Health Talk: Exercising Safely
Monday, September 13, 1999
So you've decided it's time to pick up a new sport. What do you need to know about getting in shape without injuring yourself?
Richard Cotton, chief exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise, was our guest for this week's "Health Talk" with host Abigail Trafford.
Please read the discussion below.
Welcome to Health Talk! Do you want to get in shape? Do you want to be a star on the tennis court or in aerobics class? Watch out. If you're not in shape, you're at higher risk of having an injury. The Health section features a guide to getting in shape for playing sports. Richard Cotten is here to tell you how to get the max out of exercise and sports--and not hurt yourself in the process. Send us your questions.
Abigail Trafford: Hello and welcome to Health Talk. The experts are telling us we have to exercise to be in good health--and now they're telling us we have to be in shape before we exercise! How do you get in shape to exercise when you are not in shape at all? (but hope to be in shape one day?)
The first thing you need to do is make sure you're safe to exercise. All men over 40 and women over 50 should check in with their physician before beginning an exercise program.
Abigail Trafford: All across the country, kids are going back to school--and on to the playing fields. What advice do you have for parents to make sure school children are in good shape to play sports?
It's not quite as important that kids be in shape before playing sports as it is for adults because they aren't as prone to injury. However, they'll perform better if they are in shape and it will be a more positive experience for them. Parents should encourage their children to be active, to play, and to minimize the amount of time spent in front of the t.v. Regardless of the sport or activity, it should be fun for kids and not feel like a "workout."
Congratulations on maintaining a consistent aerobic program. Adding weight training is a great idea to round out your program and increase strength. Start with a basic dumbbell program, choosing an amount of weight that you can comfortably lift for 10 to 15 repetitions. Start with a minimum of 2 days per week, and not more than every other day. To build strength, gradually increase the amount of weight you use, and decrease the number of repetitions to 8 to 12. There's really no need to change your cardio program unless time is an issue.
Abigail Trafford: Richard, what are the proper warm-up exercises? How long should you spend "warming up?"
It's important to focus on the muscles that you will be using during your workout. Do a low-level aerobic warm-up for 5 to 10 minutes and then stretch for 2 to 3 minutes.
Abigail Trafford: It's really important to be in good condition if you want to participate in sports. What do you need to do to get in condition for playing sports?
I always tell my clients to get in shape to play sports, don't play sports to get in shape. A good comprehensive exercise program that includes aerobic, strength training and stretching is the best way to get in shape for sports.
Arlington, VA: I finally decided to start working out again after a brief respite (about a month). So, of course, I'm a little sore the day after. My question is how long should I allow my muscles to heal before I work out again?
Take at least a day off and do some easy stretching and light walking. Gradually ease into your activities rather than going all out to help minimize the risk of soreness. Any more than mild soreness is probably a sign that you overdid it.
Ocean Beach, CA: I surf every morning before work. I feel like I'm in pretty good shape but I've heard that this exercise may not be burning enough calories to keep me in shape. Should I be doing more?
Abigail Trafford: Richard, we need help here. We're told to engage in physical activity for health benefits--lowering our risk of heart disease, for example. That's about 30 minutes a day. Then we're told to exercise more if we want to see fitness benefits--improvement in muscle tone, etc. But how much more do we have to do each day? And are there specific activities that are geared to enhancing fitness--strengthening muscle, improving shape, flexibility, etc? Tell us all!
We're really talking about two separate things: exercise for health and exercise for fitness. The minimum exercise requirement for health is 30 minutes of accumulated moderate activity (walking, gardening, etc.) on most days of the week. This is recommended to lower the risk of a number of diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Bowie, MD: I want to start using the basic tae-bo tape - it's clear from viewing it once that I should get into better shape before using it. What do you suggest for gaining strength in the areas that this type of exercise focuses on. Thanks.
Tae Bo, and other martial-arts based workouts, require you to move in entirely new ways. So, it requires a combination of endurance, strength and flexibility. Even people who are "in shape" need to master these movements before working out intensely. I suggest using the instructional tape or going to a gym and taking a class where you can get some hands-on instruction.
Washington, DC: What is the best way to flatten a stomach and how long would it take to see noticeable results.
A flat stomach is a genetic gift. Seriously, you need to take part in a fairly agressive aerobic exercise program to burn the abdominal fat. But strong stomach muscles, which are important for a strong back, can be achieved with as few as 50 to 100 crunches every other day. Remember, you can do thousands of crunches, and if you don't lose the fat you won't have the coveted "six-pack" advertised on infomercials.
Abigail Trafford: Richard, is there such a thing as too much exercise that is hazardous to health and maybe counter productive to fitness? A kind of "exercise stress disorder?" I don't mean a little muscle soreness, but real harm? How can you tell if you're exercising too much?
Too much exercise can be counterproductive to both your health and fitness levels. It can lead to an exercise burnout and injury from overusing certain muscles. In fact, the first sign of exercise addiction is chronic soreness and fatigue.
McLean, VA: If you are trying to lose weight, is the best time to eat, before or after a workout...and is one better for you than the other?
This is a personal decision. Some people perform better on an empty stomach, while others need a little food before exercising. The timing of your meals really has no effect on the number of calories burned and weight lost over time.
Arlington, VA: I am just getting into the excercise thing and am having trouble making it to the gym 3 times a week - I'll go in spurts (be really motivated one week, lazy the next). Any suggestions for keeping the momentum going?
The number one key to sticking with an exercise program is finding something you really like to do. It also helps to have an exercise partner to help motivate you. Some people find it helpful to schedule their exercise sessions as they would any other appointment.
Chevy Chase, MD: I never seem to find enough time in my day to make it to the gym. Is it really possible to get as good of a workout at home? What sort of equipment would be best? And I'm on a budget.
You can get an excellent workout at home. The minimum equipment necessary is a pair of walking or running shoes. Your strength training can be accomplished with body weight exercises such as push-ups and dips. But you can also add dumbbells to add variety to your routine. Stretching requires not much more than a big towel and a soft floor. A jump rope or exercise tapes are also economical options.
Abigail Trafford: What are the common injuries in exercise and sports? What are the best strategies for preventing injuries?
The best way to prevent exercise injuries is to stay within your limits. Some of the most common injuries are to the knee, ankle and shoulder. These are best prevented by strengthening the muscles and tendons that surround these joints. Always progress gradually and warm up before exercising.
Fairfax, VA: What is the correct schedule for lifting weights; every day or every other day?
Definitely every other day unless you're splitting your routine (doing upper body one day, lower body the next). Muscles need at least a day to repair themselves after a strenuous workout.
Abigail Trafford: What if you twist your ankle and are sidelined for a while. How can you stay in shape during the recovery period? Are there exercises you can do--even though you can't walk?
Swimming is a good choice since it puts less stress on the ankles. Seated dumbbell exercises can also keep your muscles in shape while you recover.
Baltimore, MD: What's the deal with sports drinks and power bars? When do-Should average exercisers really need to use them? I'm pretty confused about the whole issue.
Richard Cotton: Sports drinks and energy bars have been shown to be beneficial for use during intense or prolonged activities. However, the average exerciser is better off choosing water to rehydrate during moderate or shorter activities. Consuming additional calories during exercise can be counterproductive to weight-loss efforts. Water and nutritious food are more important than specially formulated supplements.
Abigail Trafford: Back to the flat stomach. 100 crunches sounds like a lot! Any way to cheat here? Do you have to do them every day!! And what about abdominal surgery that leaves a big scar and cuts into the abdominal muscles--how do you keep a flat stomach after surgery?
Don't get too focused on that elusive flat stomach. Eating right and exercising regularly should be the ultimate goal. Remember, too, that those 50 to 100 crunches don't have to be done all at once. If you can do 50, you are in good shape. Abdominal surgery is, of course, hard on the stomach muscles. You just have to progress gradually and recognize that it's going to take a lot of time for those muscles to heal, let alone get stronger.
Washington, DC: How long do you need to walk to burn the same amount of fat-calories that you burn running in 20 minutes?
If you jog two 10-minute miles, you need to walk at least two miles (and probably a little bit more) to match the calorie consumption of jogging. Higher-intensity activites elevate metabolic rates, which means you burn a few more calories even after the activity is over.
If you're doing all you can do with your diet and exercise program, you probably have a genetic predisposition to elevated cholesterol. Often when cholesterol remains high, a physician will prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs. Keep up with the walking, and keep your workouts to the morning or evening to avoid overheating.
If you'd like to stick with walking, you can vary your workouts by changing your routes, adding hills or intervals. Intervals involve changing the pace throughout the walk. For example, walk briskly for one mile, slow for one-quarter mile, and then repeat. Do you enjoy cycling? How about exercising in a group? There are many options available to you through local gyms and community centers that can keep you interested and varies the muscles used to further improve your fitness.
Washington, DC: I jog 20 min. and do free weights 4x-week. In my fifties. I have a right hamstring muscle which is chronically tight. Stretch it -on my back, leg in air, pulling back on thigh- right after running. Is this the best way to stretch it out? Are there other stretches which should be added? Also, I do the 20 min. at 4.9; have found previously that if I go beyond 5.5 mph, I get an injury. I suppose my body is telling me "Don't go beyond 5.5. and that I should listen to it.
Richard Cotton: I recommend making an appointment with a physical therapist to determine the source of this problem. With the right treatment, this does not have to be a chronic problem. Yes, by all means listen to what your body is telling you and stick to a speed that you feel comfortable with.
I guess all that's left is my own moral determination to get out and get the exercise I need. . . Thank you Richard very much for being on the show. And thank you all for your questions. Read the Health section tomorrow! It's a special issue on family issues. And join us next week for another Health Talk.
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