February is officially American Heart Month. This is an opportunity to educate our families, friends, patients, and communities on how to live heart-healthy lives and how to battle cardiovascular disease. Heart disease, including stroke, is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, claiming more than 865,00 American lives each year.
The good news is that as therapists we have in our power the ability to prescribe the most powerful medication in existence to fight cardiovascular disease: Exercise. If exercise could be reduced to a pill, it would become the most prescribed medication in history. The not-so-good news is that we don’t always self-prescribe this powerful intervention in our own lives.
Here’s what the evidence shows: 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise is required to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system (in addition to proper diet and weight management). This is a minimum requirement as 300 minutes per week result in even greater health benefits. It’s also recommended that resistance training be included 2-3 days per week. As therapists, we also know that the intensity of exercise can be manipulated higher or lower thereby changing the number of minutes per week of exercise required (higher intensity = less minutes required).
The number one barrier to meeting our exercise goals is always, “not enough time.” We all lead busy lives and sometimes life just gets in the way. My job often requires me to be on early morning conference calls and late meetings and dinner engagements with clients. I also have to travel a great deal for business. In addition, like many of you, I have children that seem to have constant transportation needs going from activity to activity. All of this has the potential to derail my good exercise intentions. I would like to share a few strategies I have developed and use in my life to overcome some of the common barriers to regular exercise.
1. Multiple exercise options: I eliminate the potential excuses of not exercising by creating multiple possible opportunities. For example, I have a treadmill and stationary bicycle in my garage that I can use if the weather is not cooperating for a run or bike ride (which is often in Portland, OR). I also have a gym membership that includes access to gyms throughout my region. I have some dumbbell weights and exercise bands at home for resistance training. I can also use my wife’s exercise videos, including Yoga, for variety.
2. “Something is better than nothing:” My personal motto is that some exercise on any given day is better than none at all.
3. Prioritize exercise in your schedule: I plan each of my weeks in advance. The first event I schedule into each of my days is exercise. This may require a 5:00 AM ride on my stationary bike in the garage or session at the gym or an evening exercise session. When I travel out of town, the first items I pack in my suitcase are workout clothes and running shoes. Most hotels these days have at least a small workout room with treadmill and weights. I also really enjoy early morning runs in cities I do not get to visit very often. It’s a great way to get to know them. If neither of these options is available, I’ve been known to run the stairs repeatedly in the hotel and do sit-ups and push-ups in my room.
4. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine: I try to commute to the Infinity office by bicycle 2-3 days each week. I do this year round. It takes a bit more planning, but it allows me to get close to 2 hours of exercise (50-60 minutes each direction) without having to actually schedule an “exercise session” into my schedule. I would have spent most of this time sitting in my car in traffic anyway. It’s a much more efficient use of my time. Similar opportunities include always using the stairs instead of escalators and elevators, taking a walk at lunch, or parking farther from the entrance of a building. My job doesn’t have the benefit of being on my feet all day treating patients, so I have converted my desk to a treadmill desk. If your job requires you to sit most of the day, be sure to at least take frequent standing/walking breaks.
5. “There is no such thing as bad weather – only bad gear:” If you live in the Pacific Northwest or a climate with extreme weather conditions, you learn that weather does not have to be a deal breaker for exercising outdoors. Rain? Use fenders on your bike and where a rain shell and rain pants. Dark? Run with a headlight and mount front and rear lights on your bike. Also, wear reflective gear. Cold? Layer! In my opinion, there is no better fabric than wool. I layer wool and remove layers as I warm up. Snow? Knobby mountain bike-type tires work well in the snow. I also have traction devices that I attach to the outside of my running shoes that allow me to run in ice and snow. Extreme heat? Go on early-early morning runs or rides before the temperature climbs.
6. Motivation: I have found it motivational to sign up for a running or cycling event. Once you pay for the event and put it on your calendar, it serves as a constant reminder that you have this particular event for which to prepare. Even better – sign up with a buddy and train together. You are less likely to skip a training session if you know you will be letting down your friend.
Finally, I came across a TED Talk that I think is worth viewing. “Inactivity is a major cause of death!” Enjoy!