DR. SANDERS: Don’t exceed your body’s speed limits
Free Press Health Columnist
It’s no secret that Americans have a love affair with speed. I am not just talking about cars and driving. Whether it’s a loan application, pain relief or cleaning an oven, the faster it can be done, the better people like it.
Unfortunately, speed usually comes with a price as it is not always good for us. A quick loan application usually comes with a higher interest rate; fast-acting pain medicine is more likely to cause stomach upset; and two-minute oven cleaners contain harsh, toxic chemicals. We love speed but it’s not always good for us.
The same pattern occurs with exercise. With the arrival of warm spring weather, we are tempted to jump to the next level of fitness with one or two weekends of intense effort. Unfortunately, this speedy approach to fitness often carries a cost with it, too. Most people understand that muscles respond to stimulus. If you exercise, your muscles improve. What isn’t so well known is that your joints, tendons and ligaments have a relatively poor blood supply, and they respond more slowly to exercise than muscles do. What that means is that at the beginning of an exercise program, it’s easy for muscles to overpower a joint or tendon and cause an injury. These types of injuries are often painful, can take a long time to heal, and will completely derail a well-intentioned fitness program.
One way to reduce your chances for an exercise injury is to never get off the couch, but we all know where that leads. A much better solution is to go slowly when you begin any new exercise routine. A good rule of thumb for a new exercise program is to increase your baseline effort by around 25% a week until you reach your fitness goal. So if you start by walking a mile a day, then after a week you could increase the distance to a mile and a quarter every day. If you are a teenager you might be able to safely handle a larger increase per week; however, if you are older, it is advisable to increase more slowly.
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Also, it is recommended to get an OK from a medical doctor or someone like myself before starting a new fitness program and remember to include stretching, warm ups and cool downs to help your body adjust to the new demands you are placing on it. If you do sustain an exercise-related injury, treatment from a licensed physical therapist is an excellent way to get healthy and back on track as quickly as possible.
In the long run, a slow ramp up on a new exercise program will lead to better results than a jack rabbit start to fitness. Oh, and about that two-minute oven cleaner. Here’s my advice: Don’t even bother cleaning the oven, go to the gym or take a walk in the fresh air instead.
Paul Sanders is a doctor of physical therapy and also teaches exercise programs. For more information, come see Dr. Paul at Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions for an exercise or physical therapy consultation. Reach him at 970-256-8449.
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