Physical therapist Connie Harrison demonstrates a variety of strength, balance and endurance exercises to seniors in Forestburg.
By Lori Larsen
The number one motivator in any fitness regime should be improving your overall physical and mental well-being.
Research has shown over and over again that regular exercise controls weight, combats health conditions and diseases, boosts energy, improves moods, promotes better sleep and improves social well-being.
Physical therapist Connie Harrison, working as an exercise specialist at Camrose PCN, addresses an important question to which every person should know the answer: Is there any benefit to not exercising?
She indicated, quite simply, there is not.
“There may be the very rare condition that a person has where exercise may be contraindicative. For 99.9 per cent of people, there is always a benefit to exercise, whether that is mental or physical.”
Sometimes the most challenging part of exercise is getting started, and Harrison works with clients to determine the best options for their life.
“It’s important to come up with options that make sense for a person’s life, and make it easy to get started and follow through.
“The best exercise for you is the exercise that you will do. It has to work for your body, but most of all, you have to like it.”
Harrison said that people need to adopt the mindset that exercise is for a lifetime, not just a 10-week class or six-month commitment.
“Considering we are living longer, if you want to have a higher quality of life, you do have to put in some effort when it comes to exercise. There are enough changes in just aging, so in order to address those changes, we do need to stay on top of making sure we are using our muscle and bone mass, and taking care of our hearts and overall health.”
She added that the things we cannot change are age and genetics. “You can change exercise, food and sometimes help change sleep – those are the three pillars. Those are the things we have control over and need to take an active part in addressing.
“We should aim for at least four hours on our feet per day. We need weight-bearing and standing for bone health and whole body health for sure.”
Harrison offered some tips on getting started and staying motivated on your fitness journey.
Tips to get there
1. If you are just beginning a new fitness regime, do so slowly. While moderate physical activity is safe for most people, if you suffer from heart disease, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, are being treated for cancer or have recently completed cancer treatment or have high blood pressure, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
“Ideally five days a week, we should all be working on strength, endurance, balance and posture,” explained Harrison. “Those are the four categories of exercise.
“Sometimes people forget about bone health, but if you are working on balance and strength, then that is good for bone health. If you are working on all four categories, it is good for your bones, muscles, heart – everything.”
Harrison said that we should all be paying more attention to balance. When we stop challenging our balance, we lose it earlier.
2. Set goals. An example Harrison described is the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Sensitive) acronym. “If your overall goal is to exercise 35 minutes a day, five days a week, by the end of March, then start with 10 minutes and progress slowly up to the goal. Be specific and have a timeline so you can measure your results. Make it as concrete as you can so you are able to chew off that goal. If you leave it wide open, you aren’t going to accomplish those goals completely.”
3. Ditch excuses, because after all, that is all they are; exercise even when you don’t feel like it. It is easy to say why you shouldn’t exercise–weather, tired, hungry, busy– but it is always rewarding when you complete the workout. Rarely will anyone say, “I wished I hadn’t worked out.”
“We all have barriers that come up (excuses). Part of good planning or good coaching is to say, what would be the possible barriers as to why you may not exercise, and then have a Plan B. People need to know how they can change things up, recognize those barriers and work around them.”
She said that even with the challenges faced by many in these times, including isolation or the closing of fitness centres, people can still find ways to add exercise into their lives.
4. Schedule fitness into your daily regimen. If you slowly move fitness into your everyday routine, eventually it will become habitual. Your health should be every bit as important as your job. It may require getting up a bit earlier or sacrificing other time-consuming habits such as television, but it is worth it in the end, and chances are you won’t even remember what it was like without fitness in your daily routine.
“Realistically, we know that it takes six months to change a habit; people need to give themselves some grace.”
5. Put your workout gear on as soon as you are home or as soon as you get up. Half the battle of anything is being prepared.
6. Let the beat get you going. Make a good playlist that keeps you hopping (so to speak) and switch it up. Include music that has a faster beat and makes your heart rate higher instead of music that causes you to slow down and cool off.
“Music, reading or even watching television will help you endure some of the more repetitive and maybe even boring type of workouts. Even when you’re walking, listen to music to change pace or listen to an audio book or podcast. Find ways to make long programs that are more repetitive more interesting.”
7. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is becoming the trend in fitness routines. It consists of short, sharp bursts of exercise with very short periods of recovery in between. This is one way to get your daily dose of heart rate-raising exercise without having to dedicate a long workout session that may not always be feasible. HIIT can even be done at your desk or while preparing a meal. While there is no steadfast rule on how long a HIIT session should be dependant on your own schedule, convenience and fitness level, generally a HIIT session lasts at least one minute, but no longer than 10.
8. Don’t weigh your success by other people’s. This is your journey and shouldn’t be sideswiped by others who may not be as motivated.
9. On the flip side, look for support groups or enlist family members or friends who have the same goals. Consider joining a social networking site or online community with fitness trainers and nutrition experts. Get your pet involved. Fido would love the extra exercise, and pets are great motivators.
10. Switch it up. Too often, people become bored with their fitness routine and slowly give up. By switching to a variety of workouts, you not only keep things interesting, but you will use a variety of muscle groups.
11. Keep it fun. It is no secret that many people view exercise as an inconvenience, hard work and boring. Like anything else in life, making it fun and exciting keeps it fresh. Do exercise that you truly enjoy, such as dance, hula hooping, or sports with family and friends. It’s all about what works for you.
12. Buy some new gear. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive piece of workout equipment. It could be new runners, leggings, a t-shirt, hand weights or even a skipping rope.
13. There is a great deal of fitness technology available that tracks your progress, motivates you to keep going, and offers a slew of fitness tips, routines and health monitoring devices.
14. Be kind and recognize that you are going to have difficult days. That is the best time to switch it up. Go for a walk in the great outdoors and listen, look and feel your surroundings.
“When you do fall off the wagon, and you will, don’t punish yourself. Accept that you are human and get back on the path right away.”
15. Most importantly, never give up. After all, you are worth it.
Harrison concluded with some final facts.
“If a person is trying to drop some weight, some encouraging statistics are that for every pound you lose, you take six pounds of pressure off your knees, four pounds off your hips, and four to 10 pounds off your back. So, for every pound you lose, there are a lot of gains to be made.”
She also said that exercise and fresh air are vital for mental health.
“Some psychologists, when they are treating somebody, will ask the client if they are exercising or getting outside. Those things are huge.”
She remarked that medication and counselling can be a part of mental health and well-being, but sleep, exercise, diet and fresh air still count tremendously toward better mental health.
“Once we are aware, we all need help to remind ourselves, such as alarms or sticky notes, to get into healthy habits.
“Your whole health gets hit if you just start moving.”