Two people exercising at a gym and at home exercise equipment

Which is better, exercising at home, or exercising at a gym?

Where will you get the most out of your workout?

In the home-exercise versus gym-workout battle, there is no clear winner. Both gym-based and at-home exercise have their own pros and cons, but in the end, it’s a very individual preference. And this preference makes all the difference in how effective your workout actually is.

If you’ve struggled with getting into a workout routine or setting up another exercise habit, it may be that you’re pushing yourself in the wrong direction. Making your movement fit into your lifestyle and figuring out what you enjoy can make any exercise routine WAY easier. These pros and cons will give you a hand in figuring out where your workouts will be most effective:

Gym-Based Workouts – The Pros

You’ll have a large variety of equipment available. Gym equipment is expensive, so if you like having choices, you may save money, space, and effort with a gym membership versus setting up a home gym.

You might not pay much. There are pricey gyms out there, no doubt, but there are a lot of great gyms with reasonable membership rates. Pro tip – if you are looking to sign up for a gym membership but aren’t in a huge rush, wait until the end of the month. Most gyms have a monthly membership sales quota and you may be able to get a discounted or waived “sign up” fee if they are low on numbers. Don’t be afraid to negotiate!

You could have some fun! Classes and group fitness, if included in your membership, can be a huge bonus (especially considering that a single group fitness session can cost $15 -$20). Classes can be fun and motivational as well, especially if you have a competitive streak.

Gym-Based Workouts – The Cons

You have to share the gym. Other people will also be there. Waiting for weights or equipment can be a big turn off, especially if you are on a tight schedule.

You might get some bad advice. There are plenty of people (both trainers and other gym members) that have no problem offering unsolicited advice based on outdated knowledge. At best, this is annoying and it can be hard to know what you might need to listen to. At worst, you could follow some bad advice and end up doing yourself harm. (Key to avoiding this: only listen to people who are well trained and listen to what you have to say!)

You might not get there. My biggest issue with a gym membership is actually taking an additional half-hour out of my day to get there and get home. It’s a well-known fact in the gym industry that if you get a client who has to go out of their way to get to the gym, you won’t see them for long. It’s got to be super convenient, and even being close to work or home sometimes isn’t enough. If you don’t belong to a 24-hour gym, you might find that you’re even less likely to get there.

At-Home Workouts – The Pros

You can do it whenever you want. Working out at home means working out when it suits you. I do mostly home-based workouts now because I can squeeze in a session when I have a spare 20-30 minutes, rather than having to plan it into my day. This works best if you don’t need a plan to stick with in order to get things done.

It’s a zero-judgement zone. It’s just you – no one else to check out what you’re doing or offer unsolicited advice.

You don’t have to wait for anything. Even if you’re sharing your home gym equipment with family members, you can tell them to hurry the heck up with it! But generally, you’ll be able to move through your workout at exactly the pace you need it.

At-Home Workouts – The Cons

You may have limited equipment choices. You don’t have to have a home gym at all in order to get a good workout at home. Most movements can be done using just body-weight resistance, but you might have to get creative with your “pull” exercises – anything that targets your back. And you definitely don’t want to exclude these!

You may spend a little more money up front. Home based exercise equipment can cost a bit of money at the outset. Fortunately, by making wise choices, you can get all the equipment you need with just a few pieces of equipment – easily setting your home gym for the same cost as a few months of gym membership.

It’s easy to not do it. I went through a phase not too long ago of being too busy to get to the gym, and continually telling myself that I’d do a quick workout when I got home. Instead, I got home and sat on the couch – for the rest of the night. If working out at home isn’t part of your routine, you’ll probably need to put a little extra effort in to get this habit kickstarted. For what it’s worth, I’ve given up on evening exercise – it’s morning or nothing for me!

Of course, this is not a complete list! Everyone will have their own preferences and perks to working out at a gym or at home. The best workout is the one you enjoy doing!

HealthFit Coaching offers exercise and physical activity programs and training. If you’re in Brisbane and keen on getting a comprehensive, individual exercise program set up for your needs – whether for in-home training or gym based – contact us to start now!

Dumbbell hand weights for strength training and muscle building at home

Do I need to do weights to lose weight?

You don’t have to – it may not do much to boost your calorie burn. But there are still some excellent reasons to include strength training in your weight loss plan.

Weight loss (and maintaining your new body weight) is a complex process. Exercise doesn’t actually have a huge impact on weight loss, regardless of what type you do. Food choices and your normal diet are far more impactful, but it’s more complicated than needing to eat fewer calories than you burn. And what your body is doing when you aren’t working out or eating plays a significant role that is often overlooked.

Strength training will help you maintain muscle mass over the long term. If you lift on a regular basis, your body will recognize that it needs to keep that muscle around for something. This is to your benefit during weight loss, weight maintenance, and aging in general. Bear in mind the following when you’re deciding whether you want to add some weights to your routine:

  • Weight loss from a combination of calorie restriction (changed diet) and increased exercise or daily movement will actually decrease your metabolism and daily energy use, since this is directly linked to total body weight. Strength training will help you maintain or increase your muscle mass and therefore your metabolism, which means that you can maintain higher energy use while still losing body fat.
  • Weight training can help the appearance of fat loss in certain areas of the body by giving underlying muscle more definition or size. It’s not possible to preferentially burn fat in certain areas (often called spot toning or spot reduction) – when fat loss happens, it happens all over the body.
  • While cardio exercise will burn the most calories in a given workout, because it’s relatively low intensity, your body quickly recovers. Weight-based exercise will create more of a challenge for your body, and you’ll use more energy in recovering from this. (Bear in mind that exercise intensity rather than type will ultimately determine how much energy the body will use for physical recovery.)

Strength training is also good for your health, in a variety of ways:

  • Regular resistance training will keep the cells involved in energy production and use working smoothly and your body systems functioning well. For example, muscles that are regularly exposed to high intensity exercises will be better at absorbing and using blood glucose, requiring less insulin production and decreasing diabetes risk.
  • Maintaining or even increasing muscle mass can help prevent frailty in old age.  Muscle mass and movement ability are linked, and movement ability means good mobility, agility, balance, and catching yourself if you trip and fall.
  • Strength training can prevent and help treat osteopenia and osteoporosis, two types of decreasing bone density. Bone loss can be due to the aging process, or can be brought about by calorie restriction or dieting. Lifting weights can help stimulate bone growth, especially when you also have adequate calcium intake.

One last note about strength training and weight loss: Because weights will stimulate at least a small increase in muscle mass, using weights in your weight loss program may actually lead to less change in scale weight. For most people, this is a tradeoff they’re happy to make – looking great makes the number on the scale matter a lot less!

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References
Elia M. (1992). Organ and tissue contribution to metabolic rate. In: Kinney JM, Tucker HN, editors. Energy Metabolism: Tissue Determinants and Cellular Corollaries. New York: Raven Press.
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise physiology for health, fitness, and performance (5th ed.). Sydney: Wolters Kluwer.

What exercise is the best cardio?

This is a tough question to answer, actually. It’s certainly a question that needs an individual answer, as each person has their own unique needs, abilities, and goals.

Spend any time in a gym, or reading a health and fitness magazine, or really in any way having an interest in fitness or weight loss, you’ll probably have heard the term “cardio” being tossed around. But what exercise is actually the best pick for you?

Cardio is short for cardiovascular, and refers to the normal increase in heart rate that occurs with it. This whole body exercise is characterized by repetitive movements that use many or all of the large muscle groups in the body, and is often considered full-body exercise. By increasing your heart rate, you’ll help your heart to beat more efficiently when working out and when at rest, so it will take fewer beats to deliver the blood, oxygen, and nutrients that your body needs. Long term, this is less wear and tear on your heart and body.
Walking, running, cycling, and swimming are common types of cardiovascular exercise, but there are many others that provide the same effect and benefit. Most of the time, you can do one or any combination. We’ve listed some of the benefits and drawbacks of some of the most common types of cardio exercise to help you figure out what type might be best for you.

Walking

Walking along coronation drive in Brisbane

Benefits:
No gym requirement / travel friendly – you can go for a walk pretty much anywhere.
Low impact – low risk of joint pain or aggravation.
Low intensity, so if you go walking for exercise, you’ll be able to maintain it for a longer time than almost any other type of cardio exercise.
Easy to add into your day, as you can sneak in a walk at lunch or get off the bus a stop or two early and add some steps to your total count.

Drawbacks:
Low intensity, so doesn’t raise your heart rate as high as other cardio options (this can also be a benefit, if you have a health condition that requires you to maintain a lower heart rate)
Takes the longest to build fitness, and has a lower maximum benefit than other cardio options, though will still be enough to provide health benefits for most people.

Running

jogging or running in Brisbane park

Benefits:
No gym requirement / travel friendly – running can be done almost everywhere.
Needs minimal equipment, just a pair of shoes you are comfortable in.
Variable intensity without significant loss of benefit – whether you run fast or run slowly, you’ll reap the rewards.
Relatively quick increase in fitness levels – regular sessions will give you a big boost.

Drawbacks:
Physically demanding to start with – many people struggle with fitness and endurance levels when they start.
High impact forces for the body to deal with, which can cause joint issues for some, though this can usually be easily prevented with good recovery methods like massage and stretching.
Higher injury risk, especially for overuse injuries of the lower body (calf strains, plantar fasciitis, knee pain), though you can easily decrease injury risk with the correct combination of recovery methods and strengthening exercises for your body.

Cycling

ride bicycle and cycle in Brisbane

Benefits:
Low impact – low risk of joint pain or aggravation.
Less fitness needed to start cycling for exercise, especially compared to running.
Often feels like less physical work than it is – unless you have a lot of hills on your ride!

Drawbacks:
Cost of bicycle and equipment purchase (i.e. helmet, etc.), though you don’t have to set yourself up with the fanciest gear just to go out for a ride.
May increase chances of lower and upper back pain, depending on the specific set up of your bicycle. This is often caused by gripping handle bars too tightly, or being hunched over the bars for long periods without a break.
If road riding, may need to share the road with cars and other vehicles.

Swimming

Swimming in an outdoor pool in Brisbane

Benefits:
No impact  – low risk of joint pain or aggravation.
Uses more upper body than other cardio methods listed here, which increases the energy cost of the exercise and makes your body work harder in a given period of time.
Different strokes allow you to focus on different movements, providing variety and preventing boredom.
Water can provide support for the body, which can help exercise for longer period when starting out and building fitness.
A relatively short workout (in time spent, or total distance covered) can provide as much benefit as longer land-based workouts, due to the higher use of upper body muscle groups (as above).

Drawbacks:
Cost of pool membership, if you don’t have a pool readily available at home or work.
Convenience of pool location – convenience has repeatedly been shown to make or break exercise efforts. If you have to go out of your way to do something, it’s less likely that you’ll do it regularly.
Swimming can be physically demanding to start with – many people struggle with fitness and endurance levels when getting started.
Can be particularly hard on the rotator cuff and other shoulders muscles if swimming a lot, though this is easily managed with good recovery methods like self-massage or remedial massage and stretching.

This is by no means a complete list of cardio exercises, or of their benefits or drawbacks, but it may help you decide what might be best for you. And if you want an expert opinion on what will be best for you, you can meet with a HealthFit Coach in person if you are in Brisbane, or via Skype or Facebook messenger anywhere in the world.


What Is Functional Fitness?

“Functional” has been a buzzword in the fitness industry for years, but many people – including many in the health and fitness industries – struggle to define it. To some, the word may conjure up images of exercise standing on one leg with your eyes closed, or even on a huge exercise ball. Good news: You can save those circus tricks for, well, the circus!

Functional fitness means being physically able to meet your daily demands of work, sport or exercise, and leisure activities. Functional training refers to exercises that give you the strength, coordination, and endurance (or cardiorespiratory fitness) to do so. The muscles of the upper body, lower body, and core must be strong, with good neuromuscular coordination to tie it all together effortlessly. Increasingly, functional fitness also means being physically able to counteract the poor postures and physical stresses we encounter in daily life. 

Many people are facing the same physical, functional needs, ranging from weakness in foundational-level stabilizing muscles to imbalances in muscle tension, length, or strength. Creating functional fitness in these circumstances means building up weak points and decreasing stress on overused areas. This can be done by teaching your muscles to activate better, loosening or lengthening muscles and connective tissues, or using a targeted exercise program to build strength and balance out poor posture.

Some of the most common scenarios we see:

  • Too much sitting: Your desk job, meeting, car/bus/train commute – all of these things create excessive tension and shortness at the front of the hips and thighs, which can be a major (eventual) contributor to lower back pain. Stretch out the hip flexors and quads to regain that length and take pressure off the lower back.
  • Too much computer: Any screen time falls into this category, including tablets and smartphones. The forward postures that go along with this shortens the front of the shoulders and over-stretches the muscles of the upper back, leading to the neck and shoulder tension you are likely way too familiar with. As with the hips, stretching through the front of the chest and shoulders is a good start. I’d also recommend doubling up with a deep tissue massage (aka remedial massage) through the entire upper body, as this will help the tissues stretch much more easily and (added bonus) will actually get you feeling better fast!
  • Not enough movement in general: Many, many people have swapped physical stress for mental and emotional stress. We work too much, our leisure activities often involve the TV or computer, and there’s little actual need for movement. But even just 10 minutes of low-intensity movement (going for a walk or playing with the dog, or even doing household chores) can help decrease stress and counterintuitively, can give you a great energy boost!

Not sure what your functional fitness needs might be? Ask one of our expert coaches below to have your answer featured on a future post!


Muscle and Joint Health In Three Steps

Ready to start an exercise or physical activity program? Already active or working out? These three steps will keep your body happy and healthy, minimizing aches, pains and injury risk.

You probably know: Regular movement is really important to maintaining lifelong health. Keeping your body injury- and pain-free is really important to being able to keep moving.

Increasing daily movement can come at the end of a rehab program, or you may (correctly) see it as a way to get rid of ongoing sore spots. It may be your path to improving your health, or feeling even better than you do right now. These three DIY steps focus primarily on loosening and lengthening your muscles and connective tissues – leading to decreased joint stress – and then getting your muscles strong and fit. Following these three steps will keep your muscles and joints working efficiently and minimize the stiffness and pain that can prevent good quality movement. Improved movement ability directly leads to better health and quality of life.

Step 1: Loosen

Muscles that are overly tight (aka hypertonic) don’t work efficiently. Excessive muscle tension can decrease how quickly a muscle can contract and how much force it can contract with. Since the speed and force of contraction are what creates movement and supports your body, this is less than optimal (plus, tight muscles don’t generally feel good).

Many circumstances can lead to excessive muscle tension. Muscles can spasm and hold tension to protect a sore or injured area, or tension can build from long term movement compensations that result from an injury or tissue damage. Tension can also be caused by posture and occupational or lifestyle demands.

“Loosen” is step one because it has the greatest impact on the other two steps. A muscle with optimal tension and with minimal adhesions – what we commonly think of as “knots” – will be able to stretch and strengthen better.

Different “loosening” techniques include hands-on techniques like deep tissue massage, remedial, or sports massage therapy, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy, as well as self-massage techniques using a foam roller, trigger point ball, The Stick, and other similar tools. You can also help manage muscle tension by staying hydrated, using a heat pack or hot water bottle on tight muscles, and ensuring a diet high in magnesium.

Step 2: Lengthen

Muscles that are too short can lead to poor joint alignment and repetitive strain or overuse injuries. For most people, stretching after doing soft tissue work will give you the best results, as adhesions and tight areas don’t stretch well (and can potentially cause the tissues around them to overstretch). Appropriate stretching will keep joints moving freely and easily, and can also help prevent tension buildup caused by poor postures and movement patterns that shorten and stress muscles.

One caveat to the Lengthen step: If you are hypermobile (i.e. double jointed), stretching may actually aggravate muscles and joints. In hypermobility conditions, the tissues surrounding a joint are longer and looser than optimal, giving the joint very high degrees of movement (aka joint laxity). As this can predispose to injury, and your body’s #1 goal is to not get hurt, ever, the reaction to this laxity is to create more tension in the tissues around the joint. This can leave you feeling like you need to stretch, but that’s actually the opposite of what your body needs. If you are hypermobile, skip this step and do more self-massage (or go and good a good remedial or deep tissue massage) to decrease muscle tension. The strength work in step three will help further build joint integrity.

There are many ways that you can stretch, like traditional static stretching, or partner variations like assisted or PNF stretching. Regardless of how you do it, hold your stretches for a very minimum of 30 seconds, as it takes at least that long for the tissues to lengthen to a beneficial degree. And don’t bounce! It’s a recipe for disaster.

Step 3: Strengthen

The first two steps are all about getting the muscles ready. Now it’s time to get going! The right strength program identifies any areas of strength or activation imbalance, and will selectively target them build on the movement quality you’ve already achieved with the Loosen and Lengthen steps. For maximum benefit, get some advice from a movement professional who will help you determine your weakest links. This information will allow you to build a strong foundation, further decreasing any injury risks and making any ongoing physical activity or exercise much more effective.

Strength programs come in many, many forms. The best programs are created based on both your physical needs and the types of movement you enjoy, and may include components of body-weight exercises, band-resisted exericses, yoga, pilates, and traditional strength training.

How much work you do in each of these stages will depend on your starting point (current movement quality, activity levels, injury and health history, and the like). The art of creating the best program for YOU means understanding what your body needs in order to handle the activities you love, and then simply working through the steps.

While including all of these components is becoming more widely used in strength and fitness programming, there are many people and places that still miss a step or two. If you have questions about how these steps apply to you, leave a comment here or jump on our Facebook page – we’re happy to talk specifics!


Healthy Habits to Prevent High Blood Pressure

Have high blood pressure, or at high risk for it? Building healthy habits can really help your blood pressure levels. In fact, though there is a genetic component to your individual level, lifestyle choices have an enormous impact on blood pressure – for better or worse!

How is high blood pressure dangerous?

Picture this: You’re filling up a water balloon. As you put in more water, the balloon stretches, and the walls start to thin, which makes them much more susceptible to damage (like when you throw it at someone and it bursts on impact!!). On the other hand, a balloon with only a small amount of water in it will be much harder to damage.

High blood pressure (known in medical terms as hypertension) works in much the same way. The increased pressure on the blood vessel walls makes them more susceptible to damage. Vessels can become more stiff and build up deposits of plaque, leading to the blockage of blood that causes heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure can also damage small blood vessels in your kidneys, eyes, and other organs, which in turn damages the organs themselves. And like the water balloon, blood vessels can also weaken and bulge, forming an aneurysm. An aneurysm that bursts can quickly be life-threatening. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for other diseases and health conditions, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cognitive conditions.

These high blood pressure complications are not especially appealing! But the lifestyle choices that keep your blood pressure at healthy levels and help prevent complications can be easy, and even enjoyable.

Simple Changes to Lower Blood Pressure

Get daily exercise or physical activity: A healthy heart and blood vessels can be achieved and maintained with as little as 30 minutes of daily activity. You can even break this up into smaller blocks – there is significant evidence that multiple, short bouts of activity have the same health benefits as one longer one. So if a brisk half-hour walk doesn’t sound good, you could try a 10-min walk in the morning and evening, and another 10 minutes of exercise or even active chores like vacuuming to hit your 30 minutes. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active or exercising, please chat with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have health problems.

Make healthy food choices: Choose fresh foods that are as close as possible to their natural state. That is, pick lean steak over salami. Eat more whole foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, legumes (beans, lentils, etc.), and fewer pre-prepared foods, as these are generally higher in sodium, cholesterol, and trans fats. Choosing foods with no added sugars will also help. Don’t forget to include beverages in this category too!

Achieve and maintain a healthy weight: Carrying extra body fat can cause blood pressure to rise, and increases physical stress on the body’s systems. Even a small amount of weight loss can have a big impact on blood pressure levels, and additional weight loss can lead to additional improvements. The above two ideas will certainly help with this.

Choose healthy stress management strategies: Gentle physical activity like walking or tai chi, meditation and breathing exercises, keeping a journal or working on arts and crafts are all healthy relaxation ideas. Take some time to have some fun!

Avoid unhealthy stress management: Two common but unhealthy stress management choices that many people make are alcohol and tobacco use. Keep your alcohol consumption under one standard drink per day for women, and two for men. And we all know that tobacco use is deadly – spiking your blood pressure is just one reason why.

Sleep well: Restful sleep is key to stress management. Poor sleep quality can impair your body’s ability to regulate stress hormones, which can lead to increases in blood pressure. On average, adults under the age of 65 should get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Adults over 65 should get 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. If you have trouble getting this amount of sleep, or don’t wake up feeling rested, please talk to your doctor about this. It’s one of the single biggest things you can do to improve your health!

Taking action in any one of these areas can make a significant difference. Making more than one of these choices on a regular basis will help you easily control your blood pressure, and potentially even prevent the need for medication. What’s one change that you can make today?


The Golden Rule of Exercise

Ever heard the saying “no pain, no gain”?

I bet you have. And when it comes to exercise, I’m here to tell you, this is a big fat lie. While it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference, different “pain” feelings can mean very different things for your body.

Unfortunately, when it comes to exercise, pain has long been considered a part of the experience. Sore knees, aching backs, bum shoulders that catch, stab, or just don’t move very well anymore… The idea was that if things weren’t hurting, you weren’t working hard enough. Apply this to a different situation: Would you put your hand on a hot stove to make sure you were cooking well enough? Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? You can actually have a far more effective workout when you aren’t hurting, because you will be able to continue to exercise on your regular schedule, and not limp around for three days. So our Golden Rule: No Pain (or, If it hurts, don’t do it).

Feelings of intense exercise should occur in areas powering movement, mainly muscles and/or lungs.

But exercise isn’t always pleasant, and can be downright uncomfortable, especially as intensity increases. The physical sensations that come with intense exercise or physical activity – burning muscles, bursting lungs or shortened breath, or a stitch in the side – are not particularly pleasant at the time. But the “pain” of working hard during exercise should not last. When you stop and rest, these feelings should subside, leaving you pain-free, or at worst, somewhat fatigued. In the days following an intense workout, you may also feel stiff and sore through the muscles, a short-term state known as Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.

Any aches and pains arising during or after exercise that are different than these should be brought up with your doctor or an exercise physiologist ASAP to make sure you stay safe and injury-free. Some of the most common feelings that should prompt this discussing (during or after a workout): joint pain, back pain, pain in areas that may not be related to a workout – anything that seems unusual, really. These are often indicators of tissue damage. Further, if you have a history of injury, or a chronic health condition, you may experience slightly-to-very different feelings during exercise or physical activity than someone who is assumed healthy. If this is the case, definitely talk to your doctor or an exercise physiologist about how to get exercise safely and what to look out for.

Feelings of injury or damage are often felt in joints, and can last for days after activity.

It’s important to distinguish between these two types of pain, because the “pain” of appropriate and/or intense exercise can actually prevent the pain that coincides with tissue damage and long-term aches, pains, and injury by conditioning the body to be better able to respond to physical stress. Next time you’re moving and something isn’t feeling great, take a moment and consider what kind of whether you’re feeling the burn of hard work, or whether you might actually be doing some damage, and then apply the Golden Rule as needed.

In order to move well and stay healthy and injury free, you have to get and stay pain free. Continuing to exercise when you feel pain will likely increase that pain, may create further tissue damage, and make it more difficult to exercise or get through your normal daily activities. In the long run this will be detrimental to your overall health and fitness, mental health, and ability to make progress. All of this makes exercising when you’re in pain a bad idea! So when in doubt, seek help. Better to have an extra appointment and stay safe and feel good, than push through pain until something breaks.


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.

 

 


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.