Exercise your way to fitness
According to many physical therapists a combination of aerobics, stretching, strengthening and balancing exercises form the core of a good exercise programme.
Whether you’re at the gym, in front of the TV or taking part in a class, exercise is not only good for your health but it can also be fun and, the more you do, the easier it becomes!
Speeding up the heart and breathing rate, aerobics burns body fat, lowers blood pressure, reduces blood sugar levels whilst reducing inflammation, increasing good cholesterol and bringing a better mood. Around 20 minutes a day of brisk walking, jogging, dancing, step aerobics cycling or even marching on the spot can help to reduce the risk of a stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, falls and depression.
Light or moderate exercise can be fun too
Flexibility is improved with stretching on a regular basis, making the muscles and tendons longer and less likely to cramp or cause pain. A stretch a day, or at least three or four times a week, helps to send both blood and oxygen to muscles, but be sure to warm up first with a few repetitive movements before targeting specific areas such as the shoulders, calves and lower back, etc., and don’t stretch to the point where it is painful.
Muscle power is lost as we age but strength training can help to build it back up, in other words exercise your way to fitness. A few squats, lunges and push-ups can stimulate bone growth, reduce blood sugar, help to prevent weight gain, improve balance, reduce stress and pain in joints and the lower back, and improve posture. To make sure you don’t overdo it and that you strengthen appropriate muscles, it is worth asking a physical therapist to design a programme just for you.
Always stretch before and after exercise
Falls can happen if you are not steady on your feet. This may be because your inner ear, vision, joints and leg muscles are not as in tune as they once were. The good news is that this can be significantly improved, if not totally reversed. Yoga and Tai Chi are obvious forms of balance exercise, or you might just want to try walking heel to toe or standing on one foot, with or without your eyes closed. However, don’t try this at home unless you have had guidance and training from a physical therapist first.
Before embarking on any exercise programme it is essential that you check with your doctor first, especially if it has been a while since you last exercised regularly and/or have health issues such as asthma, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure or arthritis, etc.
Light or moderate exercise should be part of the start-up plan, gradually increasing the activity as you improve fitness levels. If you feel dizzy or light headed, have shortness of breath or a faster heartbeat, or pain or discomfort in your chest this is a sign that you should stop and seek a doctor’s advice.
It is no accident that, before joining a running, football or rugby club here in France, members are required to have a physical exam and be “signed off” as fit for moderate and vigorous exercise.
Tai Chi is great for balance
Exercise your Way to Fitness: The Essentials
Running and walking shoes have built-in shock absorbers, aerobic shoes cushion the balls of the feet and are particularly lightweight and absorb shocks. These will avoid ankle strains, twists and even bunions and corns. A pair of proper socks will also guard against blisters.
Breathable, well fitted clothing is really important, and that includes sports underwear. You may think that they look better but there’s nothing worse than loose joggers that fall down when squatting!
Water is an obvious way to stay hydrated before, during and after your workout. If you exercise for longer periods of around an hour, sports beverages or coconut water will nourish your body and replenish the lost nutrients (electrolytes) after your session.
A fitness journal will help you to track your progress and a step or calorie counter will help keep you motivated. A heart rate monitor will also ensure that you remain in the right zone and don’t overdo it.
First published in the March and April 2020 issue of The Local Buzz