In the last article, we began to talk about physical exercises and their benefits to the body. We specifically addressed aerobic exercises. This month we will look at two other forms of exercise. In order to become physically fit, we must engage in all three- types of exercises.
Aerobic exercises require oxygen to perform them. The word “aerobic” means “with oxygen.” If we consider the word “anaerobic” it implies the opposite, “without oxygen.” Oxygen is the source of fuel for the cells to be able to engage in aerobic physical exercise. With anaerobic exercise, the intensity of the exercise matters. An exercise becomes anaerobic when the need for oxygen exceeds the oxygen supply that is available. Therefore, increasing the intensity of an exercise will push us past our limit to be able to provide oxygen to the cells. As opposed to oxygen, anaerobic exercise relies on energy sources that are stored in the muscles and is not dependent on oxygen obtained from breathing.
Because anaerobic exercise involves exercise that does not use oxygen, the usual source of energy during exercise, your body gets tired much quicker; thus, anaerobic exercises can only be done for short periods of time only. Therefore, a description of anaerobic exercises is that they are a short-lasting, high-intensive activity.
When you begin a vigorous exercise, there is a temporary shortage of oxygen being delivered to the working muscles. Lactic acid build-up is an end-product of producing energy anaerobically. When lactic acid accumulates at high levels in the blood, it causes muscular fatigue. This is why anaerobic exercises cannot last very long.
But, with training, the body becomes better equipped to handle lactic acid. The body changes that occur result in a decreased production of lactic acid and increased removal of it from the bloodstream. The body also produces “buffers” that delay the onset of fatigue during anaerobic exercise. Studies have shown that with anaerobic training, the muscle’s buffering capacity is increased by 12% to 50%. With this increased buffering capacity, more lactic acid can accumulate during high intensity exercise without causing fatigue, and endurance improves.
Some examples of anaerobic exercise include: weight-lifting (or lifting any heavy objects), all types of sprints (running, biking, etc.), jumping rope, walking or running up hill, abdominal crunches (which also improve core strength), sit-ups, push-ups, squats, interval training, rowing, isometrics, or any rapid burst of hard exercise, whether it is a part of an exercise program, or a part of your daily job.
When starting an anaerobic exercise program, always start with minimal weights or if a part of your job, use less heavy objects (put less logs in your wheelbarrow or lift only one brick instead of three). Do less repetitions of the activity, and low intensity. As your fitness improves, you can increase weight, repetition, and intensity.
Anaerobic training develops muscular fitness. It helps to build the strength, size, and endurance of our muscles; it builds up muscle tissue, which is the metabolic engine of the body. In other words, the more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism is, and the more calories you burn, even after exercise and while resting. A faster metabolism is an excellent way to lose fat and sustain a healthy body weight. Besides increased metabolism and weight loss, you also benefit from increased energy levels, stronger joints, and increased bone strength.
Without regular exercise, everyone loses 10% of lean muscle mass for every decade of life after the age of 30. This loss of lean muscle mass is often replaced by fat, which accounts for a slower metabolism. This is another reason why people, as they get older, will gain weight if they continue to eat the same amount of calories as they did when they were younger. Exercise that includes anaerobic exercises will allow you to preserve muscle mass as you get older and speed up your metabolic rate.
Let us look at one example of anaerobic exercises— weightlifting. Our body contains 650 muscles. To increase muscle strength, size, and endurance, and to help build strong bones, you need to lift an amount that stresses your muscles and bones, enough that you feel challenged. If you are weight training, you need to lift as many times so that the last one is a struggle. Strength training or work should be done at least twice a week to increase muscle and bone strength. If you are on a weight-loss programme, you will maintain muscle mass if you are restricting calories.
Core exercises are a vital part of muscle fitness. The muscles in your abdomen, lower back and pelvis—known as your core muscles—help protect your back and connects your upper and lower body movements. These muscles need training in order to remain strong to support your spine and enable you to use your upper and lower body muscles more effectively. A core exercise is any exercise that uses the trunk of your body without support, such as abdominal crunches and sit-ups.
If your job is mostly sedentary, fitness centres are available and offer various tools for strength training. However, you do not need to invest in a gym membership or expensive equipment to benefit from strength training. Hand-held weights or homemade weights such as plastic drink bottles filled with water or sand, may work just as well. Resistance bands are another inexpensive option. Your own body weight acts as a weight also in exercises such as push-ups, abdominal crunches and leg squats. You can also do heavy lifting by doing manual labour, such as pushing heavy wheelbarrows and carts or lifting heavy objects like boxes or bricks. Your exercise program can be part of your daily work routine. If your job is more sedentary though, then it is important to get out and do some exercise in your free time.
Because of the improvement in muscles, joints, and bones, anaerobic exercise has been shown to improve posture, balance, and flexibility. This is especially important as we age, to prevent falls which can lead to hip fractures, and all the complications related to this. Also as we age, there is a tendency to be less active, so it is important to develop a regular exercise program if we are less active after retirement. Other aspects of health which benefit are sleep, blood pressure, and a stable blood sugar.
When exercising, you need adequate fluids before, during, and after exercise to prevent dehydration. To prepare for exercise, ensure that you drink at least 500-750 ml in the two to three hours before you go to work or engage in an exercise program. If engaging in a vigorous exercise program, then during the exercise, drink approximately 250 ml every 15–20 minutes. More fluids will be needed if you have a larger body size, and as the temperature increases. When exercising, body fluids are lost through sweat. Any weight loss that occurs immediately after an exercise session is due to water loss. After exercise, drink 500-750 ml of water for every ½ kilogram or pound of weight you have lost (if you are able to weigh yourself) to replace the fluid loss. Water is generally the best way to replace
lost fluids. But, if you are exercising or working hard for more than an hour, ensure that your intake contains sodium, to maintain your body’s electrolyte balance. If your exercise program is incorporated into your daily employment, ensure that you drink water regularly, especially if it is a warm day and you sweat a lot. Dehydration impacts the ability of the muscles to do their work. Exercise and work performance decreases because less blood is available to bring oxygen to muscles, and fatigue sets in quickly. Dehydration also leads to muscle cramps and spasms because of a lack of fluid and a drop in essential electrolytes, which include sodium and chloride (most abundant in sweat), potassium, magnesium and calcium (in smaller quantities in sweat). Muscles need proper levels of water and electrolytes to function properly.
Flexibility or Stretching Exercises
Flexibility or stretching exercises tend to be overlooked; yet they are very important and should be included in every exercise programme. These exercises should be done at least three to five times a week. If your work requires a lot of heavy lifting and manual labour, do our flexibility exercises daily before going to work. Most aerobic and anaerobic exercises can lead to shortening and tightening of the muscles, which can contribute to decreased range of motion in the joints. With loss of range, the muscles are unable to extend as far as they should. This puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. Stretching exercises allow us to have better control over our muscles; they allow the muscles to be more flexible and strong by elongating the cells in your muscles. This flexibility allows an optimal range of motion within muscle groups. Range of movement of joints improves because the muscles are not shortened, which can restrict movement of one’s joints. Even after returning to a resting position from a stretch, the cells remain elongated, which maintains the increased movement of the muscles and joints. All physical activity and work will be easier to do when stretching exercises are done regularly.
With age, the elasticity of our muscles and joints in our body automatically decreases. Think of how flexible you were as a child, compared to how you are as an adult. Lack of flexibility can result in injuries when performing any physical tasks. Therefore, the elongation or stretching of the muscle leads to performing daily tasks with much more ease, with less pain, and without the risks of injury.
Stretching also helps produce and keep lubricants between the connective tissue fibers, which also contributes to increased flexibility. Connective tissues are found in tendons, which connect muscles to bones, and, also, between bones, like in our joints.
Stretching exercises lead to better blood circulation, as there is an increased flow of blood to your muscles when performing them. Stretching our core muscles are an important part of a flexibility program. Because the muscles are not as tight, it leads to better posture, less lower back pain, and better balance, which reduces risk of falls. When your fore-neck muscles are tight, your head angles forward. When your shoulders and chest are tight, your shoulders round inward. When your lower back, rear thigh, and hip muscles are tight, the curve of your back becomes exaggerated. All these contribute to tightness and pain. For people with arthritis, stretching can help reduce the pain caused by arthritis with increased blood circulation to the muscles.
During stress, the muscles become tight and stiff, and the lengthening of the muscles leads to release of tension. Stretching exercises provide a natural way to a relaxed body, and helps with stress relief and also helps prevent sore muscles due to tightness. They also prepare the body for the stress of the exercises and work that you do every day. The benefits of flexibility exercises therefore are many provided they are done properly.
Before you stretch your muscles, warm them up by walking or doing a low intensity exercise for 5–10 minutes. Stretching completely cold muscles can injure them.
Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. And remember to keep it gentle; stretch slowly and deliberately. Sudden and aggressive stretching motions may actually cause an injury or worsen a current injury. Do not bounce. Stretching should feel good, so do not stretch to the point of pain; when you feel a slight discomfort, stop. Keep your arms and legs slightly bent as you stretch; locking up your knee and elbow joints puts too much stress on them. Sudden or aggressive stretching motions may actually cause an injury or worsen an injury. Breathe normally while stretching; if you find you are breathing too hard, slow down the stretching, as this indicates tension. Practice good posture and form when you stretch; stand up straight and extend your spinal column as much as possible while stretching. A correct posture while stretching will help you work on a correct posture for when you exercise. You must keep your shoulders straight and have your spine in proper alignment. You can incorporate balance exercises while stretching such as by standing on one foot as you stretch the other leg.
The greatest thing about stretching is that just about anyone can do it regardless of age or ability. Stretching is a natural activity. It does not require a huge time commitment or even specialized knowledge. Stretching exercises can be done while you are sitting at your computer, after waking up from a good night’s sleep or a nap, and before or after a cardiovascular or weightlifting routine.
Some good stretching exercises are:
- Before getting out of bed in the morning, stretch your legs and toes. After getting out of bed, stretch as high as you can.
- Shrug your shoulders high and drop. Rotate your shoulders in clockwise and counterclockwise circles, as well.
- Lift your arms as high over your head as possible and drop straight down at your sides.
- Clasp your hands behind your back. Slowly bring your arms up. You can get more of a stretch by leaning your upper body slightly forward as you lift your arms (see picture at beginning of article).
- A variation of the above is to grasp a towel between your hands behind your back. Have one arm high (over your shoulder) and the other arm lower.
- Lift your right arm over your head and place your right hand between your shoulder blades. With your other hand gently push downward on your elbow. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch arms.
- Put your right hand on your left elbow and gently pull your left arm across your body. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch arms.
- This one can be done sitting or standing: Twist your upper body to the left a couple times and then to the right.
- While you sit, slowly lift your leg (one at a time) until your leg is straight out. Hold for 15-20 seconds.
- To stretch your ankles, make circles with your feet or try tracing the alphabet with your toes. Also, try standing on tiptoes.
- Do standing pushups by leaning against the wall and pushing yourself away while keeping your feet still.
Stand on one foot (hold a wall or tree for support) while grabbing the other foot behind you (stretches the front thigh muscle).
Whether you create your own fitness training program or get plenty of strengthening exercise at work, make aerobic fitness, muscular fitness, stretching, core exercise, and balance training part of your overall lifestyle and exercise plan. It is not necessary to fit each of the five elements into every day; but, factoring them into your regular routine can help you promote fitness for life.
“The time spent in physical exercise is not lost. . . . A proportionate exercise of all the organs and faculties of the body is essential to the best work of each. When the brain is constantly taxed while the other organs of the living machinery are inactive, there is a loss of strength, physical and mental.” –The Adventist Home, p. 494
NEXT MONTH: PHYSICAL EXERCISE—GENERAL THOUGHTS AND USEFUL EXERCISE