Everyone knows exercise is important. Even if you’ve never seen the inside of a gym before, you are barraged by magazine covers, television advertisements and billboards filled with fit, happy looking people telling you how easy it is to be healthy. You may even own a piece of gimmicky equipment purchased with three easy payments. You probably hung your coat on it last night.
If you can’t seem to find the time or motivation to exercise on a regular basis, you are not alone. While our bodies have not changed much in the past several thousand years, our day-to-day level of physical exertion has significantly dropped. Less than 100 years ago, most people worked in labor-intensive jobs, such as factory workers, farmers and construction trades, which required constant effort. After work, no one was able to come home, turn on the television and “veg out”. Neighborhood kids would play tag, jump rope and climb trees until dark. Even adult recreational activities required movement, whether cultivating a garden, caring for the home or hunting and fishing.
Thanks to technological changes since then, much of the exercise, which was part of daily life even 50 years ago, is not necessary anymore. When was the last time you opened a door at the grocery store? How long has it been since you ate a meal of food grown and prepared with your own two hands? Do you know how long it takes to walk to work? When was the last time you even walked around the block? Consider the fact our bodies are the same today as they were when we had to move to live, and you will understand why so many people are unfit and unhealthy.
How do you want to move in a month or a year or 10 years?
Many exercises you see on infomercials or in workouts you find on http://www.bemovelive.com are often associated with athletes or people you may consider more fit than you. My contention is that everyone benefits from enhancing their stability, mobility, strength, power and recovery because these aspects of movement are called upon every day. Think of the myriad of ways in which you move throughout the day: walking, bending, lifting, twisting, pulling and climbing are all moves which require coordination, balance and strength. Increasing your strength and power makes it easier to pick up a bag of groceries, wrestle with your son, or simply get out of bed. Improving your stability and mobility will protect against sudden falls or allow you to use your foot to open a door if your arms are full of groceries. When you recover more fully from the demands of your day, you will perform better in every aspect of your life.
Of course, long-term exercise delivers the best results and using good form ensures it is completed safely and in a way that maximizes your gains. When you use proper form you reduce the chances of injuring the targeted muscle and the surrounding ligaments, tendons and muscles. Good form also speeds improvements because the right muscles are working.
How do I move better today?
GET WARM. This isn’t middle school PE. So, donning a pair of coach’s shorts, a couple of toe touches and a few windmills aren’t enough to get ready for a workout. The problem is static stretching doesn’t increase blood flow to the muscles you are preparing to work. Additionally, the old way of stretching has been shown to decrease strength when it is done prior to exercise. You’ll get better results if you get warm with dynamic moves involving a full range-of-motion in your major muscle groups.
Pick four or five of these exercises and do each of them for 30 to 60 seconds. Begin with easy leg swings both front to back and side to side. Then move into a wide-stance squat and touch by positioning your feet wider than hips-distance apart and sinking your hips until you can touch the ground with your hands. Next, raise your heart rate with side shuffles, jumping jacks, running in place or body-weight lunges. Finish with arm circles, mountain climbers, sun salutations or inch worms to target the upper body and core.
FIND YOUR BALANCE. Muscle imbalances, joint dysfunction, neuromuscular deficits and bad postural habits develop over time and are often felt where you are weakest. For instance, sitting at a desk all day can lead to a forward stooped posture. This allows the muscles in the front of the shoulders and across the chest to shorten and tighten, while the muscles of the back are lengthened and weakened. This muscular imbalance predisposes you to pain in the rotator cuff muscles. These four small muscles stabilize the top of the arm (the humeral head) in the shoulder socket during movement and dysfunction here can lead to chronic pain if it is not corrected.
In this example, your best defense against developing shoulder pain may be to balance the muscles of the anterior and posterior sides of the body. Try stretching the chest and shoulders, strengthening the back and rotator cuff musculature and working to maintain a good posture throughout the work day. My disclaimer is (as always): I am not a doctor and you should address pain issues with a board-certified physician.
Of course, most doctors would agree an important component of good posture and injury prevention is…(you guessed it) a strong, balanced core. Planks, side planks and bridges are a good place to begin because they engage the muscles around the entire core. Add single-leg balance reaches and supine marches to improve your balance and proprioception (your muscles communicating and working together).
BE STRONG. Staying fit isn’t for the weak (yes, that’s tongue in cheek), and you can make it a little easier by getting strong. Strength training can improve balance, your kinesthetic awareness (bodily sense of space and movement) and will improve your muscle mass and bone density. This makes your everyday activities easier and a week at the beach less frightening. Compliment your cardiovascular exercise with a three-day-a-week strength training regimen focusing on the major muscle groups. Vary your routines and lift heavy on the first day with few repetitions, light on the second day and go for 10-12 reps of your sets on the third strength training day. Remember to wait a minimum of 48 hours before training a specific muscle group (even abs!) in order for proper recovery to occur.
ROLL WITH IT. Finding peace and rolling with the changes in life is crucial for good health, but I’m referring to stretching and foam rolling after your workout. Time spent stretching after your workout will pay off with reduced soreness, faster recovery and greater mobility. Stretching is most effective post-workout because your muscles are warm and more pliable. Target your major muscle groups and spend a little longer than 30 seconds on your tightest areas.
Add a few minutes on a foam roller for even more benefit as you release the adhesions, which can cover the myofascial tissue around your muscle. Injury, overexertion, even extended inactivity can cause “tender spots” to appear. Regular foam rolling provides many of the benefits of a good massage. Light a candle if you need the massage room atmosphere.
REST. That’s right. Run a little slower. Do some easy yoga. Take a stroll. Respect your body by listening to the warning signs, which tell you it is time to slow down. Time spent in recovery is as important to your health as consistent exercise and a proper diet. Workouts breakdown your body and many injuries occur because of overuse and repetitive motion. Aching joints, persistent pain, unusual muscular soreness and an elevated heart rate upon rising from bed all indicate you need rest. While I encourage an active life and exercise most days of the week, alternating intense or long workouts with easy recovery days is more beneficial. The payoff is you’ll move even better in your next workout.