April 7, 2011
Perhaps you feel like a bear when the winter rolls around & would just assume spend your time hibernating in a warm cave until the return of spring. I know I’ve been known to hideout in “the man cave” or my basement during the winter months rather than bundle up & go for a run or a bike ride. Sure I’d love to get out and play a round of golf too, but alas the fairways & greens are covered with snow or it’s just too darn cold. Well with spring rapidly approaching, I like many others are chomping at the bit for the opportunity to breath in some fresh air, soak up the sunshine & enjoy some physical activity outside. However, the fact that I have been less active for several months means I must carefully plan my return to increased physical activity. I certainly want to avoid injury and ensure the full enjoyment of the coming spring and summer months.
Upon discharge, our therapists always instruct our clients to ease back into physical activity. The same general principle applies after any lapse in physical activity. The human body is quite an amazing machine more so than any robot or computer ever will be, but just like any other machine if it’s not properly maintained and/or if it is overused, it will breakdown. Those who have experienced a musculoskeletal injury have no doubt experienced how quickly the body’s muscles atrophy without use. Of course, sitting on the couch all winter means your body may not be ready to handle 36-holes of golf in a day or 10-mile hike around Bull Run Mountain the first warm day of spring. Thus keep the following tips in mind as you head outdoors to enjoy spring.
Sure, you may feel that those few extra pounds you put on in December, January & February need to come off right away and by beginning a strenuous program you’ll prove you’re committed. In reality, however, slow and steady is the way to go. Start gradually and build upon you’re small victories each day. This will give your body time to adjust to the increased physical activity level. A great practical application and example of this concept is the Couch to 5K Running Plan that you can find online. This very detailed step-by-step program has gotten thousands off the couch and regularly running 3-miles over the course of two months. The program begins with an alternating mix of walking for 90-seconds and jogging/running for 60-seconds & incrementally builds your strength and endurance of your body over two months so that you can conquer a full 5K. While you may not consider yourself a runner, the program does an excellent job of illustrating how to ease into an activity over time & the principles apply to beginning or resuming any type of physical pursuit.
In addition to taking it slow, incorporate a balanced program into your physical activities. A good program will incorporate aerobic conditioning, stretching exercises and strength training. Aerobic exercise improves the health of your heart and lungs and helps manage your weight. The goal is to raise your heart rate for a sustained period of time. This often involves moving continuously and may be accomplished by such activities as walking, biking or jogging. Stretching will help improve your body’s range of motion and flexibility resulting in less muscle tension and soreness. More importantly improved flexibility goes a long way towards reducing your risk for injury. Formal examples include yoga or tai chi. However, you could simply put together a stretching routine tailored to the activities in which you like to participate. Golfers for example may practice a stretching routine they do several times a week or before a round that will make their time spent on the golf course more enjoyable. Illustrated routines for many different activities can be found by searching YouTube.com. The final part of a balanced program includes strength training to benefit both your muscles and bones. Proper strength training will also reduce your incidence of injury. Additionally, strength training can improve your metabolic efficiency. While the most familiar forms of weight training involve using some form or free weight or weight machines, many of the same benefits can be accomplished using resistance bands and/or our own body weight. Thus you do not necessarily have to join a gym to engage in weight training. Incorporating some form of aerobic, flexibility and strength activity will not only inject some variety into what otherwise may be a dull routine, you’ll decrease your chance of injury and improve your overall health.
Why not make physical activity a year round endeavor in the years to come? That’s right, while many of us may consider the winter our offseason, that doesn’t mean we need to shut down our physical activity entirely over the winter. Perhaps we simply need to get more creative. In fact, two of the three parts of a balanced program, flexibility and strength, may lend themselves more so to indoor activity anyhow. Why not sign up for a beginners’ yoga class or try increasing the number of push-ups you can do each week during the winter? Certainly, aerobic training can be accomplished indoors as well. Like to bike, but the roads are covered with snow? Why not try a SPIN class. Swimming is another great aerobic activity that can be practiced at several indoor pools in the area. If you can sustain some measure of physical activity throughout the winter, you’ll make the most of your time outdoors when spring arrives.
All in all, kudos to those who are ready to lace up their walking shoes, dust off their tennis rackets or log some miles on their bicycle at the first sign of spring. As many of you know, the most important and often the most challenging part of any exercise routine is getting started. Keep the above tips in mind and it will go along way towards ensuring you’ll be healthy and ready to enjoy the outdoors throughout the spring and summer….and you’re new indoor activities in the winter. Right?