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Exercise: Getting started, staying motivated and preventing injury

January 24, 2019 | Christopher Kroner, MD
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That fit, active Southern California lifestyle can be hard to achieve given the amount of time we spend sitting in our cars and at our desks, not to mention how close we park to work, shopping and home.

But physical activity is vital for our health. Being in good physical health makes life easier and more enjoyable, and there is good data showing that exercise also improves mental health.

Starting a fitness routine

It’s important to be honest about your limitations and basic health baseline. If you haven’t worked out in a long time, don’t expect to run a marathon. You’ll need to ease into a routine, especially if you are a man over 35 or a woman over 45, the ages at which heart disease begins to become an issue.

If you have been sedentary, start by walking for 15 minutes at a pace that makes you feel like you are moving quickly but does not cause you to be out of breath. If you feel any chest pain, rest immediately and make an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation before more exercise.

Assuming you have no chest pain, try walking a little faster for 5 more minutes each day.

When you are young, you can work out six days a week and take a day off just to stretch. As you get older, you may want to cut back to three to four days, depending on your age and mobility. There is no set age for this change, rather it is important to listen to your body and adjust your activity over time as needed.

If you have any chronic medical conditions — such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease or history of stroke or heart attack — you should see your doctor first to discuss a safe exercise regimen for your situation.

Tips for staying motivated

Getting back in shape is always hard.

  • Find what you love. It helps to find workouts you like. I prefer to go solo in the gym, balancing cardio and weights. My wife prefers group classes or doing yoga on her own. We bought a rowing machine to keep in the house for use when our time is limited.
  • Find your motivation. Motivation is one of the hardest things when our schedules are so packed with work and our children’s needs. My main motivator when I was young was either looking fit or being able to compete in sports. Now I want to be healthy to make sure I can enjoy life with my family as my kids grow up.
  • Start slowly after inactivity. You can lose your conditioning quickly without exercise. When I return to workouts after a period of inactivity, I start slower on the cardio with a shorter time/distance goal and lift lighter weights than I would normally. I also add more stretch time, since I am usually also less flexible after being sedentary for a while.

It is not bad to find a moderate intensity activity and stay with that, but if improved fitness is your goal, you really need to push yourself harder over time.

Preventing exercise injuries

Any time activity is increased, some aches and pains can follow. This is the healing process that results in improvements in size, strength and blood flow to a muscle. You can help the process along with increased time stretching after activity and by balancing out the types of activities so that all parts of your body are exercised over time.

Muscle aches and pains often improve once the muscle is warmed up and used. If you are concerned about an injury, modify your workout to avoid further stress and make an appointment to get it checked out. With some injuries, it may be OK to play through the pain. This is something we consider in every injury evaluation in our UCI Health Sports Medicine practice.

There is no such thing as an injury-free sport. But here are some things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Work with a trainer or a teacher in a group class to help you practice good technique.
  • Balance your workouts so that you are not doing any one thing repetitively.
  • Use a warm-up and cool-down routine to keep muscles and joints limber.
  • Use properly maintained equipment.
  • Make sure you get adequate nutrition and good sleep.

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