that includes you!
‘If I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself’
How important is our exercise routine?
If I asked you to look after my million pounds race horse for a few weeks, one of the many questions you would ask would be how much exercise does the horse need to remain in tip top form. If I asked you to look after my dog, it would be obvious that ‘walkies’ would be needed. So when I suggest to most people that they need some exercise why do they say they haven’t got enough time? Only ten per cent of people living in the UK get enough exercise. ‘Enough’, is not going to make you an athlete but it might stop your heart and lungs from ceasing up prematurely. This amount is thirty minutes a day, three and a half hours a week. I allow people to add up a day here and there so if you cannot do any exercise one day you can do an hour the next. (Double this time, i.e. one hour a day, is even better, but beyond this you move into the sort of time dedicated by semi professional athletes and will need advice on how not to overdo it).
Injuries and Exercise
Please note that exercises are not recommended while an injury is healing so if you have a sprained back, or any mechanical injury, please get it fixed before doing any more than walking or swimming, these two forms of exercise are fine with mild injuries – provided they do not increase pain, in which case more treatment is required before you can start even these. A tip for healing an injury is to only walk half the time or distance that causes problems, if 10 miles hurts stick to 5 until you are healed! If 10 minutes hurts, stick to 5 and gradually increase by a minute a day until you reach 30-60 minutes which is ideal.
Why exercise? 9 good reasons!
- It decreases blood pressure
- It decreases cardiovascular diseases
- It increases cognition i.e. brain function
- Improves sleep
- Improves the immune system function
- Decreases stress, by burning up stress hormones
- Increases bone mass and strength
- Increases lean muscle – consider the difference between streaky bacon and back bacon; exercise squeezes the fat out of muscle and teaches your body to use fat as a fuel for exercise
- Increases insulin sensitivity (this sensitivity “normally” reduces with age edging everyone towards type 2 diabetes by their mid years. Diet can largely prevent or reverse this trend as well).
The Exercise Pyramid
In designing your ideal exercise program it is useful to refer to the exercise pyramid, see below. This model shows some vital concepts with regard to developing your fitness level. Please also read my previous article ‘Designing your own Nutrition programme’ as no amount of exercise will help much without good fuel in the tank.
The Exercise Pyramid: How to start a get-fit programme:
The lower steps of the Pyramid are more basic fitness requirements than the higher ones. While it is tempting to leap to the top and experiment with certain sports, they will often lead to injury unless taken on top of the other stages, obviously it is good to play a particular sport but get fit first. For good health you never need compete just walk or swim thirty minutes daily. Always stretch your whole body after exercise.
Step 1 Swimming: do it properly by wearing goggles. Swimming has the least downside of any exercise regime and it burns loads of calories. Aim to swim for 30 minutes doing as many lengths as possible on the crawl and back stroke. Take lessons if you cannot swim well. The relaxed stretched out position of swimming is excellent for the spine and abdominal muscles. The head should be floating in the water not carried above the water like a tortoise. While the tortoise stroke avoids disturbing make-up and hair it is better to swim when this is not an issue or the long-term effects are to strain the neck. The Shaw method which applies the principles of the Alexander technique to swimming are particularly recommended (see ‘The Art of Swimming’ by S. Shaw).
Step 2 Walking: is adequate provided it is at least 30 minutes brisk walking everyday (an hour is even better). If necessary begin with 5 minutes and add a minute a day. If you have more time then I recommend step 3:
Step 3 Gym:Anexcellent method to make your muscles strong and lean. Using weights are more effective at burning fat than anything else. Resistance exercise is very beneficial to long-term muscle and bone strength. If you are a newcomer you will need some advice or an induction so you can use the equipment safely. Recovering back pain sufferers had best avoid steppers, pec-decks, and rowing machines. If you have an injured area do not exercise it, get it fixed and then exercise. Other areas can be exercised while a localised injury is left out of the routine. (e.g. if you have a tennis elbow this need not stop you doing aerobic and lower limb exercises). Stretching exercises are routinely taught in gyms. Stretch after each piece of equipment the muscle you just used – this encourages muscle lengthening and discourages bulking up of muscle. Ideally attend every other day for about 6 weeks, thereafter maintain your gains by going weekly or more if you like it.
Step 4 Exercise classes: Yoga, Tai Chi, dance, Pilates, body balance, Chi Gung or similar can form a vital part of your health and well being program; they help us develop co-ordination, balance and suppleness. I have placed gym or personal training before classes in priority because most classes do not offer resistance exercise, i.e. weights which are vital to long-term bone and muscle density. Classes, led by a suitably qualified and experienced teacher, are however very suitable for maintaining general strength and suppleness. I recommend keeping up one session in the gym even if you mainly choose to do classes.
Steps 5 to 8: Other sports from fun to competition: A high level of fitness can be achieved by steps 1 to 4 above. If you choose to do other sports make sure you include 3-4 hours aerobic activity like walking, jogging, classes or swimming and at least one hour in the gym per week to support your other activities. Most injuries would not happen if basic fitness were achieved before putting oneself into a competitive situation. If you play in a team attend practice sessions; you may not be surprised to hear that most injured sportspeople I have treated are ‘weekend warriors’ that is they are too busy to train in the week but turn out for the game. In competition you might be competing against yourself or others. When you reach a personal goal celebrate, you are a winner!
We are all athletes
If someone else can do it, most likely so can you. Many research projects have shown couch potatoes, desk bound and elderly people can become competitive athletes if they follow an appropriate training program. A lady who won the octogenarian Olympic mile took up jogging at the age of 70 following a stroke; her doctor said if she didn’t get any exercise she would die; so she started jogging… If you think you haven’t got time consider this fact: each hour we spend exercising adds one hour to our lives, so get out there!
Footnote: Running and exercise footwear: Buy appropriately for your body weight, heavy people need more shock absorbance and toughness in their shoes. Go to a specialist shop for advice. The Jog Shop, George Street, in Brighton is excellent. If your feet are a little flat or pronated use anti-pronation running shoes to walk in (or run if you are fit enough), these can help with mild pronation problems. Custom insoles can also add pleasure to your exercise by keeping your feet happy; for advice on insoles see your practitioner.
Breathing the Life force or a shallow experience? The most critical factor to life is …AIR! This is more basic than water or food. We can survive weeks without food, days without water but only seconds without air. In breathing we exchange carbon dioxide, which we create as a waste product in our cells, for oxygen which we need. It is logical that deep breathing – using the diaphragm, facilitates maximum exchange of gases i.e. carbon-dioxide and oxygen. Most people do not breathe fully. If you imagine your lungs divided into three parts, upper, middle and lower then the majority of people breathe mostly with the upper part of their lungs and if asked to breathe deeply only go as far as the middle area. Singers and swimmers may do better through the necessity to control their breathing for good technique. Yoga places great emphasis on deep breathing exercises, so a yoga teacher and class can be useful, or join a choir maybe!
Here are a few basic breathing exercises
- Breathe deeply as you walk in clean air
- Lie down comfortably on your back; place one hand over the tummy button, and the other over the sternum- upper chest. Without thinking breathe in deeply and note which hand rises the most. In most people it is the one over the chest. Now try to breathe into the belly such that the hand over the tummy button rises through the pressure of the diaphragm forcing the abdomen down and out. As you breathe out sigh a little, just like you do when you are relieved about something. Try it now! For more ideas read a yoga book or go to a class if you are able to.
- Daily walk or swim total 3.5 hours a week – this alone puts you in the top 10% of the population
- Weekly gym
- Weekly class or training for a sport
- Weekly competition e.g. game of tennis or compete with yourself by taking an extended exercise session e.g. a long walk
- Breathe deeply using all the lungs
- Stretch all main muscle groups after each exercise session
- Total 3.5 to 7 hours exercise a week
- Regular chiropractic helps keep you mobile and energetic while good nutrition will make sure you have the right fuel in the tank and minimise your recovery time.