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Five top living tips from Harvard Medical School


Simple things can make a world of difference in staying alive. When ‘just what the doctor ordered’ instructions come from Harvard Medical School it might pay to listen.

Particularly when the subject matter is choosing life-long practices designed to keep you positive, healthy, engaged and resilient. 

If this all sounds in the ‘too hard’ basket think again for small steps are what is prescribed rather than giant leaps. Those with a resistance to gym environments, or rebel at being regimented, can also take heart. Some of the best types of engagement can take place in quiet, comfortable and safe environments. 

Harvard’s Professor of Medicine Dr I-Min Lee maintains that ‘work outs’ needn’t require Herculean levels of output and performance. The health benefits of some level of activity are clear. 

Exercise, he says, will keep your weight under control, improve your balance and range of motion, strengthen your bones, protect your joints, prevent bladder control problems and even ward off memory loss. Exercise regimes can also be tied to disease resistance. 

So let’s get activated.

Top of the ‘work out’ card for Dr Li is swimming which he sees as the perfect exercise. “Swimming is good for individuals with arthritis because it’s less weight bearing.” Research has also splashed upon the point that being one with water is good for your mental state and mood.

Second on his recommended list is the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi. Not at Master Bruce Lee’s level but a ‘gentler and quieter’ version to take advantage of grace and fluidity of exercises. Calling the practice ‘meditation in motion’ he maintains “it’s particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness and balance is something we lose as we get older.”

Occupying position three is strength training—the classic example of "use it or lose it.”  Muscle is known for burning calories “the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn so it’s easier to maintain your weight.” He recommends to start light and build slowly.

Number four is the perennial favourite of walking. An activity that will not only take you places but provide immeasurable benefits as part of the journey. 

“Walking,” says Dr Lee, “is simple, yet powerful. It can help you stay trim, improve cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, keep blood pressure in check, lift your mood, and lower your risk for a number of diseases (diabetes and heart disease, for example). A number of studies have shown that walking and other physical activities can even improve memory and resist age-related memory loss.”

All you need is a well-fitting and supportive pair of shoes. Start with walking for about 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Over time, you can start to walk farther and faster, until you're walking for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week.

Taking up 5th spot are Kegel exercises. These won't help you look better, but they do something just as important — strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder. Strong pelvic floor muscles can go a long way toward preventing incontinence. While many women are familiar with Kegels, these exercises have very definite benefits for men. 

To do a Kegel exercise correctly, squeeze the muscles you would use to prevent yourself from passing urine or gas. Hold the contraction for two or three seconds, then release. Make sure to completely relax your pelvic floor muscles after the contraction. Repeat 10 times. Try to do four to five sets a day.

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Date published: May 2017

Reviewed: May 2022

To be reviewed: May 2025