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[PATIENT ADVISER]

[EXERCISE IS MEDICINE]

Exercise Your Independence

Joseph A. Buckwalter, MD

Series Editor: Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD

THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - VOL 25 - NO. 9 - SEPTEMBER 97


Stiff joints, weak muscles, lack of energy—many of these "aging pains" are actually due to inactivity. It's a vicious cycle: The more you slow down, the harder it is to get moving again.

Aerobic exercise like walking or swimming is an important part of staying fit, and your doctor can recommend a program for you. But for many older patients, stretching and strengthening exercises offer the greatest gains. As you become stronger and more flexible, you'll find that you can get back to activities you thought you had left behind. And that can mean the difference between life in a chair and a life of active pursuits.

For Safe, Enjoyable Exercise

A few precautions and tips are useful for any exercise program:

  • Warm up before strength and flexibility exercises with about 5 minutes of aerobic activity, such as walking or other light movement.
  • Expect some minor muscle aches after exercise, particularly when you're just starting. But if discomfort is severe enough to require a painkiller, or if it lasts more than a couple days, consult your doctor.
  • Exercise is good to share: Find or organize a group of like-minded people and work out together.
  • Get into the fitness habit. Do your strength workout while watching the 6 o'clock news or while listening to your favorite radio program.
  • Be patient. It may take 6 weeks before you start to see and feel the benefits of exercise.

Stretching Strategies

Exercises that gently stretch muscles and work your joints will prevent stiffness and keep you limber.

Exercises shown in figures 1 and 2 stretch the front and back of your thighs. To stretch your neck muscles, turn your head left as if looking at your shoulder, then turn it right. Repeat 10 times. To stretch your shoulder muscles, shrug your shoulders, trying to touch them to your ears. Then let them droop. Roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion, then backward. Repeat each shoulder motion 10 times.

[FIGURES 1 AND 2]

Strength Training Basics

Older muscles react just like younger ones—when asked to do more, they become stronger. People in their 60s, 70s—even nursing home residents in their 90s—have shown remarkable gains from strength training.

Exercise machines like Nautilus or Cybex are excellent devices for building muscles, and they may be your best bet if you're a member of a health club. But you can get a great workout at home with simple, inexpensive equipment such as wrist and ankle weights.

With your doctor's help, adopt a program that strengthens all the major muscles of your body. A sample program shown in figures 3 to 7 strengthens the biceps, upper arms, shoulders, abdomen, trunk, and knees. Do it three or four times a week, skipping a day between workouts. Or do some strength training daily: upper-body exercises one day, trunk and lower body the next.

Start with light weights—maybe just a pound or two—that you can lift 8 to 12 times.

[FIGURES 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physician.

Dr Buckwalter is a professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa. He is chair of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeon's Council on Research and Scientific Affairs and team physician for the University of Iowa football program. Dr DiNubile is an orthopedic surgeon in private practice in Havertown, Pennsylvania, and is the director of Sports Medicine and Wellness at the Crozer-Keystone Healthplex in Springfield, Pennsylvania.


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