With summer definitely on its way, I thought I’d devote today’s blog to a subject close to every physio’s heart – EXERCISE! In this image conscious world we are bombarded with messages telling us to “get active”, “lose that winter padding”, and to “look better, feel better”. But many of us, myself included, find exercise difficult for a number of reasons and will find any excuse to avoid it.
If that sounds even remotely like you, below is a collection of tips about exercise, and the best ways to get started, that I have learnt as a physio. They have also helped me motivate myself!
What is exercise and what does it mean? Exercise is anything that gets you moving and active. It includes formal exercise such as a dance class, lifting weights or going for a jog. Exercise also occurs in everyday activities (known as incidental exercise) such as vacuuming, taking the stairs instead of the lift and walking or riding to work or school.
Why exercise? The benefits of exercise in maintaining our health and preventing disease are well established. They include: improvement in mood and overall wellbeing, maintaining our hearts ability to pump blood around our body, building and maintaining muscle and bone strength and keeping us in a healthy weight range. These aspects together constitute a persons’ fitness. The focus of exercise should essentially be fitness, (and of course fun). Iit should not be losing weight. It is much harder to stay motivated if your focus is on losing kg’s rather than noticing how much stronger you are or how much further you can jog.
I like to think of exercise like this – you have one body while you are here on this earth and looking after it now is an investment in the future. A patient once told me that exercise should be considered like eating , ‘you wouldn’t consider eating once on a Sunday afternoon to be sufficient for your bodies needs and the same principle applies to exercise’ – brilliant!
How do I get started? First, you need to make a decision that you want to start (or continue) exercising and commit to doing so. In truth it won’t happen until YOU have really decided that it is a priority and that YOU are going to make it happen. Some people find it helpful to write this goal down and put it somewhere they can see it every day. Others find it helpful to tell everyone around them so they have their support. However you go about motivating yourself, the goal should be something achievable that works with your schedule and time constraints. Have a good long think about what kind of exercise you like, what options are available, the time you can devote to it, how you can avoid getting bored of one type of exercise (mix it up), and what days work best for you (etcetera).
A realistic plan would look something like – I will go for a walk for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning before work and on Sunday’s I will go for a one hour bike ride with the family (i.e. NOT – I will lose 2 kg by the end of the month).
Now you have the goal think about all the things you will need to achieve that goal. Maybe you need a new pair of joggers, or maybe it is the first time you have exercised in a long time and need to get the all clear from your doctor first. Maybe you need to do some research into the local gyms or yoga studios. Maybe you want to get friends involved so you can exercise as a group. Maybe you need to organise babysitting. Make a plan for how you are going to start and then pull all the necessary pieces together.
Once all of that is sorted it is time to start exercising. The trick with this is to start small – if you don’t think you are up to jogging then just walk it! When you do feel up to jogging then go for a small jog and walk the rest. You will be amazed at how quickly you achieve the full circuit. Another important aspect in getting started is picking an exercise you like doing. If you are not a runner and have no interest in running then there is probably no point in starting off your exercise program with that. Most importantly be flexible. Iif you only manage 2 out of the 3 days you planned it really isn’t something to get worried about, just aim for 3 next week or change your goal to something more achievable.
Re-evaluation and monitoring. The key to keeping motivated is monitoring your progress and continually re-evaluating. A good way to monitor your progress might be to time yourself, record your pulse rate at the end of an exercise session, or even just notice if you are not as puffed at the end of a session. Keep going back to your goal and making adjustments and changes as needed. The recommended amount of exercise to maintain health is at least 30 minutes per day – see if, in time you can reach that level or even greater.
Maintenance long term. Be kind to yourself. As exercise is a lifelong lifestyle choice you have your whole life to get it right! If you miss a day or a week- NO BIG DEAL – just pick back up where you left off and forget about it. Things change as our lives change – how, when, where and what exercise you can do and manage will need to change with your life and the best way to make sure it does and keep motivated is to keep on re-evaluating those goals and starting the cycle again.
Sometimes we need a little help. People like physio’s, exercise physiologists, personal trainers and a variety of other medical practitioners are a wonderful resource. They can help you with various aspects of exercise from a medical clearance, to coming up with an exercise program, to pushing you that extra 500meters to the finish line on that run. If it makes the difference between not exercising and achievable, sustainable and enjoyable exercise, that improves your health and puts you in better stead for the rest of your life – then it might just be well worth it.
I hope the strategies mentioned above give you a starting point and go someway in motivating you to make a change. On that note I’m off to go take some of my own advice!
Ebonney Jackson Physiotherapist