Exercise: Easier than you think . . .

Published 10:57 pm Saturday, April 4, 2015

Exercise doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t need a treadmill, hand weights or even a pretty day to experience the benefits of exercise. I would like to suggest that you have everything you need right inside your home, specifically, your body.

The benefits of getting your heart rate up for a sustained period of time are undisputed, for this improves our cardiovascular fitness and thus decreases our chances of developing heart disease, stroke and other various conditions. However, stretching and strengthening exercises are often underappreciated and underutilized. As our population ages, functional fitness becomes more important in that it makes everything we do in life easier. Improved balance, better posture and bone strength can save a life by preventing falls and fractures. Stress relief, pain relief and increased energy can increase our quality of life dramatically. And we all know that movement can help us manage our weight.

STRETCHING: Our bodies were designed to move. As we become inactive, our muscles and other connective tissues shorten, causing us to lose height, develop slumped posture and to experience stiffness and pain in our muscles and joints. Stretching exercises are very simple and can alleviate many of these maladies. Stretching increases our ‘range of motion,’ which means how far our joints can move in every direction. Reaching is a simple movement that when done repetitively can help lengthen our muscles, restore elasticity and increase range of motion. Try reaching overhead, alternating one arm then the next. Reach high, I mean REALLY reach. Reach across the front of your body to the side and to the other side, back and forth, gently twisting your torso. Reach down low (remember touching your toes in grade-school?) Reach behind you and clasp your hands together squeezing your shoulder blades and protruding your chest. Roll your shoulders in big circles while your arms hang by your side. Give yourself a tight hug, wrapping your hands around the back of your shoulders.

Stretch your lower body by propping your foot up on a chair or stool and gently bend at the hips while keeping your back straight. You should feel a stretch down the back of your leg. Hold on to something if you need to. Rock back and forth, from your heels to your toes to loosen up your ankles. Lie on your back, bring your knees up to your chest and wrap your arms around them snugly to stretch your buttocks and lower back.

Strengthening: Our body weight is often sufficient to train a muscle by increasing its strength and endurance. We can strengthen our legs by doing shallow squats. Keeping your weight over your heals rather than your toes will prevent injury. Lying on your side and lifting your top leg will work your outer thighs while lifting your lower leg will work on your inner thigh. Lie on your stomach propped up on your elbows and lift your hips up off the floor. This is called a plank and is terrific for strengthening your back and abdomen. Turn over onto your back and bend your knees, keeping your feet on the floor. Lifting your bottom up off the floor and holding it will also strengthen your core muscles — this is called a bridge. Wall push-ups are great for exercising the muscles in your chest and arms. Standing on one leg will strengthen the muscles in the working leg and improve your balance.

Everything I’ve mentioned above can be done in your living room or bedroom. These exercises can be done daily and in general should not cause pain or injury.  (Although a good stretch can be mildly uncomfortable.) Spending 30 minutes each day doing these types of exercise can make a difference in your life, but start out slowly and be patient with yourself. It may sound funny, but try to relax while you exercise. Focus on your breath and the surge of blood-flow to your muscles that provides healing nutrients and life-sustaining oxygen to our bodies. Remember, exercise is easier than you think.

Judy Van Dorp, RN is Director of the Vidant Wellness Center–Washington and can be reached at 252-975-4236.