Sustainable Exercise

hillbilly 2012

Sustainability is a word that is used a lot. Sustainable is how we look at the environment and the earth and the world we live in. It means the ability to endure.

I believe that we need to treat our bodies sustainably as well. Only through sustainable exercise, can we continue to exercise for the rest of our lives and keep ourselves feeling good and manage our pain as we age.

What is sustainable exercise?

Sustainable exercise is exercise that is easy on your body. It is low intensity. It is low impact exercise. It is something that you can do consistently, on a regular basis, ideally for the rest of your life with little injury.

Exercise only works when you are doing it. You can’t exercise for a few weeks and expect the effects to last for weeks or months afterwards. I regularly see patients in my office who were exercising consistently for months and feeling good. Then for a variety of reasons, they stop exercising. Usually within 1 to 2 months after stopping exercise they will injure themselves. You will lose strength much quicker than you can gain it. If you stop exercising for over 6 weeks then you start to become deconditioned and your muscles will begin to lose strength. Thus making you more susceptible to injury.

That is why you have to exercise sustainably; exercise in a way that you can stick with, do for a long time, and not hurt yourself. This is a reason why I am not a big fan of running. Running is not sustainable for most people. There are many other aerobic or cardio-vascular exercises out there that are much easier on the body, and therefore more sustainable. Such as: biking (outdoors, stationary, recumbent, spin class), elliptical machine, stair master, rowing machine, etc.

Walking will not give you nearly as much bang for your buck as running will. Meaning that you will burn more calories from running than you would from walking. But, if you haven’t exercised in years, are overweight, and work at a desk, if you try to start running for exercise, you will kill yourself. You will only be able to sustain 20 minute runs 2 to 3 times a week for 4 to 8 weeks usually, before you end up injuring yourself and have to stop exercising. Some people will be able to run for longer than that before injuring themselves. Some people will be able to start running after not having exercised for years and be able to run for years to come and do well. But those people are few to far between.

We only have a certain amount of steps per joint. If those steps are pounding, stomping, high impact, running steps, then there will be less steps per joint. High impact exercise causes joints to wear down  faster than they would otherwise. This wear and tear leads to cartilage loss which is the first step in osteo-arthritis formation. Once you have osteo-arthritis in a joint, you cannot get rid of it.

Walking, while not as intense as running, you can do much more consistently. If you take the same person who is overweight, hasn’t exercised consistently in years, and works at a desk all day, they will be able to walk consistently. They can start out walking 3 times a week for 20 minutes. Or if their knees or hips or low back are bad, then they can do something else sustainable and low impact such as stationary bike, elliptical machine, rowing machine, etc. These low impact aerobic exercises are easy on the body and will not cause injury. You can do these consistently for years to come.

Even if you have ankle, knee, hip or low back arthritis, you can still do low impact cardio-vascular exercise. It is very good for you and will help to slow down the progression of arthritis. If you have arthritis and you exercise in the right way, 5 years from now you will be no worse off then you are now. You can slow the progression of the disease process of arthritis. You can slow the breakdown of the joint.

Exercising consistently will allow you to keep your weight down, stay active as you age, and manage your pain. Consistent, low impact exercise will also manage arthritic symptoms. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce arthritis pain and prevent it from getting worse.

Be smart about how you exercise. We can’t exercise like we did 20 years ago. Be easy on our bodies. We only have one. The replacement parts aren’t very good. They are never as good as the original parts.

Exercise sustainably. Exercise smarter, not harder.  It is the Pain Free Way.



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