The Right Way To Breathe During Exercise

In my ten-plus years of training and coaching, I’ve often been asked about the right way to breathe when you’re exercising. Good news, team!  It’s a simple, easy answer:

Breathe naturally.

With most exercise, there is no additional benefit to inhaling or exhaling at a certain point with the movement, or breathing in or out through the nose or mouth. The very best way to breathe when you’re working out is to stop thinking about it and just let your body do its thing. Your body is finely tuned to match breath with its need for oxygen, and assuming good health and clear airways, it’ll do a great job with no conscious effort from you.

However, there are two major exceptions to the “just do what comes naturally” rule:

If you’re dealing with asthma, COPD, or other respiratory conditions, the rule basically still applies: Don’t over-think your breathing patterns. Instead, make sure you prepare for a workout by using any prescription inhalers (or anything else you’ve been prescribed) at the appropriate times. And take it slow to start, both on a workout-by-workout basis, and when beginning to add more exercise to your weekly routines. Much of the shortness of breath that comes with exercising with a respiratory condition can come from poor general fitness as well as any impact a condition might have on your respiratory condition. Keep workouts to a low intensity and short duration to begin with, and be mindful of how environmental conditions can impact your breathing (hot and humid or cold weather are two common triggers for disturbed breathing). I’m always advising my clients that the goal is “Challenging but Achievable” Take it easy as you get used to a new workout, and build your fitness levels from there.

If you have respiratory or cardiovascular conditions (including and especially high blood pressure) it’s important to avoid holding your breath during exercise. This can be a tough: When you challenge your bodies, holding your breath is a natural response, especially when doing resistance training or heavy/high intensity work. This breath holding action is technically called a Valsalva’s Maneuver, in which you close your throat and contract your diaphragm and abdominal muscles. This action essentially “squeezes” your lungs. Since you aren’t exhaling, this leads to a large, rapid increase in blood pressure, and you may feel light-headed or faint. Large, rapid increases in blood pressure aren’t much good for cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, and passing out is no good in general. So do your body a favor and make a conscious effort to breathe continuously throughout your workout. This is where you may see some recommendations to inhale during the “easy” part of a movement and exhale through the “hard” part, which is a totally ok way to approach it. In the long run, pay attention to what your body does naturally, and if needed, find a breathing pattern you are comfortable with. You and your body will make more progress, more safely. And isn’t that the point?


Exercise For Older Adults, Part 2

In the first part of this series, we discussed the difference between physical activity and exercise. Let’s get more in-depth. There are four types of exercise and activity that will provide the greatest benefit:

Resistance training

These are the exercises that are often the highest intensity. Good thing you don’t need to do a whole lot of it! Resistance training uses your own body weight or an additional weight to stimulate your muscles to grow in size and strength.

If there was one type of exercise I’d ask someone to do, strength training would be it (though I would hope never to have to pick just one!). This is because strength training helps limit the loss of muscle mass and strength that starts occurring around age 30 and that occurs much more rapidly after about the age of 50. Maintaining muscle mass and strength means that you’ll also maintain your ability to complete day to day tasks with fewer potential problems, and will be better able to handle health hurdle and injuries that might come your way.

Exercises like squats, seated rows, and chest press or pushups are all excellent examples of strength training exercises, because they use large muscles and multiple joints, so you get the most bang-for-buck. Other strength training exercises like calf raises or bicep curls are also valuable, though involve slightly less muscle.

Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercise helps build both muscular endurance, so you can spend more time doing things you enjoy (gardening, walking) before getting tired, and improves the strength and endurance of your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Cardiovascular exercise – what we’re doing when we walk, run, swim, dance, do the yardwork – helps our bodies in two ways. It builds muscular endurance in our large muscle groups that are used to create movement, and it builds strength and endurance in our cardiovascular and respiratory systems, meaning that it strengthens our heart (remember it’s a muscle!) and the muscles we use to breathe, as well as creating a stronger delivery system for oxygen and nutrients to our working muscles.

Plus, there is a significant and growing body of research showing that the repeated, rhythmic movements inherent to cardiovascular exercise are calming and relaxing. Not only does this relieve stress, but it can help alleviate anxiety and the symptoms of depression. Yay for improving physical and mental health at the same time.

Balance exercise

Good balance depends in part on muscular strength and the reflexes and reaction time of the nervous system. Since balance is a key component in preventing falls, it’s increasing important to work to maintain good balance as we age.

Though other types of exercise are helpful in maintaining good balance, specific exercises are as simple as putting yourself in a position where your balance is slightly or moderately challenged (but that is still safe), and letting your body figure out how to adjust for the slight instability. This can be as low-tech as standing on one foot with a hand on a wall for some stability help (to make it more challenging, try closing your eyes).   Another great option is tai chi, a form exercise that slow, continuous movement and emphasizes body alignment shifting your body weight in a controlled manner. Often spoken of as “meditation in movement”, tai chi is also a great break for your brain.

Flexibility exercise

Though not “exercise” in the traditional sense, flexibility exercises are nonetheless an important part of maintaining movement ability and quality of life. Losing flexibility means losing the ability to move to the same degree that you did when you were young.

Most people think of flexibility and static stretching (the traditional stretch-and-hold) as the same thing, and to some degree this is true. Static flexibility tells us the about the range of motion available at a given joint. However, in day to day life, we should take dynamic flexibility into greater consideration.

Dynamic flexibility considers both the range of motion available at the joint, and takes into account any resistance to the stretch that might be caused by muscle tension or any other resistance to the movement. In many ways, this is real-life flexibility. Consider trying to reach a jar down from a tall shelf. As you stretch to reach it, your body is contracting muscles to help stabilize you and to complete the movement. Your flexibility in this action will be much different than your flexibility if you were sitting somewhere relaxed and supported.

Despite these differences, any flexibility exercise is worth doing. All age groups appear to respond to flexibility training, and this is key to maintaining your ability to move well, helping to maintain quality of life and independent living. There are many types of stretching, and most seem to provide roughly the same level of benefit, though to maximize your results from flexibility exercises, you should be looking for the line between a comfortable stretch and slight discomfort. Finding stretches that take you to (but not over) this slight discomfort line while still keeping you in a safe and supported position will be your best bet.

So whats the bottom line?

As always, the most effective exercise is the exercise you’re willing to do! The benefits provided by each typoe of exercise have a lot of overlap, though you’ll certainly get a more even spread of these benefits by including some of each of the above. Remember to stay safe, listen to your body, and work to find exercises that are challenging but achievable, and you’ll go farther than you might expect!

 

References
Carter, N. D., P. Kannus, *K. M. Khan. “Exercise in the prevention of falls in older people: A systematic literature review examining the rationale and the evidence”. Sports Medicine. 31(6):427-438 (2001).
Claxton, D. B., M. S. Wiggins, F. M. Moode &R. Crist. “A Question of Balance”. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. 77(3):32-37 (2006).
Keller, K.& M. Engelhardt.  “Strength and muscle mass loss with aging process. Age and strength loss”. Muscles Ligaments Tendons Journal. 3(4):346–350 (2013). 
Plowman, S. A. & D. L. Smith. Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, And Performance. 4th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014.

 

 


How To Calculate Your Heart Rate

The human heart beats about 100,000 times a day. That’s about two billion heartbeats during a lifetime! How many of those should you spend on a workout?

Exercise is one of the best ways to increase your life expectancy, due in part to the effect of cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercise. You can increase this component of your fitness by doing steady aerobic work (walking, running, cycling, and swimming are just a few examples) at a given percentage of your maximum heart rate. But how the heck do you figure out what that is?

The most accurate way to determine your maximum heart rate is by undergoing an incremental exercise test to maximum exercise level. This is not fun, and requires precise monitoring with specific equipment. Your doctor is probably not going to prescribe this just because you ask for it (but they might!). More commonly, personal trainers, exercise physiologists, health coaches, and other exercise professionals use a formula that estimates your maximum heart rate, based on your age:

Calculating Maximum Heart Rate – Normal, Healthy People

When planning day-to-day exercise, there is a commonly used equation to estimate your maximum heart rate that is actually quite simple, and is empirically based (meaning based on solid research). It’s not as precise as the exercise testing, but it is much easier. All it takes is a little math.

Maximum Heart Rate (in beats per minute) = 220 – Age in years

For example, the maximum heart rate calculation for a 35 year old would look like this:

Maximum heart rate = 220 – 35

Maximum heart rate = 185 beats per minute

However, it is important to note that this equation can overestimate or underestimate your maximum heart rate by as much as 12 to 15 beats. In general, this variation is mostly due to age, but can also be influenced by factors such as fitness level and individual genetic makeups, which are impossible to account for in the estimation.

If you are over 40, the above equation may overestimate your maximum heart rate as 12-15 beats per minute higher than it actually should be. This means that the number the equation tells you could be 12-15 beats per minute higher than it should be, and you should use caution with exercise that takes your near your calculated heart rate max.

If you are under 40, the above equation may underestimate your maximum heart rate by 12-15 beats per minute. This means that exercise that takes you near the calculated maximum heart rate may not truly be your max – you may be exercising at a lower intensity than you mean to.

There are two other variations for calculating maximum heart rate for specific populations, which take into account more specific variables.

Calculating Maximum Heart Rate for Obese Individuals

This variation on the maximum heart rate equation takes into account the low fitness level that very often corresponds with obesity. It also takes into account the health challenges an individual may face, including heart disease, which may further increase risk of injury or cardiac event brought on by strenuous exercise.

Maximum Heart Rate, Obese Individuals (In beats per minute) = 200 x (0.5 x Age in years)

For example, the maximum heart rate calculation for a 50 year old obese individual would look like this:

Maximum heart rate = 200 – (0.5 x 50)

Maximum heart rate = 200 – 25

Maximum heart rate = 175 beats per minute

Calculating Maximum Heart Rate for Older Adults

Your heart has its own natural pacemaker, which creates the electrical impulse that causes each heartbeat. As you age, these impulses – and subsequently your heartbeat – gradually slow. (This is a normal process and nothing to worry about!)

This physical difference means that in order to be more accurate, if you are an older adult (above the age of 60), you should be using a slightly different formula to estimate your maximum heart rate. Older adults can make the same changes to cardiovascular fitness as any other age group, and the relative intensity that you can work to as an older adult is unchanged. A workout that brings you to about 70% of your maximum heart rate will feel the same whether you’re 37 or 73. It’s only your actual heart rate that will be different. So it’s worth planning well. Using the following modified formula will ensure that you A) stay within safe limits when exercising and B) continue to make progress and increase your fitness levels!

Maximum Heart Rate, Older Adults (In beats per minute) = 208 x (0.7 x Age in years)

For example, the maximum heart rate calculation for a 73 year old would look like this:

Maximum heart rate = 208 – (0.7 x 73)

Maximum heart rate = 200 – 51

Maximum heart rate = 149 beats per minute

With respect to all of these situations, it’s important to listen to your body when gauging your exercise intensity. If you feel like you’re working moderately, very hard, or somewhere in between, then it’s ok to use that to gauge your workout intensity as well. We call this a rating of perceived exertion, and it has a strong parallel to heart rate when it comes to gauging intensity. You can use both methods to gauge intensity, or you can aim for a target heart rate and work within 5-10 beats per minute of that number.

 

References
Miller, Wayne C., Janet P. Wallace, and Karen E. Eggert. “Predicting Max HR And The HR-&VO2 Relationship For Exercise Prescription In Obesity”. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 25.9 (1993): 1077-1081.
Plowman, Sharon A and Denise L Smith. Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, And Performance. 4th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014.
Tanaka, Hirofumi, Kevin D Monahan, and Douglas R Seals. “Age-Predicted Maximal Heart Rate Revisited”. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 37.1 (2001): 153-156.

Do You Need an Expert to Exercise?

The short answer is no.

The longer answer… is no, if you are satisfied with slower progress, possible setbacks, and frustration.  There’s a reason that more people have more success when they bring in some outside guidance!

I don’t mean to say that you have to hire a coach (or trainer, the terms can be interchangeable) in order to get an effective workout. In fact, most of us get along ok with minimal guidance, at least for a while. It really comes down to whether you’re satisfied with “getting along ok” or if you want to make faster/better/more progress. You don’t necessarily need a coach for every single session, but getting expert advice can be very helpful in setting a goal or creating a training plan designed to achieve it. And it can definitely help to have a little accountability.

But the biggest benefit of having the expert advice is the relationship that comes with it. Your coach can be your cheerleader, your support system, and the person you call when you really want the ice cream in the freezer but know it would be a step backward… Plus they know how to give you the most efficient exercise program possible. Better than trying to figure it out on your own and then not getting the results, right?

So what’s the best way to include expert advice in your exercise program? There are a few ways to approach this:

See a coach, every week: Some say that this is the very best way to get results. Having a weekly session can do huge things for your motivation and accountability. Some people really love having the one-on-one attention, and frankly, some people need the one-on-one attention to make sure that their exercise technique is safe and effective (the two most important things, in my opinion). And just to be clear, “seeing” a coach can be equally effective in face-to-face, skype or video, or other online settings. It’s all about what you feel comfortable with.

See a coach, occasionally: Once-a-month coaching will get you an individualized program without the cost of ongoing one-on-one training.  A monthly meeting also provides a surprising amount of accountability. Personally, this is my favorite way to see clients. I love to take a session or two to get them comfortable with a new program, and to make sure that they are staying on top of other healthy habits like eating well and staying hydrated. Once my client and I are happy with the program, I’ll send them off to do the new workout on their own until they’re ready for something new.

Join a group: Many gyms and groups are starting to offer small group training programs, with a limited number of people and a supervising coach. You get the expert advice on a regular basis, but you share it with a few other people. The biggest drawback is that these group sessions are not always individualized, but generally speaking, the benefits outweigh this by miles. Often you’ll find that the same people come to the same sessions every week, so you start to get to know each other – and all of a sudden, you have way more support, accountability, and motivation than you can ever have with your one-on-one sessions. And even though the program is often generalized, a good coach will be able to make changes on the fly, allowing the program to be tweaked just for you.

And of course, you can go it alone. If coaching isn’t in your budget, doing your own thing is still a great option and you can still have a great deal of success. But if you have the means and are going to put the effort in, you might as well get the most bang for buck. And that expert advice might even make it more enjoyable.


Exercise For Older Adults, Part 1

Exercise and physical activity are both important factors in maintaining health, independence, and quality of life as you age. Let’s explore what exactly that means for you on a day to day basis:

We all want to maintain the best quality of life we can as we grow older. Your physical abilities have a lot to do with this: the better you can move, the better your quality of life will remain. With respect to your physical abilities, your body is really great at adapting to whatever demands are made of them, regardless of age. This is good news, because it means that no matter when you start an exercise program or increase your physical activity, you will benefit from it. The bad news is that if you never start an exercise program, or if you allow yourself to become less physically active, your body will actually lose it’s ability to perform certain tasks involving strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance. The longer you remain inactive, the more loss occurs. So let’s put a stop to that right now, and explore what it really means to be physically active and exercise as an older adult.

First things first: what’s the difference between physical activity and exercise? Both are important factors in maintaining health and independence, but actually doing each is slightly different, both in intention and effort.

Physical activity is movement that occurs as part of your daily life, for which some muscular effort is required and energy is expended. Physical activity levels correspond with health benefits, to some degree – there is a maximum health benefit that can be achieved, because as your fitness increases, your body will be able to handle more exertion more easily. The walk that you were taking when you started will become much less physically stressful – good job! When increasing your physical activity, it’s important to take into account the level that you are normally doing. This can include things that might not immediately come to mind, like vacuuming or gardening, as well as taking a walk. Always make sure you are in a safe environment too. Be on the lookout for trip and fall hazards, and give yourself plenty of breaks as you increase your day to day activities to make sure you don’t overload your body.

Exercise is also movement, but the key different between exercise and physical activity is the intention of the movement. Exercise consists of planned and repeated movements, often of a higher intensity and also produced by muscular effort and energy expenditure. By intentionally producing movement and effort, you will improve and/or maintain physical fitness and health benefits to a greater degree than you can achieve via physical activity alone. As we age, it’s important to consider how quickly your body will recover from higher intensity efforts. Unfortunately, you just won’t bounce back the way you did when you were 20! To help this along, make sure you start slowly and easily, and give yourself plenty of time between workouts. A hot bath or shower, ice or heat packs, and extra sleep will help if you are feeling particularly sore or tired after a workout. Good nutrition and drinking plenty of water are also key, of course!

So, if exercise can result in greater health benefits than physical activity, should you just focus on breaking a sweat and not worry too much about movement during non-gym hours? Surprisingly, no! Though research shows that exercise programs can incur greater health benefits, high levels of physical activity in day to day life are still very important. And sometimes you can even kill two birds with one stone: Incorporating small bursts of exercise into your daily activities – like doing a few pushups on your kitchen counter a few times daily – will lead to a more active lifestyle without you even realizing it.

Bottom line: get moving! It doesn’t have to be a big workout to make a difference. To feel better and be more healthy, it just has to be more than you’re doing right now. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll cover different types of exercise and how each can benefit you.


Strength Training Leads To Success

Want faster progress towards your health and fitness goals? Try some strength training!

People often gravitate towards cardiovascular exercise when starting a new health and fitness habit. And there is nothing wrong with that. Cardio (or aerobic exercise) is a great choice and can significantly increase your fitness levels and improve your health.

Eventually though, if all you are doing is cardio, you will eventually plateau. That is, you’ll stop making progress, even if you spend more and more time doing it. Awesome that you got yourself fit enough to have that problem! But kind of a bummer if you’re not where you want to be yet.

Good news though. Many people find that when they start adding even a little bit of strength or resistance training, they kick start their progress again. Adding strength training doesn’t mean adding more time to your exercise plans either. It can be a good substitute for some of your cardio exercise, and a good strength training workout can take as little as 20 to 30 minutes once you get the hang of it.

Some of the biggest benefits of strength training include:

  • Improved metabolic rate: Your metabolism determines how much energy you burn daily, in the form of calories. Muscle tissue does burn more calories than fat does, so if you have more muscle mass, your daily calorie burn will automatically be higher, so you will more easily manage your body weight and body composition.
  • Improved blood sugar control: Strength training helps manage blood sugar in a couple of different ways. First, it increases the amount of muscle mass we have. As mentioned above, more muscle mass requires more energy (in this context, blood sugar or glucose) to exist. This alone can change the way your body draws glucose from the blood. Additionally, a single strength training workout will impact blood sugar levels (again, more energy is required). If you are diabetic and use insulin, it’s important to monitor your blood sugar levels before and after a workout (and even during), especially when you are new to exercise or changing your program.   Bottom line, improving your body’s ability to lower blood sugar level on its own.
  • Decreased joint pain/improved joint function: Your muscles play a large part in keeping your joints happy and healthy. Strong muscles that activate that the right times will help the joints stay supported and pain free. This means less back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain – you name it.
  • Toning up: Most people on this site are looking for how to improve health and/or daily quality of life – looks are not our focus here, and I want to emphasize that healthy does not have a “look”! Adding strength training to your exercise program can make a huge difference to health and quality of life. It also changes your muscle tone, which can result in a change in appearance that gives you a positive mental boost. It’s the icing on the cake.
  • Improved self-confidence: “Empowered” is somewhat of a buzzword, but I think it fits here. When you realize can pick up heavy things and survive, new doors open up. Personally, I’ve dealt with anxiety throughout life, and getting physically stronger, for me, made life a lot less scary.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and as each person is unique, you may feel the benefits of strength training in your own way. But they will be there, for sure. Carve out some time – it’s worth it!

Not sure how to get started with strength training? HealthFit Coaching has a easy, not scary, online exercise program that is individualized and tailored to suit your needs, goals, and starting points. Check it out!


Making Positive Changes

Making changes to our normal routine or habits can be difficult at the best of times, and especially when the change we want or need to make isn’t one we are excited about. Many people find themselves in this sort of conundrum when it comes to improving their health, fitness, and wellbeing. We know we should be doing something different, and we even have a good idea of what is it, but we just don’t realllly want to.

However, we don’t need to make sweeping changes to have a positive effect on our lives. Making good food choices and moving our bodies more are where we’ll most benefit, and if we can make progress in one or both of these, we are well on our way to feeling (and looking and living) better.

But where to actually begin? There is abundant information available, and mis-information too. Couple that with frequent pressure (both from external sources like the media, and from ourselves) to doing everything right, and the thought of making any change can be overwhelming.

Let’s fix that.

In a nutshell, the key to making permanent change to habits or routine is to set yourself up for success. Pick ONE thing to work on at a time, so you don’t get overwhelmed by making a million changes all at once. And go easy on yourself: New habits and healthier routines are created when we make our desired behavior or choice easier than making our old, habitual, less desirable choice.

Example 1: You are on your way home from work and starving. The options: Pizza, or making a healthy dinner… Hmm.

What if you had some chicken and salad ready and waiting for you when you got home? Because there is no work and no waiting involved, you’re more likely to head straight for that (even if pizza sounds more appealing).

Example 2: You are thinking about exercising more, but you HATE the thought of joining a gym. Then a friend calls and asks if you want to join a recreational soccer team (or insert other fun activity here: hiking, running around with the kids, line dancing, etc.).

Picking an activity that involves movement and fun is going to beat the activity that involves movement and boring and hard. Bringing a friend along can also up the enjoyment factor, making you even more likely to stick with it.

Bearing in mind that we want to pick something that is an easy addition to our lives, the best changes we can make are the ones that will have the greatest impact on our lives. We want the biggest bang-for-buck, especially early on, because success in itself is motivating. The more you have, the more inspired you are to work harder, and hard stuff becomes easier because it’s your ticket to continued progress. “Most impactful” can be different things to different people, so it’s worth taking time to consider what life might look like with one new habit versus another.

Bear in mind that you might not come up with an idea that is totally fun and really easy – sometimes you give a little of one to get a little of the other, and that’s ok too, as long as it is ok with you. There are no rules – just keep tweaking an idea until it really works.

The Takeaway: When you want to make a change, make it easy on yourself:

  • Choose one new activity, behavior, or choice to work on at a time. This allows us to focus, and cements this new, positive change faster. Adding a second desired change greatly reduces our ability to make either permanent. Stick with one thing until you find yourself doing it without thinking about it, then consider what change you might like to make next.
  • Choose the simple, most impactful things to work on first. Most of us have a number of ideas about what we can do to “get healthier”, thanks to a seemingly-infinite number of news sources. Worry more about eating less cake than eating more kale (or whatever the latest trendy superfood is).
    • Make it easy by choosing the things that are easy for YOU
    • Think about “bang for buck” – what is the one thing you could do that will give the most progress?
    • Realize that the easiest thing might not have the biggest bang-for-buck, and that’s ok!
  • Master the basics, and then move to greater challenges. Start with something you are confident that you can be successful with. Ask yourself: Am I confident that I can 90% stick with this chance for the next week? If yes, go for it! If not, continue to simplify it until you feel that you can stick with it 90% of the time.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. None of are on our best behavior all the time. This is why we use the “90% test”. When you make a choice that isn’t in line with your changed behavior, don’t stress about it. Every hour of every day can be a fresh start, so if you slip up, shake it off and keep moving forward.
  • Do celebrate your successes. (Maybe not with cake.) One of the best ways to cement a change is to associate it with something you enjoy. This can be done on a daily basis: think about eating extra broccoli as you enjoy that juicy steak, or go walking with a friend instead of by yourself. Celebrate your bigger successes too. When you feel confident in your new habit, reward yourself – go for a massage, get a manicure, see a movie. Treat yo’ self!

Last but not least, remember that small steps are the best approach. Take your time and you’ll create lasting habits and permanent, satisfying change!


Exercise in the Summer: Sweat Smart!

Safely exercise in the heat with a few easy tips…

New year, new you is definitely the trend at this time of year, and for those of us lucky enough to live in sunny Brisbane, there is always a trend towards taking your exercise outside. There is nothing wrong with that! But when the weather turns warm, it can be important to exercise caution, too. Moving your training outdoors can increase the risk of heat-related conditions, specifically, severe heat exhaustion and exertional heat exhaustion.

Summer hiking
In both cases, exhaustion means that the body is unable to continue to exercise or do other physical activity. Your body simply stops, though you may remain at very high risk of internal damage or death (not to scare you, but it should, a little). The difference between the two conditions is “why” it stops:

Severe heat exhaustion typically involves a combination of nervous system and muscular fatigue, dehydration, and/or electrolyte depletion from high sweat levels. Your brain can also get in on the act, and send altered signals to other body systems and interfering with proper function. Once you reach a threshold level of dehydration and/or fatigue, your brain is going to say “no more” and you’re gonna hit the wall, hard.

Exertional heat exhaustion happens when the body’s internal temperature gets too high. To prevent your internal temperature from increasing even more, your brain shuts your body down – physical work can no longer continue. This is a serious, high-risk condition if left unrecognised or untreated; part of the physical shutdown includes your body’s ability to cool itself. Without fast recognition and quick cooling, overly high internal temperature can lead to organ failure and death.

ride bicycle and cycle in Brisbane

Both conditions can affect healthy people even when the environment is relatively cool, though the risk increases significantly in hot or humid weather. Fortunately, there are precautions you can take that will significantly decrease your risk.

  • Exercise during the cooler parts of the day. This is probably more enjoyable anyway!
  • Wear cool clothing. Shorts, T-shirts, and tank tops are good here (but don’t forget the sunscreen). Cooler clothing will prevent excess heat from being trapped in your body, and will help improve the cooling that occurs with sweat evaporation.
  • Exercise in an air-conditioned environment. If this is your option of choice, note that it is still beneficial to exercise when its cooler outside, as the outdoor temperature can have an impact on your body temperature.
  • Take your time to get used to the heat. The ACSM Position Stand on Heat Related Illness recommends a 10-14 day acclimatisation period, where you gradually increase your time in the heat (to stay on the safe side, do this in a non-exercising fashion by just spending time outside). This precaution can be especially important if the weather has gotten really hot, really fast, or if you have travelled to a new area where the weather is different.
  • Increase your exercise volume and intensity gradually. In plain speak, start easy and short. Heat tolerance has been linked to fitness levels, with better fitness creating better heat tolerance.
  • Check your medications. Some prescriptions and over the counter medicines can decrease heat tolerance. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you’re not at increased risk.
  • Stay hydrated! This is one of the best ways to avoid any heat-related condition. Many factors can contribute to dehydration, so sweat alone is not a good indication. Adding an extra 1.5 to 2.5 cups of water for a shorter workout (under an hour) is a good starting point, but exercise in heat and/or humidity may require much more than that.
  • Stay hydrated, part two! Sweat losses can be surprisingly large. A useful way to track how much fluid to replace is to weight yourself before and after your workout, and aim to drink two cups of water for every pound lost.
  • Stay hydrated, part three! Sweat can mean electrolyte losses as well as fluid. If you’re normally a heavy sweater, or are sweating a lot in a given workout, replacing water with a sports drink may be a good option.

Girl drinking water after exercise
While heat-related conditions can be quite serious, they are easily avoided by taking the right precautions. Remember that some people may be more prone to heat-related conditions and that each person has a unique level of heat and exercise tolerance. But you can sweat smart. So get out there and enjoy the summer!


Can there really be an effective five-minute workout?

Absolutely! But before I tell you about it, you have to promise do something: throw out the idea that your “workout” has to be long, hard, and sweaty.

Since we threw out the idea of the long-hard-sweaty workout, what could be left? A workout that’s quick and actually works. Research has shown that multiple, short bursts of exercise are just as effective as one long workout. In fact, these small bursts can be even more so, since most of us can find five minutes to exercise on days we might otherwise not have time for it. Think about when you might be able to find five minutes. I have confidence, you’ll find it!

………..

Figured out where you can find five minutes to exercise? Awesome! Let’s think about what we can do with those five minutes. Life has certain demands like grocery shopping, housework, walking the dog. Life also has certain pleasures – cooking, watching TV, or getting down and playing with the grandkids. So let’s take advantage of them. You might have heard about how we should all aim to take 10,000 steps every day. Walking the dog for five minutes can get you a lot of those steps. Can five minutes of your evening TV time be used to stretch your muscles or do some core-strengthening planks? Probably! I even have clients who will do squats, lunges, and pushups while they’re on hour-long conference calls. Your five-minute workout is really only limited by your imagination, and it really works when you combine it with some aspect of your daily life that you’re already doing anyway.

Of course, you also have the option of making your Five-Minute Workout a real butt-kicker too. If you want to make it harder, and maybe get a little sweaty, consider using high-intensity interval training. The interval concept is perfect for when we only have a few minutes to sneak in a session. Here’s how it works: Pick an exercise, do it as hard or as heavy as you can for a short time (15 to 30 seconds), and then rest for the same period of time before doing it again. Believe me, you’ll be glad when that five minutes is up! As an added bonus, interval training has been shown to be much more effective than traditional “cardio” training for weight loss, fat burning, and building stamina.

The Five-Minute Workout is no gimmick. There are no videos to subscribe to, or any special equipment needed. Just you, and a little effort (five minutes’ worth, actually). We are surrounded by opportunities to move more, stay active, and feel better every single day, though sometimes it takes some brainstorming to figure out how to use them. My workshop, “The Five-Minute Workout!” takes you through that process. Find your time for a five minute workout, plus create strategies to get around the challenges that life throws at you, and discover how five minute really can make you fitter and stronger. Join us for the next workshop, on May 7th in Portland, Oregon.

Click here to get your tickets now.