I never thought that the dusty kettlebell in the corner of my basement would be the answer to enjoying exercise again.
When I was a senior in high school, my best friend talked me into joining the women’s track team. Although I wasn’t very competitive, I simply loved the wind on my face as I ran the mile. It made me feel so alive and just plain happy.
I continued to jog long after high school, but a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) at age 31 severely curtailed my favorite exercise. Not only did this disease weaken my legs, but it also interfered with my balance, and I found it impossible to jog even at the slowest pace.
I then started power walking, which although was not quite as exhilarating as running, still delivered a healthy dose of chemicals known as endorphins throughout my body. Endorphins generated feelings of positivity and diminished the occasional dull ache I felt in my legs.
However, at age 54, I had trouble walking for more than 10 minutes at a time, even while on a treadmill. Because physical exercise was so important to my well-being, I knew I had to do something else.
All of my doctors — my general physician, neurologist, and gynecologist — reminded me that as we age, muscle mass starts to rapidly diminish. In fact, past the age of 30, muscle mass decreases by roughly 3 to 8 percent with each passing decade, decreasing at an even greater rate past the age of 60.
They also told me that all people, especially women after menopause, will eventually lose bone mass and density, which can lead to fractures from osteoporosis.
Additionally, I had grown increasingly unhappy with my slowing metabolism. The joke among me and my menopausal friends was that all it now took to gain weight was a mere whiff of a hot doughnut.
All of these issues were compounded by my MS and chronic fatigue. At times, I just felt too tired to move.
The kettlebell in my house was gathering dust in the corner of the basement. This black cast iron implement with the molded handle brought back memories of the shotput from my high school track days, an event that I attempted only to placate my enthusiastic coach.
Although popularized by fitness experts in the late 1990s, the kettlebell may have also dated back to track and field events in Ancient Greece and today comes in various weights, from as little as 5 to up to 30 pounds.
Mine was a gift from my father many years ago. Dad also gave me a DVD with various exercise routines, but at the time, I found this activity incredibly boring. And I just didn’t picture myself as a weightlifter, performing feats of strength and developing oversized muscles.
But something had to change.
I wasn’t capable of the kind of sustained cardiovascular activity that I believed would help address all of my various health challenges.
Seeing the kettlebell, however, reminded me of my father’s belief in its potential for me. “It’s so much more efficient than walking,” he had said. “And it takes much less time.” Now that I was older, time was indeed a factor. I had less and less of it.
I was intrigued enough to do a little research and what I discovered astounded me. Because exercising with the kettlebell requires the use of so many different muscles, this activity could burn up to 20 calories per minute.
This meant that in just 5 minutes, I could expend a whopping 100 calories. By comparison, walking at the fastest rate I could manage on my treadmill, 2.5 miles an hour, would take 30 minutes to burn just 88 calories.
And not only would the kettlebell make my muscles and bones stronger, but it would also improve my metabolism and give me more energy. This was all I needed to know.
Fortunately, I still owned the demonstration DVD, which gave me a refresher on the numerous exercises.
It took me a while to find the best movements for me, but I eventually developed a short routine that included variations of the “slingshot” and “American swing” drills where I rapidly moved the kettlebell in short exertions using my largest muscles, including my biceps (upper arms) and quadriceps (legs) and gluteus maximus (which moves the thighs).
MS is unpredictable, hard to explain, and currently has no cure, but this simple weight bearing routine restored a sense of control and peace to my life.
At first, I couldn’t do this routine for more than 1 minute at a time, but I was amazed at the immediate effects. My heart was pounding, and I was breathing much more heavily, signs that I was challenging my body to new limits which would only make it stronger over time.
And those old friends of mine, the endorphins, were racing through my body and flooding my brain just like my old track coach: “Come on girl, you can do it!”
This short burst of exertion made me feel so good I decided to rest for a few minutes and do it again. Eventually, I worked my way up to 10 minutes, and with proper rest, I can perform the routine as much as 3 times each day.
With this new form of incremental exercise, I began to feel stronger, more confident, and much more positive than I had in a long time.
Three months later I had more muscle mass, stronger bones, and much less fatigue.
Another benefit I didn’t anticipate is that I’m less hungry now, and I don’t crave sugary doughnuts at all. To fuel my body, I prefer a much healthier diet of protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oatmeal.
I also have much more time and energy for other things, such as reading, writing, and gardening.
MS is unpredictable, hard to explain, and currently has no cure, but this simple weight bearing routine restored a sense of control and peace to my life. I hope it might be able to do the same for you.
Depending on your circumstances, the kettlebell may not be the best exercise for you, but there are so many other low impact and efficient options.
From participating in adapted yoga to swimming to using small hand weights or resistance bands, there are countless ways to stay active safely. And any of these activities can be accomplished in just a few minutes at a time.
In fact, from my experience, I recommend short increments. It makes working out much more enjoyable, which increases the likelihood that you’ll continue.
And this is the ultimate goal, to cultivate a lifelong habit of moving in some way, no matter how little, no matter how long.
If you’re thinking of incorporating short bursts of physical activity into your life, you might find the following tips helpful.
Fact checked on May 02, 2022
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