Healthy Lifestyles: Focusing On Positive Changes

by Joyce Shahboz, PT, CSCS

With the New Year in full swing, now is a good time to evaluate and set your personal wellness goals for the year. No matter your age or health status, you have the capacity to make positive changes to your body. Although some people may require more adaptive programs and may have to progress at a slower rate, studies have shown that the capacity to build and maintain strength continues throughout life. With improved strength and endurance, comes improved function and general health.

In the past decade, the amount of sedentary adults and children has dramatically increased. Because of the chronic diseases associated with physical inactivity, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is second only to smoking as the world’s leading cause of preventable deaths. Physical inactivity and poor diet increases your risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis and overall decreased function. Luckily, steps can be taken to improve your general health. As with any exercise program, you should consult your physician if there are any health concerns and if necessary, a physical therapist can help you design a program that would be appropriate.

Unfortunately, the current work and lifestyles of people in developed countries can be more or less characterized by constant periods of sitting. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even found it necessary to design a questionnaire to help collect information on physical activity participation in order to track the growing problems with sedentary behaviors. The questionnaire looks at a individual’s weekly participation in the following: • Amount of activity at work • Physical transportation to and from places • Participation in recreational activities

When talking about overall activity, you have to consider how many days a week, how many hours or minutes per day and the intensity of involvement.

What counts as physical activity?

Moderate to vigorous activity is any type of activity that increases your heart rate and breathing rate for at least 10 minutes at a time. For children and young adults under 18, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a daily total of least 60 minutes each day. For people over 18 years of age, they recommend a weekly total of 150 minutes (i.e. 30 minutes, 5 days a week) of moderate to vigorous activity and also muscle strengthening activities that work on the major muscle groups on two or more days a week. Routines can easily be broken down into 15-20 minute increments based on tolerance if needed. Also, the more intense a program is, the shorter the duration has to be. It is important to remember the body needs proper rest and recovery between exercise bouts.

An effective strengthening program requires you to work the muscles to fatigue but should not produce pain in the joints. Muscle fatigue can be achieved by increasing resistance, such as weights or bands, or increasing repetitions. With decreased use and stimuli, aging muscles will deteriorate and will eventually be replaced with adipose (fat) infiltrate. This happens even in people of normal weight. With loss of muscle, the joints will have less protection and will be less able to withstand negative stresses.

Exercise provides your bones, muscles and joints with positive stresses that stimulates bone accumulation and growth, increases nutrients to the musculoskeletal tissue and increases the uptake of metabolic waste. Participation in medium to high-impact activities through the teen years will steadily build bone until your early 20’s. Unfortunately, inactive adolescents run the risk of never building the strong bone structure that will support them through adulthood.

Besides forming and maintaining a healthy skeletal system, regular exercise is an effective way to control your weight. In addition to burning extra calories while exercising, having more muscle will increase your overall ability to burn calories while at rest. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing several chronic diseases including diabetes, sleep apnea, and cardiac consequences and also aggravates arthritic changes. The increased weight can cause negative stresses on your lower extremity joints and cartilage as well as the discs in your spine. It is estimated that for every pound, there is a 4-fold increase in mechanical force on the back, hips, knees, and foot and ankle joints. This can lead to increased joint pain and decreased function. The good news is, this also means a 10-pound weight loss can reduce the force on your joints by 40 pounds.

While it may be difficult to increase your activity levels because of a busy schedule, your age or health factors, being sedentary can be harmful to you. Another thing to consider is that children are also twice as likely to be physically active if they have parental support and if their parents are active. One way to make positive changes for the whole family is group walks or bike rides. Even trips to the park can involve everyone.

Because we’re a population of sitters, many are suffering the consequences from decreasing muscle strength, postural changes, and diminishing bone density, endurance and poor core activation. While not everyone might be interested in participating in an organized sport or exercise program, everyone should be interested in maintaining their overall function. You should set goals, whether for personal or family health reasons.

Things to remember:

• Children should participate in a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

• Adults should participate in a weekly total of at least 150 minutes (i.e. 30 minutes, 5 days a week) and also muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week.

• If your activity decreases for any reason, so should your caloric intake. Weight control is about balancing your food choices and energy expenditures.

Keep in mind, even a little physical activity is better than none at all and your health benefits will increase with the more physical activity you do. You have the ability to make positive changes and can make the choice to take action to live healthier.