If you are anything like me, you tend to go to the gym a few times a year. Usually right around New Year’s Day, so you can look good at the beach, and then again about September, when you realize you didn’t look good at the beach, but you want to look good for the holidays.
This got me thinking the other day: How was it that my grandparents, and even my parents, stayed in such good shape all year without ever going to the gym or running a marathon?
A close look at their lives told me a great deal. We have too many distractions and too many conveniences to do the everyday things our ancestors did to stay in shape naturally.
I want to share with you the simple lifestyle changes that can help you stay strong and slim your entire life. It has nothing to do with diet; my father ate anything and everything, but he remained slim right up until the last few years of his life. It’s all about exercise, friends, and I don’t mean spin classes.
When I say walking, I do mean walking … everywhere! My grandmother never knew how to drive and didn’t even know how to ride a bicycle, but she literally walked everywhere! She made sure that everything was in walking distance, which for her meant about two miles. She carried bags of groceries to and from the store, had a pharmacy down the street, and walked to visit her children by walking there. My mother, also, walked everywhere. She even took a (temporary) cut in pay to take a position at a company she worked for because the new office was about four blocks from home! Get a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps every single day.
Our ancestors often had to work (or walk) outdoors. Everything from hanging laundry in the sun to picking vegetables, our ancestors knew and appreciated the sun. They had no idea, at the time, that they were getting healthy doses of vitamin D and vitamin E. Exposure to natural sunlight (in reasonable amounts) strengthens the bones, uplifts the spirits, and gives you a healthy-looking glow.
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Some studies even suggest that higher levels of vitamin D can prevent some types of cancer. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about spending two hours a week in a tanning booth, but in our world of UV-resistant clothing, commuting in cars, and working at desks, very few of us get the natural vitamin D and E that the sun provides. Best of all? It’s completely free.
3. Outdoor fun
Some of my best memories are times when my grandmother, my brothers, and I would play games of hide and seek or Red Rover, Red Rover out in the backyard. Even though she was in her 70s at that time, she had very little trouble keeping up with us and playing games. Find ways to play with your children or grandchildren that involve moving and motion, not screens and sitting.
4. Standing, not sitting
Every time I hear the theme song from “The Twilight Zone,” I can picture my mother, ironing or folding clothes. My mother never sat if she could stand. She was known to pace the floor for an hour, talking to my grandmother, on the phone. Remember those super -long phone cords?! I realize now that she was getting exercise and keeping her metabolism revved up, simply by doing the simple things mentioned above.
5. Doing things by hand
I really do appreciate not having to do laundry by hand (if you have ever tried to wash a blanket or a pair of jeans by hand, you know what I’m talking about), but the fact is that we have so many “modern conveniences” that we don’t get up off the sofa anymore! Follow your grandparents’ lifestyle and hang laundry outside whenever possible, wash those few dishes by hand, walk to the store rather than order online, wash your car yourself, cook from scratch, rather than order delivery service, and don’t forget to walk the dog!
6. Cleaning one room each day
This is a trick passed down from my great grandmother. Every day, clean at least one room. My mother used to do two rooms: the bathroom and one other room. She had a little list memorized and I knew it by heart. In addition to the bathroom, the bedrooms were cleaned on Mondays, the living room on Tuesday, the kitchen on Wednesday (because we went grocery shopping Wednesdays) and the dining room on Thursday. Fridays were a general “what didn’t get done” day, laundry day was Saturday and my mother “rested” on Sunday (which means she didn’t cook). I have adopted a similar cleaning plan, with bigger cleaning jobs squeezed in here and there. Sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, dusting, changing sheets and other types of housework equals a good workout!
7. Grow a garden
Many families had gardens to help cut their grocery bills. I’m not saying you need to get out and plow the lower 40 acres, but even a few pots of vegetables on your patio will help increase the amount of nutrition at your table, while burning a few calories as you pull weeds, water the vegetables, and pinch off excess flowers.
8. Sports and fun
Almost everyone has a hobby of some sort, including my father. He was a bit of a strange man as he didn’t like typical sports the way most men do. He did, however, love fishing and hunting. My dad was famous for eating just about anything, except what he called “rabbit food” (salad). Many people wondered how he managed to stay so slim all his life, but I knew the answer. He went fishing or hunting probably twice a month. This involved walking for miles or standing for hours. My father would have NEVER considered going walking for “exercise,” but he would walk all day in hopes of catching a pheasant. Both of my parents loved to dance, and we used to dance to the music on the radio either on the patio or in the living room. Time flies when you’re having fun and you never noticed that you got some serious exercise.
9. Old-fashioned calisthenics
My mother would often spend 30 minutes out of her day (before she went back to work) with a kitchen chair and Jack LaLanne on the TV. (Google him if you don’t know who he is). Plain old isometric exercises, occasionally a few books to use as weights, and a chair for balance was all it took to keep my mother feeling and looking good. You don’t need an expensive gym membership to keep muscles taut and strong.
10. Don’t say no
Although many of us have very busy schedules, one of the things I loved about my grandmother was that she rarely said no. No matter if we wanted to walk to the store to get a popsicle or play hide and seek, or if a friend called and they wanted her to walk over and have coffee, my grandmother almost always said yes. This kept her active and involved right up until her last two or three years of life. Don’t be so quick to say no because you might miss that marathon of your favorite show; say YES and enjoy life!
What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below: