The New Year offers a fresh start for all sorts of things. Keeping the mind and body in shape are two of them. And both require exercise in order to function well. Adding to this, health experts now tell us physical exercise can stretch our longevity.

How 'bout that? If we work at it, not only will we live longer but we'll be in better shape to enjoy it. Being sedentary may seem a relaxed and comfortable way to drift through life, but be advised you probably won't stick around as long.

First, the mental activity. Outside of money-earning work, this former teacher, student of history and writer fills most spare time doing crosswords, solving chess problems, playing solitaire, jotting down observations and puzzling over all kinds of life's questions ... e.g. what causes the variations in intelligence? Why can't we get to sleep sometimes when we're tired?

Boredom? What is that? Even when caught in a group situation listening to meaningless blah-blah from some speaker, I often tune out and start making lists -- mentally or with pen and small note pad.

Lists? Sure: Ten best presidents; 10 worst presidents; best male and female screen stars; best heavyweight boxing champs (sorry, Ali ranks about fifth); best folks I've ever known -- the lists are endless.

OK! Now the physical activity. Assuming you don't run in and out of a UPS truck all day delivering packages or work with a jackhammer repairing streets, there are a myriad ways to exercise the muscles and get the blood flowing. Running, playing tennis and working out in the gym have served me well. Keeping the upper body fairly strong and flexible are important for a runner, too. If abdominal muscles don't cinch up the pelvis, a runner will be slower.


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But running isn't for everyone. Swimming is one of the best exercises. And, while a hot sun can be a runner's enemy, swimmers can stay cool and relaxed. Also, water can be therapeutic. On those occasions when minor injuries have sidelined the running, I've donned a float belt and run in a swimming pool. It's a great way to stay in shape while healing.

I consider swimming, running and walking at the top of the list of those exercises involving the whole body. However, shoes should be worn with soles that grab the ground without slipping, even slightly, or shin splints might develop. And don't try to walk fast on wet sidewalks.

I have a friend who walks several miles nearly every day despite being in his mid-80s. It pays off. Ulrich looks 10 or 12 years younger than he is.

Safety note: Runners and walkers should make themselves as visible as possible. You may see a car, but it's driver may not see you.

Finally, as we wend our way through this new year, your humble writer hopes those innocent little gun victims in Newtown, Conn., will not be forgotten.

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.