Don't try to be Superman when starting a New Year's exercise regimen
If you've been out of shape for a long time, don't think you can become a Navy SEAL overnight by grunting through a series of sit ups and pushups. You may think you're becoming a super hero, but chances are, you'll wake up the next morning with so many muscle aches that your New Year's Resolution to become fit will melt away as quickly as a trace of snow.
If your resolution is to get into better phyical shape, take the advice of a pair of Portland-area fitness specialists: take it slow and easy.
Carl Davison, Wellness and Fitness Director of the Oregon Health & Science University March Wellness and Fitness Center, says it's common for people to make New Year's Resolutions to get healthier.
"When it comes to fitness, across the country, you'll see a pattern of folks starting off with good intentions in wanting to become more active," Davison said. "Typically, most fitness centers will be pretty busy in January and February. In March, it starts to taper off just because people get busy with other things. There's a lot out there to distract them."
As you're contemplating a fitness program, consider your present fitness level. "Anything that's above your normal activity is going to be beneficial," Davison said, noting you can start will something as easy as walking. "If you're already doing that (walking) — maybe as part of your job — you're going to need to do more in order to see results. I think that's why fitness trackers are becoming so popular. It gives people a way to track that progress and know that they need to do more."
Dr. Robert Sandmeier, of The Portland Clinic, agrees that a take-it-easy approach has benefits.
"You need to start where you are, not where you remember you were when you were in high school," Sandmeier, an orthopedic surgeon, said, suggesting that when you get home from work, try a quick 20-minute walk around your neighborhood instead of sitting down on the couch for that beverage and snack.
When considering a new exercise regimen, it's easy to think of health clubs or fitness centers. But consider something as convenient as walking. It can fit easily into most of our schedules.
"The biggest benefit you're going to get is from doing nothing to doing something," Sandmeier said. "If you're someone who hasn't been doing anything for a long time, starting out by just going for a walk is great. If you live in Portland, there's some pretty good hills. A brisk walk, walking up hill, you get can pretty winded. You can get your heart rate up."
Sandmeier says a brisk walk is good for cardiovascular health. The idea is to get your heart rate pumping and your blood flowing.
"Your body atrophies if it's, sort of, not being used," Sandmeier said. "Just like if you don't think about math for a long time, when you try to do it again you can't do it very well; it's the very same thing with your heart."
Cardiac muscle tissue can benefit from exercise. "That cardiac muscle tissue needs to be strengthened as well," Davison said. "The way to do that is to, again, increase your activity over time. One of the things you can look at is heart rate. There are a lot of heart rate trackers out there now." A good idea is to check your recovery heart rate. For instance, compare your heart rate when at full exertion (walking) with a more rested heart rate (walking slowly).
Senior citizens can also make New Year's Resolutions to become fit. Sandmeier notes that exercise benefits older men and women by slowing down the loss of bone density; another benefit is an increase in blood flow and metabolism.
Exercise, Davison says, is typically the best medicine.
"Most research studies of exercise intervention for different disease types, be it diabetes, cancer, neurological diseases like Parkinson's, show exercise is tremendously beneficial and one of the best medicines," Davison said.
It's never too late to start an exercise program. If you're dragging your feet, consider exercising with a friend.
Sandmeier added, "It really helps if you can find something that you're doing with other people who are at a somewhat similar level."