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Ladies, I Ask, Would You Exercise If It Made You Look Younger?

Posted Nov 07 2012 10:11am
Thanks for your patience, blog readers! We're back with great advice on staying healthier and happier during the buildup to American Thanksgiving and other Winter Holidays.

A client in Florida recently remarked, “Look at my arms. See how flabby they are? I had better start doing some more arm exercises. Otherwise I am going to look like my grandmother who had wings instead of triceps!”

My client was wearing a short sleeve blouse, and indeed the skin on the underside of her arms waved as she shook them. Most of the hour had been spent talking about some logistical problems she was having following her diet, but when I asked about exercise, that was her response. For her, going to the gym was less about losing weight and more about making her body look toned and muscular. I understood her attitude, as only a few days before in my gym, I watched a woman assume poses in front of a mirror that showed off her incredibly muscled body. She must be training for a woman’s bodybuilding competition, I told myself. Her muscles looked as if they were drawn from an anatomy chart and although they were well defined, they were not out of proportion to her frame. I want to look like that, I thought and increased the weight I was lifting.

Are we using the wrong approach to push and promote exercise? Volumes of research show that exercise increases our health, improves mood, cognitive function and sleep, and, of course, helps in weight loss. But are these reasons are compelling as wanting to possess upper arms that look like those of the First Lady rather than the wings of a bat? Won’t my mood also be improved if my legs look great in a short skirt or I can zip boots up over my calf muscles?

Acquiring a younger looking body from regular exercise is an approach that is underutilized by those urging us to do more physical activity. Women’s magazines are filled to overflowing with advertisements for anti-wrinkle cream, descriptions of the latest surgical and non-surgical face lift techniques, and instructions on how to dress and use makeup to compensate for the invariable age-related changes in our bodies. Yet what good is a new hairdo, facelift and anti-wrinkle cream if your body looks older than your face? We have all seen women whose faces are youthful but whose bodies look frail because of muscle loss or who have problems walking or getting out of cars.

In the Fall I took part in a bike ride to raise money for my local schools. At a rest stop toward the end of the 50-mile ride, three women were waiting in line behind me to refill their water bottles. They all had grey hair, and the wrinkles and furrows in their faces indicated that they were not young. But all three were muscular, lean and had good cardiovascular capacity as the 40 or so miles we had all ridden were full of hills with a strong head wind. In a word, their physical shape made them attractive in a way that coloring their hair or disguising their wrinkles would not have done.

This is how exercise should be promoted. Show women (and men as well) that regular exercise will keep their bodies looking and moving younger than their age. Emphasize the fact that smearing a cream on the face at night, regardless of how expensive it is, will not keep muscles firm and cardiovascular output optimal. Coloring the gray out of the hair cannot disguise poor balance or difficulty get up from a chair or climbing steps. Laser treatment to strengthen the skin’s infrastructure will not improve the infrastructure of your spine and prevent osteoporosis. But regular physical activity that includes strenuous (for you) exercise, muscle strengthening, and balance exercises will do all this.

Of course, it should not be necessary to resort to all these stratagems to make exercise an integral part of our lives. The other benefits of exercise are so self-evident that it should not be necessary to add “looking good” to the list. But we all like the bells and whistles that come with a product; isn’t this what advertising is all about? So if the message that you —including your arms — will look young gets you to go to the gym, why not use it?

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