Your Body; Use It or Lose It

A CASE FOR VARIETY AND MODERATION FOR HEALTHY EXERCISE

Bill Svoboda

Our bodies have 650 or so muscles. Generations before us used their bodies far more than most of us do today. They walked more, worked on farms, in manufacturing plants, and at other jobs which did not use the technology of today. In fact, the purpose of many inventions throughout history has been to take the physical activity out of all types of work. We have been very successful in reducing the amount of physical exercise that we must do. However, we now have study after study that tells us that most Americans do not get nearly enough exercise. Our work, hobbies and other discretionary time normally do not involve physical exercise. An old friend, Bennie, once said, “What makes it for you breaks it for you.” Although I think his saying should be modified to “What makes it for you often breaks it for you,” it fits this case. People are increasingly less healthy as we increasingly reduce the actual physical work we do. We are now inventing machines and activities to help us exercise more. We have gone from the need to work less to the need to work (workout) more

I presume that you are reading this article because you are interested in being physically healthy. The suggestions below are designed for those of us who exercise to be healthy. They are not for those who want to be body builders with abnormally large muscles or weight lifters who push their bodies to and sometimes beyond its limits. The suggestions below are based on my reading of research, my observations and my personal experience. Here are some suggestions for healthy exercise.

  • The focus of your exercise should be variety and moderation. You want to periodically and consistently exercise as many of your muscles as you can but you want to do it in moderation. You do not need to strain every muscle until it fails. You want to use the muscles, not abuse them. Maybe just moderately strains.
  • Think like your muscles to gauge how much you want to strain yourself. If I am a muscle and I never have to move more than to press the button the remote, text on the phone or lift a fork , I have no reason to get stronger. However, if someone is straining me by making me lift weight heavier than I am not used to, I will get bigger and stronger in anticipation of the heavier weight. So the formula is no strain or less strain on the muscles equals small, weak muscles. Conversely, more strain on the muscles equals larger, strongermuscles. It is up to you to decide how strong you need to be or want to be.
  • The physically healthy person usually has a moderate build and some moderate muscle definition as a result of moderate exercise of as many muscles as possible. This, of course, is also accompanied by a nutrition lifestyle that emphasizes maximum nutrition for the fewest calories. That is discussed in other articles.
  • I have personally found that going to a gym or health club is best for me. I can use machines that are designed for specific muscle groups so that I can plan workouts that use the maximum number of muscles in each set of repetitions. I can adjust machines to the amount of resistance desired. In larger clubs they have many types of machines for resistance training, aerobic and yoga classes, bikes, swimming pools, basketball courts, racquetball courts and organized leagues. The cost of these gyms or health clubs are well worth the price when you consider that your physical health has to be a, if not the, most important of your personal priorities.
  • There are usually trainers in these health clubs who hopefully can assist you although there is a tremendous variance in the quality of their knowledge. Do some health and exercise research online, at the library, subscribe to a magazine that deals with health knowledge, or maybe start a group of people who want to do research on their health and then share it among yourselves.
  • I have found that it is much more difficult to do exercising at home. There are always distractions, there is little or no equipment to work with, no one to ask for advice, and always something that has be done immediately. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people buy a piece of exercise equipment to use at home and discard it in a few weeks or months. Even for those who consistently use the machine, it will not provide the variety of exercises that we need. If you have to do your exercising at home, I would suggest a set of dumb bells that go from 5 pounds or so up to maybe 35 to 50. Then set up a program where you use these for a full body workout. You will probably also need a bench that can incline. You can get your cardio workout outside by walking, hiking, climbing or jogging. If you are unable to leave your home to get your cardio exercise, then you might look into a rowing machine, elliptical trainer or treadmill. There are plenty of used ones for sale. Your exercise schedule should include both resistance and cardio training in generally equal amounts such as every other day. I find 1-1 ½ hours per workout is good for me. You will have to choose what is right for you depending on your schedule, demands of job and family and your goals. It is a good idea to tell your doctor what you are planning to do, especially if you have pre-existing physical problems or have not exercised for some time. Be aware that many doctors are not knowledgeable about the specifics of exercising so you need to be responsible and start any new program slowly and with caution.
  • Vary intensity as well as exercises. For example, if you are lifting a weight of 15 pounds for a certain exercise for 2 sets of 15 repetitions, then every third or fourth time you do the exercise you might want to do 2 sets of 10 repetitions at 20 pounds. You can experiment with the schedule specifics but varying the weights keeps the muscles guessing. The same would be true for your cardiovascular workouts. Don’t go at the same speed all the time. Go faster sometimes but shorter distances. Go slower sometimes but for longer distances. Go up and down hills for more intensity than when you exercise on level ground. If you use cardio machines in a gym, change elevations, intensities and times. When people speak of interval training, they are describing the technique of cardio exercise that consists of a shorter interval of very fast, (anaerobic) exercise followed by a longer interval of less strenuous exercise (aerobic) exercise like walking or jogging. For example, if you are riding one of the bicycles at your gym, you might pedal at 70 rpm for two minutes and then at 100 rpm for one minute. You need to experiment with what works best for you.
  • I personally have found that riding a street bike is not much exercise if you ride on a flat surface and it can be very dangerous especially on roads or streets. Riding hills or mountain trails is different and can be very demanding exercise. However, you can also exercise on hills and trails hiking or jogging probably more safely.
  • You get in shape to play sports; you don’t play sports to get in shape. People whose only exercise is to play a sport once or twice a week get very little benefit from it and can even hurt themselves. This is true of almost all sports. Sports can be very intense and/or have bursts of intensity that put great strain on a few muscles and joints. These brief bursts of intensity require that the body be carefully trained to withstand those stresses. The “weekend warrior” who plays his or her sport will inevitably have something strained, torn or detached because the repetition or the intensity will be too much for the body that has been sedentary the rest of the week. Watch the people who only get their exercise through infrequent sports. They do not get stronger, healthier or “more buff.” But they will frequently have sprains, strains, tears and various surgeries. Nike is wrong. Don’t “ Just Do It.” Do It Intelligently!
  • If you are going to play sports, play a variety of them. I think I personally am healthier because I played a variety of sports and worked out in a variety of ways throughout my long life. As I moved from one form of exercise to another, I never did one long enough to have it harm me. I played football, baseball and basketball in high school. Luckily I was badly injured in the Homecoming game of my senior year and was not a candidate for a college team. When I realized I was not going to be able to play college ball, I decided that academics would have to be my strength when I moved on to the university. After that I got my physical exercise by working out and playing tennis and racquetball, running, walking and hiking. I now daily go to the gym and do controlled resistance training and cardio exercises. I have been lucky that I had that variety. I admit that I didn’t plan it that way but now recognize that it is a good plan. I pass it on to you. At age 77 as of this writing I am physically functioning as I did at 50 or younger. If you have children and they want to play sports, have them play a variety of sports. Concentrating on one sport from a young age means the stresses and repetitive motions of sport are constant potential problems for your children’s health. There is a reason why professional athletes have short careers and often live their later lives with pains, and physical and mental problems. A lifetime of that one sport can just be too much for the human body to take even for a professional athlete with the latest in training methods and technologies. Isn’t that similar to what we do with our youngsters who are not fully developed physically and mentally, are coached by volunteers with a huge variation of competencies, often have inferior equipment but have essentially the same kinds of traumas as the professional players of the same sport?
  • Don’t be taken in by the powders, potions, bars, supplements and other concoctions that are supposed to melt off your fat, increase your stamina, add muscle mass, make your workout easier or take years off your age. These products are from corporations producing products to make a profit. These concoctions are seldom tested in a scientific way. There is no guarantee of their safety. There is no guarantee that they will do what they say they will do. They are often high calorie products that add more calories to your diet than you burn up in your workout. If you want to be safe and get the most health out of your workout, drink plain water. Don’t fall for all the advertising and hype by the corporations. Read the labels. Do some research. Use common sense.

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