Working out at the gym -- pluses and minuses. Photo: Deposit Photos

25 Apr Exercise: The Ultimate Love-Hate Relationship

By Sarah Homan, PT, DPT

When was the last time you evaluated the relationships in your life?

One relationship that we often forget is the relationship we have with exercise—in essence, the relationship we have with our wellbeing.

Some of us neglect this relationship, and some of us focus on it too much. As a physical therapist, I often see the struggle the relationship poses for people.

How many of us double down on exercise and weight-loss goals as a New Year’s resolution but dread the idea of one more minute at the gym a few months later? And how many of us are fitness buffs who feel like the day is wasted unless we’ve hit the gym? Some of us fit somewhere in-between: We’d rather sit and watch TV but know if we want to feel comfortable in a bathing suit, or keep up with our family on vacation, we should probably work out.

No matter where you fall, knowing the benefits and shortcomings of exercise may help you better understand your role in the relationship.

Benefits of Exercise

Cardiovascular Health

Everyone knows that exercise improves heart and lung function. It improves blood flow, endurance, blood pressure, and blood sugar, which can help prevent or manage chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. This can result in reduced medication doses, as guided by your physician, and reduced risk of a heart attacks and strokes.

Increased Strength

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you can’t deny the positives of increased strength. This includes maintaining your ability to do yard work, lift your children or grandchildren, climb stairs, and walk for prolonged distances. It can even reduce your risk of injuries like joint pain or a pulled back.

Improving Bone Density

Resisted strength training will improve the density of your long bones and spine, which can reduce your risk of fracture or injury. It’s important to begin building bone health when you’re younger—not only as an older adult.

Brain Health

Not only does exercise improve blood flow throughout the body, but it also improves blood flow to the brain. Increased blood flow to the brain allows it to receive needed oxygen and remove any waste products that may contribute to conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Studies show that as little as two days of light-intensity exercise a week can reduce cognitive decline.

Mood Enhancement

Exercise can have a positive impact on your mood by affecting hormone release. This includes increasing endorphins, the feel-good hormone, in the brain. Increased endorphins can naturally improve mood, reduce depression, and improve focus. Exercise also reduces the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can contribute to anxiety.

Reduced Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis is often associated with increased joint pain and can result in decreased participation in daily activities. But with correct form, exercise can improve joint health and reduce your activity-limiting pain. Consult a professional like a personal trainer or a physical therapist if exercise causes pain in your joints.

Drawbacks of Exercise

Time

Time is often the biggest obstacle to maintaining a regular exercise routine. But starting small and gradually increasing the frequency in which you exercise can be the best choice for long-term change. Ten minutes of exercise a day is better than nothing. And once exercising becomes a habit, the time will seemingly make itself available.

Expense

Joining a gym or having the best workout clothes isn’t a necessity to participate in an effective exercise program. In fact, many exercises don’t require any equipment and can be done at home. Here are a few exercises to get you started.

Muscle Soreness

The rule of thumb for muscle soreness is that it should go away within 24 to 36 hours after a workout. If pain persists, it may be a sign that the exercise was too intense. If the pain is sharp or limits your daily activities, you may want to visit a health professional, such as a doctor or physical therapist.

Intimidation

Starting an exercise routine can be daunting for those who’ve never exercised before. It’s easy to feel put off by the idea of working out in front of strangers or by the uncertainty of how an exercise should be performed. Luckily, there are a lot of resources with instructions for people of all fitness levels. These include on-site personal training at a local gym, YouTube videos, online forums, and physical therapists.

Lack of Commitment

All the drawbacks listed above can weaken your commitment to an exercise routine. To resist these drawbacks, consider exercising with a friend; set a goal to reach, such as running a 5K; join a sports league; or pick exercises that you’ll enjoy, such as Zumba or swimming.

This year, I encourage you to rekindle your relationship with exercise.

Consider the barriers that are limiting your experience and decide what benefits are most important to you.

And figure out if overcoming those barriers means joining a gym, working out with a friend, or just starting with 10 minutes of exercise.

If you’re still at a loss, meet with a trusted health professional, such as a doctor, personal trainer, or physical therapist, to find the best plan forward. I guarantee that if you give your relationship with exercise and your well-being a little tender loving care, you’ll find that exciting, unique, and unexpected doors will open in other aspects of your life, too.

Sarah Homan is a physical therapist with Action Potential Physical Therapy in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.


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