Why Exercise At All?
By Anthony Milam, PT
It often seems that exercise is touted as the cure-all for almost every ailment. Just walk a few minutes a day, boosters say, and you will have better health—and you don’t even have to break a sweat. Or just do a few knee bends here and a few sit-ups there and all your health problems disappear. If it were only that simple. While the wonders of exercise are often oversold, in reality, does it really do you any good?
Consider this: exercise has many proven health benefits. It can lower your risk of diabetes. It can lift your mood. It can reduce the risk of heart disease. It can help you lose weight and keep it off. And it’s fun!
But one often overlooked benefit of exercise is that it can improve the strength and endurance needed to function better in your everyday life.
Keep in mind that many people who struggle with their weight have had a long history of limited activity levels. As a Physical Therapist, I have performed muscle tests on many of these patients and have found most of them to be relatively strong, however, there is a difference between strength and endurance. Strength gives you the ability to perform an action. Endurance gives you the ability to perform that same action for a longer period of time. For example, you might be able to walk from one end of your home to the other end. But an increase in endurance might allow you to walk to your mail box or to walk while shopping in a grocery store. An increase in endurance increases independence levels, but can also improve circulation and metabolism, which can enhance the weight loss process.
One of the important benefits of performing exercise regularly is to improve your ability to walk, climb, run and complete daily activities. An additional benefit can be pain control in joints such as the hips, knees and ankles. As you lose weight and gain strength around these joints, through exercise, they become more stable and this can decrease joint pain. Exercise after losing a great deal of weight needs to be customized (as much as possible) to each individual patient. Some patients will begin with lower level exercises that are performed lying down or seated. Other patients may already be performing at a higher level and are able to participate with standing activities. The key is to find a starting point, perform the needed exercises on a consistent basis. Keep yourself challenged by increasing repetitions or changing exercises as they get easier. In some ways, exercise can be described as a catch 22 situation: you get tired when you exercise, but unless you exercise, you will always be tired. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The tired feeling does improve the longer you stick to your program.
For functional muscle strengthening to occur, you will need to perform your activities for at least 6 – 8 weeks. You will most likely notice some improvements developing through the first six weeks. But you’ll notice the greatest improvement in your overall abilities around the end of the second month of your program. Continued gains can be made beyond this point with continuation of your exercise program. It should be your plan to incorporate exercise as a part of your lifestyle change and continue on a daily basis.
Keeping a journal will help you to stay on track and also show your improvements. At the beginning of your exercise program, document approximately how many feet you are able to walk or how many attempts it takes you to get to a standing position from your chair. Then periodically update your journal. Your progression will be slow and it will be hard for you to remember exactly how limited you were. But, going back to your journal allows you to keep a mental snapshot of your improvement. It’s a great motivator!
If you don’t have access to someone who can guide your exercise program, the simple thing to do is to walk short distances within your home and increase the distance as you are able. Try to do more walking than what you need to go to the kitchen or bathroom. An additional activity could be to stand up and sit back down in your chair, repeatedly. Increase the number of times (repetitions) that you do this as it becomes easier. Any activity in which you are moving will serve to progress your overall abilities.
As you improve your endurance, you will be able to be more active. An increase in activity will typically cause your body to burn additional calories which assists with weight loss. Isn’t this your main goal? So what are you waiting for? Get out there and move!