We have all learned about the massive benefits that exercise can have on our bodies and our health. Few other forms of treatment have been better researched or proven more effective in improving such a wide variety of different conditions than exercise.The list of conditions includes heart disease, diabetes, cancer, circulation issues, back pain, neckpain, shoulder and other types of musculoskeletal pain, pulmonary disorders and so on.
Physical Therapists are often asked by their patients for tips on how they can become more active and safely participate in exercise. Because people are all different and have unique physical challenges and circumstances, there is no one right answer. There can be a lot of factors at play when one wishes to become more physically active. However, there is almost always a way to safely increase one’s physical activity. A key concept to follow is “Graded Exposure” a method of trying a novel movement or activity in a controlled and comfortable way for a short duration and then progressively increasing one’s activity incrementally. This technique allows the individual to adopt a healthier lifestyle without causing any unnecessary stress and possibly injury to the body.
Graded Exposure has been a proven method of increasing activity tolerance in patients with chronic pain but it can be applied by anyone trying to increase their physical fitness. One should always first obtain medical clearance from a physician before undertaking any new exercise regimen. Once you are cleared to exercise, the next step is to select a mode of exercise of your choice such as walking, cycling, yoga, swimming or almost any activity you want. A good way to gauge your level of exertion is through the Rating of Perceived Exertion scale. On this scale, a rating of 1 would be your body at rest and 10 would be so intense you feel that you might pass out. One’s exertion level should stay in the range of 4 to 5 out of 10, indicating a moderate intensity of exercise. Remember: this scale is going to be different for everyone and your rating of 4 might not be the same as somebody else’s.
The key to exposing yourself to a new activity is to do so in a comfortable manner and to do so in short intervals. A good amount of time to exercise in the beginning is about 10-15 minutes. The intensity of exercise should be enough to get your heart rate above resting. A good indicator of the right heart rate is that your breathing should allow you to talk out loud but not sing out loud.
The ultimate goal for exercise is to do so in a pain free and comfortable manner while also placing stress on the boundaries of your tolerance. After performing your initial workout, assess your overall feeling of comfort. If you are noticing any negative responses, you probably exerted yourself more than you were able to tolerate. Next time, do a little less and then gradually increase incrementally by no more than 5 minutes at a time. This might be difficult for you initially but just remember to progress slowly. Exercise should be invigorating and enjoyable, not painful or scary. So have fun with it and if you have any questions at all, do not hesitate to ask your physician to refer you to a skilled Physical Therapist to help you create an exercise plan tailored to your needs.