Our bodies are not very different from those of our primitive ancestors. We are designed to be out on the Serengeti Plain with a spear in our hand, scanning the horizon for game. We are designed for lots of activity, for walking over irregular surfaces and for focusing our vision on things that are far away. Movement feeds the discs and strengthens the muscles and ligaments. We are not designed to sit a lot. The activities of modern humans do not fit this model. We sit a lot, sometimes unmoving for long periods of time. We focus on things that are close, we read, we drive, we talk on the phone and we work on the computer.
This lack of activity on our part creates problems. Postural muscles get weak. Ligaments and discs rely on movement to get nourishment, when you are sedentary they become weak and prone to injury. The body becomes more prone to disease like heart problems and immune system problems. We are designed to move; we need to exercise.
There are different kinds of exercise, each with a different benefit for the body. Cardiovascular exercise—like running or bicycling improves the health of the heart. There are two kinds of cardiovascular exercise, aerobic and anaerobic. Resistance exercise, like lifting weights, strengthens the muscles and ligaments. Stretching improves flexibility. There are also exercises to improve core strength—the muscles that stabilize the body and keep us safe from injury.
When beginning an exercise program, different people need to start at different levels of activity. An exercise program for a 20-year-old who has been lying around all winter will be different from one that is appropriate for a 60-year-old heart patient. Why do you suppose you keep hearing, “See your doctor before beginning any exercise program.”? Feel free to contact our office and schedule a consultation to discuss exercise or any other health issue.
Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Activity
The book In Fitness and in Health by Dr. Phil Maffetone does a very good job at distinguishing aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise and knowing which type of exercise you need. The concepts presented in this section are from Dr. Maffetone. Think of a pyramid: Aerobic exercise is like the base. Aerobic exercise is easy movement of large muscle groups. If you are doing aerobic exercise, you can converse easily without being out of breath. Your heart rate is around 180 minus your age. This is to be distinguished from “aerobics” that people do in health clubs or with videotapes. These exercise programs usually include some anaerobic activity. Aerobic exercise means that the heart rate does not go higher than 180 minus your age and you do not get out of breath. If you get out of breath, you are doing anaerobic exercise.
Anaerobic exercise is analogous to the height of the pyramid. It is what increases your performance and helps you attain many of the goals of exercise like strength, speed and weight loss. You are doing anaerobic exercise when you are out of breath or can’t talk normally while exercising.
If you are just doing aerobic exercise you won’t progress much. Your weight loss will plateau and your strength and endurance will not increase. You see this alot in people who are trying to lose weight. They do the same exercise like a treadmill or a stationary bicycle without pushing themselves much. They lose weight for a while and then just stop. Usually anaerobic activity will help these people to achieve their goals.
Some people overdo it with anaerobic activity. People who intensely train for sports, like marathon runners, tend to do too much anaerobic activity. People who push themselves to gain performance also seem to have more injuries. Too much anaerobic activity is a stress to the adrenal glands and can predispose the exerciser to injury or chronic pain. These are the runners with chronic knee pain, weight lifters with tendonitis, quarterbacks with chronic shoulder problems, and so on. If you use the pyramid analogy, it’s like having a very tall structure with a little tiny base. It isn’t very stable.
People who want to train for performance will do well to pay attention to nutrition. Not eating hydrogenated oils and supplementing with essential fatty acids is a good start. Strictly avoiding refined sugar and refined white flour is also very important. Get the help of a professional to help you with supplementation—some of the advice going around gyms is questionable.
Another thing that is very important during exercise is to properly warm up, for at least 10 minutes at the beginning and to properly cool down at the end. The warm up increases blood flow to the muscles and increases flexibility. At the end of the exercise, cool down for at least 10 minutes, it helps to re-establish normal circulation and prevents blood from pooling in the muscles.
You need a balance of both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. If you are out of shape or new to an exercise regimen, you need to build an aerobic base. Spend a month or two just going on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. Later you can add weight lifting or more intense cardiovascular activity.
Dr. Maffetoneshows you how to know how to balance aerobic and anaerobic activity in his book. The book shows you how to test yourself using a heart rate monitor while you exercise. It can give you more detailed information about exercise than is presented here.
Your pulse can be taken at your radial or your carotid arteries. The bone of the forearm that is on the same side as the thumb is called the radius. The radial pulse is found just inside (medial to) the radius, near where the wrist bends. The carotid pulse is found on either side of your windpipe. The carotid pulse is a little stronger and will be easier to find than the radial pulse. Or, if you don’t mind spending a few dollars, you can buy a heart monitor.
If you still can’t find your pulse, jump up and down a few times and try again. Now just count the number of beats for one minute. You can be a little bit lazy and count the beats for 15 seconds then multiply by 4. If you are really out of shape, you may be surprised at how little activity it takes to get your heart rate up.
Muscles become tight because we do the same sorts of things all the time. We are not out on the Serengeti Plain, in constant movement; we sit. We sit a lot. Activities like stretching or yoga are also necessary for good health. Some chronic back pain, for example, can be the result of the hamstrings (muscles at the back of the thigh, connecting the pelvis and the knee) being too tight. Muscle imbalance can cause pain and predispose you to injury.
Working the muscles by lifting weights or doing another kind of strength training strengthens not only the muscles, but the ligaments and bone as well. This is especially important if osteoporosis is a concern for you. When you lift something, you muscles pull on the bone. That is a signal for the body to send calcium and other nutrients to the bone to strengthen it for further activity.
Maintaining strength also helps you to keep good posture. It helps to prevent injury, when done properly. Please call us for a consultation to discuss this and other health issues that you are concerned about.
You may have heard people talk about strengthening the “core”. Think of your body as a Christmas tree, if the core is weak, it is like having a scrawny little tree and loading it up with a lot of heavy ornaments. The branches will bend and the tree may even topple.
Many people believe that if they are doing cardiovascular exercise or weight lifting, they don’t need therapeutic exercise. They build up their arms and legs, but neglect the core. It makes the body unstable and prone to injury. If you had a tall skyscraper with strong stone walls but no foundation, it would topple.
When you feel deeply along the spine of some individuals, you can feel the lack of tone in the small muscles that are connected to each vertebra. The individual very likely sits a lot. He or she may exercise, but not in a way that will stabilize the spine and strengthen the core. This is a recipe for pain and injury.
Exercise is important. As you can see, different kinds of exercise can help you to achieve different health goals. Feel free to come in for a consultation and discuss exercise or any other health issue.