April, 2010 / Author:

So you want to leave the land of couch potatoes and turn over a new leaf? Are you tired of feeling like a beached walrus, made breathless by the exertion of walking to the fridge? Or have friends or the doctor gently suggested you’re in such poor shape you should perhaps investigate prepaid funerals?

If all this is true you might vow to sign up immediately at the gym; or swear to embark on a fitness regime that will see you as an Olympic contender in a year or two at most. If so, be very very afraid, for the road to hell – and more sloth – is oft paved with overzealous good intentions, likely to fizzle out before barely started.

A sudden switch from total lethargy to an exercise program that makes you look like a squirrel on crack is unwise. Overzealous middle-aged joggers have literally dropped dead; and the offices of chiropractors and physiotherapists are often filled with people who, like Icarus, tried to do the impossible. Use common sense.

So how do you prepare for a new life of regular, vigorious exercise? Sylvia Horvath is a physiotherapist at the Grace Hospital and also teaches aerobics at Shapes. She sees many casualties of exercise, some whose enthusiasm clearly outran common sense.

First, she says you need compliance: if you’re changing a slothful lifestyle you have to schedule exercise periods. Stick to them and also choose something you’ll enjoy. Better still, choose two or three things you like doing, so you don’t just get bored with one repetitive activity.

Horvath says it’s important to start gradually – but make sure you DO start. “Don’t be hardcore and go too hard or too long,” she says. “For minimum benefit you can start with 10 minutes a day, then gradually increase the time.

Cardio exercise involves anything that makes your heart beat faster, such as walking, running, climbing stairs or cycling. If you want more vigorous exercise such as hard jogging she says 20 minutes a day three times weekly is a good start. “Don’t overdo it,” she says. “Moderation is always good at the beginning of exercise.”

She also says you need to define your goals and have targets. Do you just want to lose some weight? If so, you need to exercise AND examine your diet. Talk to a dietitian. If you just want to feel better and not be breathless all the time, moderate exercise on a regular basis is critical. Two or three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes is good.

She also says you need to warm up your muscles by stretching them before AND after exercising. People often forget stretching after an exercise period but that’s when your muscles are warmed up and need stretching to achieve flexibility.

Hydration is also important. Horvath says you shouldn’t just drink when thirsty, either. “Really, you should drink throughout the day and during the exercise period,” she says. “If you’re over age 19 women should drink 2.2 litres of water a day while men need three litres.”

“During exercise you also need half a cup of fluids for every 15 minutes of activity. You should drink before, during and after exercise. And make sure you sip water – don’t gulp it down.”

As to clothing she says some people wear shirts of 100 per cent cotton but that’s a problem because it gets wet with sweat and is uncomfortable. “I choose blends of polyester and cotton, which allow the body to breathe,” she says. “Nike has a Dri-Fit microfibre, which works well.”

She says footwear is also important. Shoes need to be comfortable. Foot sizes and widths vary a lot, so consult a sports store or a specialist like Canadian Footwear. They may cost more but are worth it.

Taking up exercise may be tiring at first but remember that a workout will give you energy. Exercise increases enhelps you sleep better, reduces
durance, stress and ultimately makes you feel better.

Now, off you go – and remember: let it be, steady as she goes.

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