Orthopaedic Surgeon John Leupold, M.D. Offers Tips to Begin and Maintain an Exercise Program
Making New Year’s resolutions has become an American tradition. If you are like millions of Americans, one or more of your resolutions will pertain to exercise and your health. This is good, considering exercise may help you live a longer, healthier life, strengthen your bones, reduce joint and muscle pain, improve mobility and balance, lower your risk of falls and serious injuries, and slow your loss of muscle mass. Local orthopaedic surgeon John Leupold, M.D., who specializes in sports injuries, offers tips to help you start and stick to an exercise program.
Before beginning any exercise program, Leupold stresses the importance of consulting with your physician. He said, “Everyone is different and has individual health concerns that need to be considered before exercising. Your doctor will be able to help you choose what types of exercise are best for you.”
Exercise programs that get the best results are made up of three main elements: aerobic conditioning, flexibility exercises, and strength training. Aerobic exercise improves the health of your heart and lungs and helps you manage your weight. Your goal should be to keep your heart rate elevated for a sustained period of time. A general guideline is to work up to 20 to 30 minutes a day, three to four days a week. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, and biking. Use of machines such as rowing machines, elliptical machines, stair climbers, and treadmills also offer aerobic exercise.
Flexibility exercises, or stretching, help you improve your range of motion and how well you can move. They also lessen muscle tension and soreness, and reduce your risk for falls and related injuries. Yoga and tai chi are good examples of flexibility training.
Strength training is good for both muscles and bones, and makes it easier to do everyday activities like carrying groceries or doing yard work. It also decreases the incidence of osteoporosis and associated injuries. The most common strength training methods are working with free weights or weight machines.
According to Leupold, the hardest and most important step in an exercise program is getting started. He encourages people to take a slow and steady approach rather than jumping into a strenuous program that may be discouraging. When changing your activity level, increase it in increments of no more than 10 percent per week. For example, if you normally walk two miles a day and want to increase your fitness level, don’t try to suddenly walk four miles. Slowly build up to more miles each week until you reach your higher goal. Also use the 10 percent rule as your guide for strength training and increase your weights gradually.
Leupold recommends the following tips to ensure you stick with your exercise program:
• Set a weekly exercise schedule that includes days off. For example, you might exercise every other day, with three days off each week.
• Choose exercise activities that can be practiced comfortably year round. Having both indoor and outdoor exercise options will not allow weather or boredom to be easy excuses for skipping a workout.
• Try for 30 minutes of activity most days. However, if 30 minutes of activity is too much in the beginning, or you do not have enough time, break it up into two intervals. For example, walk for 15 minutes in the morning and do stretching exercises for 15 minutes later in the day.
Leupold has seen many patients that have injuries as a result of poor body mechanics or pushing themselves too hard during exercise. To reduce the risk of injury, he recommends taking the time to warm up and stretch before physical activity. He said, “Cold muscles are more prone to injury. Before you exercise, warm up your muscles with jumping jacks, walking in place for three to five minutes, and then slowly and gently stretching and holding each stretch for 30 seconds.”
Other tips for reducing sports injuries include learning and using proper form when exercising. Leupold said, “There are many local fitness clubs that have staff that can help you with your form. Take advantage of them as resources because doing so will reduce overuse injuries such as tendonitis or stress fractures.” Tied to proper form is wearing proper shoes. Be sure to wear shoes that are comfortable, provide good support, and do not cause blisters or calluses. The shoes should have arch supports and should elevate the heel one-half to three-quarters of an inch above the sole. When choosing a shoe, select one with uppers made of materials that breathe, such as leather or nylon mesh.
Leupold also stresses the importance of listening to your body. He recommends modifying your activity to accommodate your body’s needs. He says you do not need to stop exercising if your muscles get sore in the beginning. This is natural, and it will disappear as you exercise regularly. He does say, however, that you should stop exercising if you experience severe pain and swelling. Leupold said, “Severe pain or swelling could mean you have an injury, such as tendonitis or a stress fracture. In this case, you should consult a doctor so you don’t exacerbate the problem.”
Lastly, Leupold encourages you to congratulate yourself for each accomplishment. He said, “Sticking to an exercise program is something to be proud of. Exercise has many benefits, including improving your mental and physical health and as time goes on, exercise will not seem like a chore but rather an enjoyable activity that you look forward to doing.”