Almost everyone I know loves it when they can see the results from their hard work. Whether it is a student that studied hard to get an A, a well-earned promotion, the reached goal on weight loss, or the achievement of reaching that next level exercise, we as people love patting ourselves on the back and saying, “I did it!”. It would even appear that for most people today the only way to make hitting a goal better is to get there faster. Of course, this is not surprising in our “fast highway” culture today. We want it now or even yesterday if that is possible. This combined obsession of “hitting the goal” and “doing it faster” often leads to less than desirable avenues for trying to achieve our health goals, which ultimately can be very counterproductive and injury-laden.
The Starting Line
Starting a new exercise program is a classic example. You will often hear stories of how someone that has not exercised in years finally commits to “Get back into shape” and even buys a year-long membership at the local gym. Then after just one or two trips to the gym, they give up on their goal and waste the year-long membership. How does that happen? Most often this happens as a result of their mindset when they started their first workout. Thinking that exercising harder is going to provide a bigger and faster payoff on top of, “I used to do even more exercise than this.” You can almost hear them thinking, “I can get the body of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in just one day!” Unfortunately, exercising harder without giving your body adequate preparation can often lead to a serious injury and almost always leads to several days of muscular soreness.
Severe muscular soreness is frequently enough to discourage them from going back to the gym and if an injury does occur they can end up laid up for days or even weeks and could also require rehabilitation to recover from their self inflicted injury. In either case, they are right back at the beginning in terms of their fitness, strength, and endurance.
Ready To Exercise Smarter?
Exercising smarter can be easily summed up in one sentence. Start with what your body is capable of doing, and then gradually do a bit more. The hardest part of this equation is knowing what you are capable of if you haven’t exercised in years. However, the answer to that is quite simple: very little! When it comes to benefits of exercise, they are not experienced from one day of intense activity but rather from a regular schedule of gradually progressive exercise over a period of months and years. The same rules apply even for a person that has already been exercising regularly for years if they have not been using a gradually progressive program of exercise. For example, a runner that has run three miles a day, three times a week for several years would not be advised to do an eight-mile run the next time they go out. Even though they may be in “good shape” this sudden increase in their exercise would most likely leave them with strained muscles, shin splints, or worse. As another example, a person that has done weight training for several years who can bench press 100 pounds for three sets of ten repetitions three times a week, decides to try using 150 pounds today. This large increase in weight could very easily lead to muscular or ligamentous strains in the back, neck, shoulder, elbow or wrist. In either scenario, the result from training “harder” is a two-week vacation from exercising and possibly much longer. Of course, almost everyone that has done exercise at any level can make these mistakes, and injuries can occur even when training smart, but especially for the person that is just getting back into exercise doing too much too fast is not, “smart.”
A Healthy Life Is A Marathon
The goal with exercise is a gradual progression over a period of time. For example, if you’re 60 years old and haven’t exercised for many years, a walking program is a good way to begin. On your first day, walk at a comfortable, steady pace for 5-10 minutes. It should truly feel like you didn’t do much but remember you will be gradually increasing your time and then increasing your pace over a period of weeks and months. Each day you add a couple of minutes but maintain your original pace. Building up the number of minutes until you are at 30 minutes. If you find that at a certain number of minutes you feel like you had to push yourself to complete it, then maintain that number of minutes for a few days until completing it feels better before adding more minutes. Once you are walking 30 minutes a day, five times a week comfortably you are ready for the next progression. For your next walk you will reduce your time to 10-15 minutes but increase your pace a bit then each day maintaining this new pace you will once again progress the number of minutes up to 30. Each time that you get up to 30 minutes comfortably, you will then reduce your minutes, increase your pace, and build back up to 30 minutes. Rinse and repeat!
Of course, you don’t want to increase your pace if you are feeling uncomfortable or overstressed by the current level of walking. If your current level of minutes and pace is pushing you, then you either maintain it until it feels better or even back off a bit and let your body can catch up before increasing again. The key here is that you want your program of exercise to be progressive while at the same time listening to what your body is telling you. After four to six cycles of gradually increasing minutes and your pace, you should be able to walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week, at a nice brisk pace. You may also notice some great changes: weight loss, an increase in energy levels, more flexibility, better posture, healthier skin, and sounder sleep leaving you rested and rejuvenated in the morning.
Getting Across the Finish Line
Whether you are just getting started with a new exercise, weight loss program or just ready to get your “health back,” our expert team would love to design a program that will help you to achieve your goals.
You don’t have to wait until you already have an injury or serious health condition to start taking good care of your body. Give us a call first to find out how we can help you start shouting your victories!
For Your Health,
Dr. Scott Van Dam