by Karen Rafferty, PT, MS
Remember when you were a kid and your grandparents or neighbors sat around, walked with a cane and generally limited their activity? In the past, it was common for older adults to limit their activities to address health concerns and ailments. We now know a sedentary lifestyle creates more issues than it solves. Our country is experiencing two diametrically opposed epidemics. One is the result of being a sedentary society that sits too much while at work, commuting and during leisure activities. The second is a result of over training and poor form during exercise and activity. Both extremes cause a variety of problems that only worsen with time if not addressed. Luckily research has shown it is basically never too late to benefit from regular physical activities and exercise.
Most of us on Daufuskie value an active lifestyle. Golf, tennis, yoga, swimming, walking, bicycling, running, kayaking and bocce ball are all common forms of recreation. But many of us have aches, pains or medical conditions that create obstacles. It is not difficult to find some form of activity to participate in. As we go through different stages in life we need to adapt and look at our habits and lifestyles to ensure a quality, healthy life at this point in time. It can be a struggle to know what is the best activity, how much to do it, how intensely and what to do about a sore joint, old injury or current medical conditions. The internet is a great source of information but much of it can be conflicting and occasionally, even dangerous. In this first installment of our fitness series we will focus on getting started, with future articles focusing on injury prevention, and specific sport routines.
Who should exercise?
With few exceptions, research has shown exercise to be beneficial to everyone. It limits long term effects of chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Even frail elderly people benefit from a regular exercise program. Exercise can be done in either group setting or self-directed based upon individual preference and overall health status. If you have never exercised, have chronic medical condition, prior injury or pain you should seek guidance from your medical professional prior to starting new activities and exercise programs.
What are benefits of exercise?
Benefits include increased flexibility, strength and endurance. An effective exercise routine can translate into increased energy, better sleep, fewer aches and pains, better range of motion, weight reduction, improved balance, reduced need for medications, improved self-esteem, and confidence.
What should I be doing and how much?
Current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans*
(* If you’re 65 years of age or older, are generally fit, and have no limiting health conditions, you can follow these guidelines. It is always best to consult a healthcare provider prior to beginning new activities or exercise program.)
• 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and 2 or more days a week muscle strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)
• 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity and 2 or more days of muscle strengthening.
• An equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous intensity aerobic activity and 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening activities working all major muscles
For greater health benefits it is recommended to increase activity levels to:
• 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic or 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity.
• 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening activities working all major muscles
It is not necessary to perform exercise continuously. Research has been shown exercise in short periods are effective.
What is the difference between physical activity and exercise?
A physical activity is one that gets your muscles contracting, body moving and burns energy above basal level required to sustain basic function of body. Examples include walking your dog, housework and gardening.
Exercise is specifically planned, structured and repetitive with a primary purpose of improving or maintaining physical fitness, physical performance, or health. Examples include weight training, yoga, aerobic/spin classes.
Both physical activities and exercises are important and beneficial.
How do I know if my exercise is moderate or vigorous?
There are many measures to determine an individual’s level of exercise intensity. Never let anyone tell you what level of exertion you are experiencing.
1. The talk test is a simple way to measure relative intensity. In general, during moderate-intensity activity you can talk but not sing. During vigorous activities you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
2. A numerical scale from 0-10 where:
0 (Easy) to 10 (Hardest Ever)
0 is level of exertion sitting (sing)
1-4 is light intensity exertion (sing)
5-6 is moderate intensity of exertion (talk)
7-8 is vigorous level of exertion (words)
9-10 is hard as it can be (no words)
Always stop if you feel chest pain or discomfort, dizziness, palpitations or excessive shortness of breath. Consult with a medical provider to ensure no underlying condition is affecting your tolerance. Symptoms such as feeling sore, overly fatigued or minor swelling may indicate you have overdone it. Go easier next time and gradually build up. It is OK to start with 5 minutes of activity and build to recommended guidelines over time.
How do I know what exercises are appropriate for me?
A complete, safe and effective fitness program needs to include aerobic, muscle strengthening, endurance, and flexibility exercise components. There are many resources to help with starting, resuming, modifying or ramping up an exercise program. Physical therapists, personal trainers (ACE, ASCM, NASM certified), yoga instructors, group class instructors are all good starting points. Online resources can also be valuable, especially if you stick with sites ending in .edu or .gov. Some examples of these are listed at end of article.
I have never exercised; How do I begin?
If you have never exercised before and want to start to be more active, begin with walking and taking stairs instead of elevators. Start slow and build slowly, adding 5-10% distance every week or two. You can also vary speed to change intensity and add some aerobic component to change a walking form of activity to an exercise program. Research shows people who participate in activities they enjoy are more likely to continue. Also, exercising in a group environment gives people incentive to continue especially in the first months. Remember the national guidelines are cumulative and meant to be built up to. Make sure to stay hydrated and wear well fitted walking shoes. Pick a buddy and get moving.
I have arthritis. Is it safe for me to exercise?
Yes, research has shown exercise is safe and beneficial for patients with arthritis.
Often joint or muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, or joint swelling can lead to loss of joint motion, stiffness, and muscle weakness and tightness. Exercise can decrease pain and enhance quality of life. Benefits of exercise include increased flexibility, increased strength, improvement in joint support, reduced pain and improved function. Before beginning an exercise program, contact your doctor or other healthcare provider to be sure it is safe and receive specific precautions. Do not exercise actively inflamed joints. It is usually best to avoid high impact activities such as running and opt for reduced weight bearing activities like cycling, water activities. Walking in water is also great — try forward, retro and side stepping. There are many ways to adapt exercise to water environment. When muscles become stronger and better able to support the joints, other activities can be added. Exercise is most beneficial if it is done on a regular basis. Set attainable goals, interact with others while exercising, follow-up regularly with a your healthcare professional or physical therapist to make adjustments to your program.
Studies have shown it is normal to experience some increase in pain, stiffness, and swelling when starting an activity/exercise program. If you are experiencing swelling or pain that is not improving with rest, consult you healthcare provider for advice. Start slowly and build intensity, frequency and duration of each activity over time.
Adult Exercise Guidelines: https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/
Components of exercise program: http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy_living_fit_facts_content.aspx?itemid=2627
National Institute on Aging: https://go4life.nia.nih.gov
National Institue of Health: Exercise and Physical Activity publication 09-4258 : https://www.nia.nih.gov/…/ExerciseGuide_FINAL_Aug20
American Physical Therapy Association: http://www.apta.org/PRMarketing/Consumers/PatientHandouts/