Taking self-control to manage pain and restore a healthy quality of life is natural. Small steps gradually can help. One of these small steps may be in the form of exercise. In practice, patients frequently ask questions about exercises. Such as:
- “Are there any exercises I can do?”
- “When can I exercise?”
- “Will doing exercises make me worse?”
Should we exercise? The short answer is yes. Exercise is positive and healthy at any age. However, there are important things to be aware of when taking self-control, so that you can manage pain and restore a healthy quality of life.
Treatment and exercise
Take into consideration a current joint problem that you may be dealing with (eg low back, neck or shoulder). During ongoing treatment for a musculoskeletal condition, it is very important that an exercise plan is put into action at the right stage. Too much too soon can be detrimental to your recovery. Exercise as ‘therapy’ for acute conditions has limited value. On the contrary, for chronic conditions there is strong evidence to support exercise as part of structured treatment.
During an acute inflamed episode of back pain, starting a formal exercise regimen would not be advisable. The relief of pain before new exercise is very important. It is however still advisable to maintain a ‘normal’ amount of mobility. Therefore not too much rest, but not giving everything 100% either. Move within reason. The days of complete bed rest as a prescription have long passed.
Exercise for a healthy lifestyle
Everyone knows that exercising is essentially good for him or her. Building up the motivation, knowing what to do and doing something that is enjoyable, fitting it in a hectic life and maintaining consistency is the hard part.
The term ‘exercise’ is quite broad and often conjures up the image of crowded intimidation gyms or structured sport like rugby. It does not have to be so. Think ‘lifestyle activities’. Working with and around activities that you enjoy is a great start. The simple act of walking can become a hugely healthy activity or exercise.
Why is it good for you?
- You will feel better. Exercise prompts the release of endorphins; ‘feel good’ chemicals that can help alleviate anxiety, depression and block pain.
- Boosts energy.
- Can help prevent disease.
- Promotes bone density. Weight bearing exercises helps the body maintain good bone mass and density.
- Maintains good cardiovascular health. Aerobic exercise gets the heart pumping which encourages efficient circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the body. This helps reduce high blood pressure.
- Maintains healthy weight.
- Increases flexibility by encouraging full range of movement in joints to help ease tension and reduce stiffness.
- Helps lower cholesterol.
- Improves concentration and performance.
There are three points to consider with any exercise or lifestyle activity to improve health.
- Frequency – how often
- Intensity – how hard or challenging
- Time – for how long at a time
It is always important to start low and build up gradually. By not doing this, the body is put under an increased risk of strain and injury. This may mean building on intensity and time over several weeks to months.
A gradual build up will ensure that the body can respond positively and condition appropriately. It is important to have the correct balance between conditioning and recuperation. Muscles and joints need rest.
Think about what your own goals are. There may be a specific challenge or target to meet (running the next great north run, taking part in a charity bike ride), or the need to just “get fit”, reduce your high blood pressure or lose weight. Having goals and desires will help you maintain motivation and regularity.
Components of Exercise
AEROBIC – CARDIOVASCULAR.
Aerobic exercise encourages the use of the heart to help build fitness and endurance. The absorption of oxygen by the lungs and its delivery around the body is improved.
Brisk walking, running, rowing, dancing, swimming and cycling are examples. For maximum effectiveness it needs to be continuous and rhythmic.
STRENGTH TRAINING / ANAEROBIC.
These exercises are performed against resistance. Strength training targets muscle tissue. It helps tone, build, strengthen and enhance muscle endurance. Strength training helps burn calories. Muscles are responsible for more than 25% of overall use of calories, even while at rest or sleeping.
Stretching techniques help develop joint and muscle flexibility. It is a vital, but frequently overlooked, part of any exercise routine. Adequate flexibility helps protect muscles and joints from injury, reduces post exercise soreness, improves balance and coordination and increases the nutrient supply to joints.
There are many recommendations to the optimum amount of exercise a week. The UK department of health recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate (breathing is faster, increased heart rate, slightly out of breath and worn out) physical activity 5 times a week. It is okay to start at 2-3 times per week and build slowly.
Something is better than nothing at all.
You do not have to join a gym to become fit and healthy with exercise.
- Walk: that extra mile or increased pace than normal with the dogs.
- Classes: join dancing, yoga, tai chi or Pilates.
- Take the stairs not the lift.
- Find a local swimming pool.
- Take a bike ride at weekends
- Try a home exercise dvd.
- Skipping ropes do not have to be for children only.
- Take up a social sport like bowls, tennis or golf.
Always warm up – increase the core temperature of the body (e.g. light walking for 10 minutes first). It helps reduce the risk of injury and prepares the body for physical exertion.
- Listen to your body. You should stop if feeling faint, dizzy, nauseous or when painful.
- Wear the correct footwear and comfortable loose clothing
- Keep well hydrated.
- Find a fitness buddy
- Schedule your routines. Making and allowing time and incorporating it into your daily life will help motivation.
- Don’t focus on scale weight
- Be creative and adventurous. Try something new – you don’t have to persevere with something that is boring you to tears – there is always something else.
- Vary your routine.
Remember the exercise you do should be individual to your own requirements. What the neighbour does is not necessarily going to be the best for you. It is natural to compare and compete but only if in your best interests.
It is advisable to have a thorough fitness assessment before starting anything new. If any of the issues below apply to you, it would be advisable to see a healthcare professional:
- High blood pressure
- Asthma or other chronic respiratory conditions
- High cholesterol
- Heavy smoker
- Had joint replacement surgery
- Are pregnant
- Previous history of heart attack or other heart conditions
- Rheumatoid or osteoarthritis
It is important not to assume that you cannot exercise if some of these apply to you. Exercise will often be a good preventative measure; it may just be that certain types of exercises should be avoided or that the build up to the optimum amount will be slower.
When not to exercise
There are times when exercise is definitely not advisable.
- When feeling ill: cold, flu, infection. It will be the body under increased stress, which is not productive.
- If recovering from illness or surgery; allowing the body to healing optimally before resuming your normal routines will ensure efficient performance without further injury.
- Have a current joint or muscle injury.
- When feeling physically exhausted or weak.
- With a hangover or are under the influence of alcohol.
- Immediately after pregnancy.
Further reading or information