Spring cleaning – for the body
For many of us everything has slowed down recently. Winter, snow, flu and the slow recovery from Christmas and the New Year have all taken their toll, physically, mentally and financially. But spring is almost upon us (March 20th, for those who wish to know). The sun will be shining, flowers will be budding, birds will be doing whatever it is birds do to make more birds, and we will be complaining about how hot it has got all of a sudden (ok, I am ignoring the possibility of snow showers next week). Spring can be quite an emotive and evocative word. It screams action. It bellows to us to shake off the cobwebs of winter, to leave the cozy couch and to go outside, and to take in deep breaths of fresh air (I live in the Washoe Valley – there is still fresh air here). If, like me, you have been rather sedentary during the winter months, you may wish to consider some things before you spring into action and sprain something (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa). You may have heard of the phrase “weekend warrior” – someone who goes out during their spare time and puts their body through extreme stresses in the name of fun and health. We all know the type – someone who spends their work days sitting at a desk (or adjusting patients) who then goes out on a Saturday and does a 15-mile hike in the mountains, runs a half-marathon, or swims the length of Lake Tahoe (ok, that last one might be going a tad too far…), then spends the rest of the week recovering from their exertions and hoping their legs don’t drop off. Been there, done that. My usual modus operandi is to start a cardiovascular and weight training program in February, but try to do too much too soon and end up pulling something early in March, which stops me from exercising for months. But what is the alternative? After more than 50 years of beating my own body up, I have decided to listen to it when it makes me scream. I think my body is more intelligent than me, and it has been telling me for years that I was messing up. No more. Here goes:
1. Make sure you can exercise – Doctors will often say that you should get your health and wellbeing checked out before engaging in any form of strenuous exercise program. There is a good reason for this. Exercise programs are only healthy if they don’t kill you first. Before I begin my 2018 attempt at getting fit and healthy again, I will be having a physical. I may not like the results, but I will have a baseline from which to work.
2. Decide on goals – I want to get fit and healthy. Good general goals for anyone, but what does it mean to be fit and healthy? Practically everyone has their own opinions about what it means to be fit and healthy, because everyone has different goals. Opinions and goals also change over time. Specific goals are much more useful than general goals, and are often more measurable and attainable. Deciding on your specific goals will help you decide on the types of exercises you want to perform, as well as the strenuousness of your exercise regimen. Weight loss is a noble and reasonable goal, but it has drawbacks as a marker for health (such as when your weight loss plateaus even though you are being a maniac in the gym – remember that muscle really does weigh more than fat, and that water retention can have your weight yoyoing all over the place), and it can be taken too far. Functional goals may be of more use. An example is distances walked, ran or bicycled per session or week, or the number of flights of stairs you can climb before you get out of breath. You decide your goals, and have more than one goal. Quite often there might be a time when there is no noticeable improvement in one area you are working on, and you can get discouraged. When this happens look at how your other goals are coming along. If you are not progressing overall, then this is not a time to become disheartened – you may have just got to the point where your exercise routine needs to be revamped, renewed and redirected. This is a good thing. I Promise.
3. Make sure you can exercise safely – Not all exercises are created equal. Exercises that one person can do with ease may cripple someone else. I must be careful of stressing my right ankle when I exercise as I have had 2 surgeries on it, and it is not as strong as it used to be. I have to take this into consideration when I look at potential sports or exercises. Research, research and research again what is best for you. Your exercise routine should match your capabilities and your goals.
4. Start slowly and build up – I know this is common sense, so why have I always ignored this in the past?? Your body needs time to adjust to the increased stresses and loads imparted by exercise. This does not happen overnight. Allowing your body to acclimatize to exercise will improve your enjoyment of the activity, and will decrease the risk of injury. You may be taking baby steps, but continued baby steps are much better than giant leaps followed by weeks in traction. There are little things I have already implemented this year, and they help. I park my car far from the entrance of the store, sometimes on the other side of the parking lot. It only increases the amount of walking I do by an infinitesimal amount, but it does increase it. I avoid escalators and elevators when I can. If something is within walking distance, then I walk. I am also taking less sugar in my tea (yes, that is quite a sacrifice), and I am cutting down on my evening snacks (oh, the humanity!!). The fact is that your body can adapt to small changes much better than it can big changes, and small changes are more likely to become good habits that can support greater changes later on. Get your foundation right, and you will not topple.
I think I have taken this article as far as I can. If you want to talk about getting fit and healthy, including starting an exercise program, then you know where we are. Now back to my exercise program – lift cup of tea, sip, and down...lift cup of tea, sip, and down…and rest. Aaahh. Feel the burn.