So you have made the decision to really start incorporating exercise into your life…WAY TO GO!!! Exercise will make you feel better in every aspect of your life and will complement your weight loss journey.
Sometimes when we are excited about a new endeavour we leave the starting gate at full tilt only to find that we may not have been quite prepared. In the case of exercise this can unfortunately lead to sore muscles and joints and in the worst case injuries. If you are new to exercise or haven’t exercised in a long time here a few things to keep in mind to make the experience enjoyable, beneficial and something you will incorporate into your life on a regular basis.
Before you start make sure you are “medically cleared” to exercise. Has your Dr. ever told you that you have any conditions that would prevent you from exercising? As Fitness Instructors and Personal Trainers we are encouraged to have clients fill out a “Par Q” (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) composed of the following 5 questions:
- Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should only do physical activity recommended by a doctor?
- Do you feel pain in your chest when you do physical activity?
- In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not doing physical activity?
- Do you lose your balance because of dizziness or do you ever lose consciousness?
- Do you have a bone or joint problem (for example, back, knee, or hip) that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?
- Is your doctor currently prescribing drugs (for example, water pills) for your blood pressure or heart condition?
- Do you know of any other reason why you should not do physical activity?
If you answer YES to any of the questions on this list, you must check in with your doctor and get cleared for exercise before you start. You can download or print a copy of the official PAR-Q form for your records, courtesy of the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) by clicking here. (This is a PDF document and you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open it.)
- Now that you are good to go, make sure you have the RIGHT EQUIPMENT, the most important piece being a good pair of walking/running shoes. Until I started with a running coach a few years ago I was the worst for buying shoes on sale and wearing them until they fell apart. This can lead to a whole slew of issues such as bad knees, backs, hips, pain in your feet to name a few. The rule of thumb is to replace your shoes every 300-500 miles (or 500-800 km). Now I know what you’re thinking…”I won’t have to change them for years!” Not so! If you end up averaging 30 min. of walking/day that will be 3-4 hours/week and you will need to replace your shoes in 6 months. And don’t shop at Walmart! Don’t get me wrong….I love Walmart! But for toilet paper not for running shoes. Go to a reputable store with knowledgable staff and invest in a good pair…you are worth it!! Ladies speaking of ‘pairs’ you will also need a supportive sports bra, and ladies and gents you will need comfortable, weather appropriate clothing. Spandex and moisture-wicking materials are a must for me. The spandex moves and keeps everything more or less in place and the moisture-wicking material prevents you from getting cold when you start to perspire.
- Hydrate before you start and carry water with you. Guidelines suggest you should drink 250-500 mls of water an hour before you start exercising, and if possible 250 mls 20 minutes before exercise. Then they recommend 125-250 mls for every 10-15 minutes of (more intense) exercise. AWESOME…if you are a camel or like to walk in ‘Depends’. If you are in a gym, close to a bathroom and losing a lot of water then yes please try to follow these guidelines. If you are starting a walking program do hydrate before you leave and carry adequate water with you to keep you well hydrated along the way. Avoid exercising in the heat of the day. Watch for any signs of dehydration such as excessive thirst, light-headedness, weakness. Make sure you hydrate as well once you are home.
- Perform appropriate warm-up exercises. For aerobic activity it is good to mimic the activity you will be performing. The warm-up exercises should include ‘dynamic movements’. These are a series of movements that are designed to actively prepare the muscles for performance. There are numerous sites which suggest various exercises you can do before you start to walk. I liked http://www.pbs.org/americaswalking/health/healthprewalkprint.html which has some simple stretches.
- Don’t forget the cool-down. Don’t bring your brisk walk to an abrupt halt but gradually bring your pace down over approximately 5 minutes to allow your heart rate to come down gradually. Post work-out it is important do some ‘static stretches’. Static stretches are more appropriate to the cool down as they help muscles to relax, realign muscle fibres and re-establish their normal range of movement. These stretches should be held for approximately 10 seconds. You will want to stretch out the muscles you have been working, primarily your calves, your quads, hamstrings and glutes.
- An finally, make a plan, write it down and stick with it. For a walking routine a good start is to aim for 15-30 minutes of walking 3-4x/week. If you are just starting out 15 minutes may initially be a good start. If you start out too aggressively you may find that your body complains a bit too loudly which often discourages people from continuing a routine. A good idea is to plan one day ‘on’ and one day ‘off’ to allow your body to recover in between your workouts. If you mark your workout days on your calendar or put it into your daytimer it will be staring at you each time you look at it. Put it someplace clearly visible that you will see several times throughout the day to encourage you to stick with it. And when the weather is poor or you are feeling a bit sluggish…just do it!! (why does Nike get all the credit for that phrase?) Your body will thank you afterwards!
Yours in Health and Fitness,