How to keep fit without exercise

About 30 years ago I read a fascinating little book called “How to Keep Fit Without Exercise” by Dr. Peter Steinchron. It was written in the 1950’s, so was an old book even when I read it – but it’s had a big influence on my thinking about exercise ever since.

Dr. Steinchron was a cardiologist. He became concerned by the large number of middle-aged people (mainly men) who were suffering heart attacks while exercising. Back in the 1950’s, the exercise craze was not nearly as widespread as it is today, but it was serious enough to prompt Dr. Steinchron to write a book, aimed at men and women over 40 years old.

If you are under 40, and in good health, then it’s fine to workout in the gym, play sports, run marathons and any other exercise you want to do. But around the age of 40 (or younger if you are suffering from any kind of chronic fatigue) you need to start slowing down.

This is just the reality of our physical bodies. They get older and we need to take notice, and put less stress on them, if we want to live a long and healthy life.

Dr. Steinchron recommends two types of exercise for people over 40 – walking and gardening. Both of these allow you to get out in the fresh air and sunshine. (He’s not talking about walking on a treadmill, which is about the most soul destroying activity I can imagine.)

Aerobic versus anaerobic exercise

There are two main types of exercise – aerobic and anaerobic. (There’s also a third type called high intensity interval training but since I am writing this mainly for people over 40, I wouldn’t recommend it.)

Aerobic exercise is when you can carry out a normal conversation while exercising. So, if you go for a walk with a friend, and talk while walking, it is likely to be aerobic.

Anaerobic exercise is where you have to breath heavily – including through your mouth – just to get enough air to keep going. This can vary depending on your state of fitness. Jogging is often described as “aerobic” exercise. But for most people, this is not true. A really fit athlete might be able to jog and carry out a normal conversation at the same time, but for most people – particularly over 40 – any kind of jogging is going to have you puffing and blowing pretty quickly – and thus into anaerobic exercise.

So, if you are over 40, you should limit yourself to aerobic exercise. For most people, the best option is to go for a walk outside in the fresh air. You don’t need to measure the time or distance. Just get out and walk, and enjoy it.

There’s no need for any kind of nonsense like counting 10,000 steps a day. I don’t know who made up that number but it might not be right for you. We are all different. If you are struggling with chronic fatigue, adrenal or thyroid issues, blood sugar imbalances etc. it’s better to err on the side of less walking rather than more.

Listen to your body. The right amount of exercise is enjoyable and makes you feel good afterwards. If you feel wiped out and still haven’t recovered the following day – you did too much!

The importance of fresh air and sunshine

When I titled this post “How to keep fit without exercise” I wasn’t intending to imply that you should sit around inside and become a slob. It was intended more as a wake up call to those who think you need to workout in the gym, or run long distances, to keep healthy. You don’t.

But you do need to get outside in the fresh air and sunshine, every day if possible – for as long as possible. (Walking outside is far better than exercising in a stuffy gym!)

Humans are not designed to be inside all day – particularly not sitting in air-conditioned offices under artificial light. It’s bad for our health. Many people don’t have any choice. They work in an office to put food on the table for their family.

But try to get outside and walk in any way you possibly can. Maybe in your lunch break if that’s the only time you have.

I’m fortunate to have my own business and can go out for a walk whenever I want to. I work in an office about 10 minutes walk from my house. I walk to the office in the morning, walk home for lunch, back again and then home in the evening. So that’s 40 minutes of walking.

When I was recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome, at the age of 25, I had a job which was about 25 minutes cycle ride from my home. That was just the right amount of exercise for me at that time. Whenever I decided to do more, such as jogging, I would feel the adverse effects within a day or so – my chronic fatigue symptoms would start coming back.

Exercise is a double-edged sword. You need to get the balance right. Not too much – but not too little. And if you are a “type A” personality like me, then it’s better to err on the side of doing a bit less than you think!

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