public health.”

A summary of the study on Forbes.com puts it very clearly [again, emphasis mine]:

“It turned out that lack of physical activity was linked to the greatest risk of death – and the greatest reduction in death risk was in the difference between the lowest two activity groups. In other words, just moving from “inactive” to “moderately inactive” showed the largest reduction in death risk, especially for normal weight people, but true for people of all body weights. And, the authors say, just taking a brisk 20-minute walk per day can move you from one category to the other, and reduce the risk of death anywhere from 16% to 30%.”

There are consequences to the habit of sitting on the couch at home. It is not a benign practice. It is not safe. Problems stemming from a lack of exercise include poor physical and mental health, lost productivity, misery, loneliness, and increased lifelong health costs. There’s plenty of information out there, but that’s not what’s getting publicized. According to the American Diabetes Association, “1.4 million Americans [United States] are diagnosed with diabetes every year.” According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.” [Emphasis theirs.]

Imagine changing those numbers, and many others like them, by even one percentage point. That would be 14,000 fewer people who become diabetic each year! 6,100 people who don’t die of heart disease each year! That would be amazing!

Pokémon Go has gotten over 20 million people (conservatively) off their butts. It has sent them walking around their neighborhoods, exploring parks, and discovering landmarks. Players are motivated and moving, and inviting their friends and families to join them in the fun, too!

As a personal trainer, fitness coach, writer, and advocate for people getting outdoors and participating in healthful activity with friends, I would consider myself successful to have positively influenced the exercise habits of a couple hundred people over the course of my career. This game has reached more than 100,000 times that many people in just a couple of weeks!

So the the mercenary news media and ignorant naysayers who are frightening people away from playing Pokémon Go are kind of pissing me off.

If a simple, free, fun game can get tens of millions of people into healthier habits, we should all be embracing it, and encouraging folks to play it! Pokémon Go is new. It’s just getting started. And it’s the first of its kind (or at least the first that’s widely known). Others will follow. There will be improvements in the games, some boundaries will be clarified in the physical world. It’s not perfect, but it is a very good thing. Go play!

See Pokémon Go for Yourself

I sure as heck don’t trust the news media to tell me what to think, and you shouldn’t either. First, they are clueless half the time, and second, their job is to sell commercial airtime by making us afraid, indignant, and enraged, and by letting us feel superior and “in the know.” Their job is not to inform. And just because something is trending on social media doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing to know about a subject.

I don’t like being ignorant of major social phenomena. Sure, I ignore most movies, don’t have any idea what’s on TV, and am clueless about this year’s hot bands. But Pokémon Go is a much bigger deal. This is a whole new thing. So I downloaded the app and tried it for myself. I encourage you to do the same.

Pokemon Go - Caution . . Pokemon Go - Clefairy

Try the game and find out. It’s really not the problem the media is making it out to be. I have never seen such a stark contrast between reality and what is being reported. And I have seen a lot of such a contrasts in my life.

Given the huge potential benefits of this game (and other augmented reality games that will certainly follow it), I think what the news media is doing is unconscionable. I’m really kind of furious about it.

Some Basics You Should Know

Here are some things you should know, that I’ve learned from playing it over the past two days.

  • It’s free. If you have an iOS or Android device just download it and check it out.
  • It’s easy. Ask a friend to show you the ropes, or Google how to play.
  • No one is led around blindly. The game will not lead you into traffic, off a cliff, or make you trespass, break laws, or desecrate graves. You do not chase or follow anything. You wander around and find the characters and objects. If there’s something you want in a place you can’t get to, let it go. You’ll have another chance later.
  • It’s fun. It really is a delightfully compelling experience, but not all-consuming. Nothing changes when you’re not playing – unlike those virtual pets that would die if you didn’t keep up with feeding them. You don’t have to keep checking it. Play when you’re playing, don’t play when you’re doing other things.
  • It’s collaborative more than it’s competitive. If there’s something to be found and collected, everyone can get it! It’s not a win/lose proposition. You play with your friends, not against them. (Hey! That’s a lot like Aikido!)

We Went, We Saw, We Were Amazed

Last night Michael and I went out to Balboa Park. It’s a huge urban park in San Diego, California. “The nation’s largest urban cultural park,” according to its website. You know, with museums, theaters, cafes, the San Diego Zoo, a botanical garden, street performers, artists, etc.

We arrived after 9pm. On a Wednesday. Got that? We were out late on Wednesday night. Prime sitting-in-front-of-the-TV-or-computer time for many people. Not such a busy time at the park, usually.

Pokemon Go - Balboa Park . . Pokemon Go - Balboa Park

It was a beautiful, clear, warm summer evening. Even from a distance I could see in the game that there was a lot going on throughout the whole area. (Michael was driving.) The first parking lot we tried was full. We got lucky and found a spot on the street. There were people everywhere.

Thousands of happy people were out having a great time together. Small groups of good-natured people, mostly younger, were laughing, talking, and helping each other out. Couples were playing together. People were walking their dogs. Parents pushed babies in strollers, or played together with their little kids.

I didn’t hear a raised voice or unkind word the whole time we were there. Instead we heard quiet conversations: “Over here!” “I got a Zubat!” “Ooh, look – a Ponyta!”

We walked up and down the Prado, and stopped to have a drink at the cafe near the art museum. That was new to us – we didn’t know the cafe was open in the evenings. We also saw that there is a Wednesday night jazz jam session there! We’ll have to come back again! We sat on a bench in the sculpture garden and watched people hunt for creatures and items in the game, and wondered how many others were experiencing the garden and cafe for the first time, too. One of the aims of the game (or so I’ve heard) is to introduce people to landmarks, points of interest, public art, parks, and other interesting features of their communities. I’d have to say it’s doing a good job of that.

IMG_5649

The streets have probably never been so safe. The buildings were lit blue, in honor of the murdered police officers. There was no security issue or problem last night that we saw. We saw no police – there was no need for crowd control. We saw one security guard in a pickup driving slowly down the main walkway (the Prado). Nobody was bothering anyone or anything. Nobody was being unruly, loud, disrespectful, or destructive.

IMG_5673

Neither of us have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes. (We are in our mid-50s.) It was just incredible. Michael kept saying it was surreal. He called his parents to tell them what was going on. We stayed, playing and people-watching, until after 11pm. The place was still buzzing, and more people were arriving. It was really amazing to see. I wonder what the weekend will be like?

After so many tragedies around the world, so much bitterness, so many contrary, oppositional people spouting nastiness daily, it was a relief and a joy to see all these good people getting out together and just playing. It was like coming up for air after being held underwater. It’s not that tragedies don’t matter, or that political debate isn’t important, but that’s not all there is. There’s also living our lives. Pursuing happiness. That’s a thing, too.

Go download the game, figure out the basics, grab a friend or two, and find a place to play – shopping area, nightlife zone, university, or park. I think you’ll have a great time!


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and ACE Group Fitness Instructor serving clients in San Diego County, California. As a fitness professional her goal is to support her clients in achieving the levels of health and fitness that enable them to go out and do whatever they love to do – martial arts, dance, hiking, surfing, golf, … Maybe even playing Pokémon Go.

Linda is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”