Health Fusion: To get the most out of exercise, choose activities you like and pay attention to recovery
Weekend warriors, listen up. Before you launch into a new, exercise program this summer, take time to assess where you are, where you want to go and how you're going to get there. Otherwise you could end up sitting out the season with injuries. In this "Health Fusion" column, Viv Williams talks to a Mayo Clinic exercise physiologist about programs that are safe and will keep you interested long-term.
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Warm weather inspires people to get outside and move a little more. On most spring or summer days you'll see cyclists cruising on the bike paths, joggers bopping to their energy-boosting playlists and people walking through parks with their dogs.
All of this exercise is great for your physical and mental health. But if you're not already a habitual exerciser, you might want to ease into your program slowly.
"The challenge is not getting injured," said Dr. Michael Joyner, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and exercise physiologist. "Because you really need to be consistent with an exercise program to reap the benefits of exercise training. And you can't be consistent if you're hurt."
Joyner says that as you age your body takes longer to recover after exercise. And even though exercise helps to reduce your risk of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and depression, too much too soon can really set you back.
"Take quarterback Tom Brady, for example," Joyner said. "One of the reasons he's been able to play as long as he has is that he's avoided injury and focuses on recovery.
One of the keys to success in any exercise program is adherence. Joyner says you've got to stick with it and try to fit in time to do it at least every other day. Long-term success often comes down to making sure you choose activities you enjoy. Otherwise, your plan may become drudgery and you'll quit.
"Pick what you like to do," says Joyner. "A combination of strength training and cardiovascular training is great. But not all people enjoy doing both types of exercise."
This is where you can get creative. If you don't like to lift weights, but still want to build strength, rowing might be the activity for you. Or, if you think lifting weights is great, but despise cardio workouts, you can find strength training routines that also get your heart pumping.
"Getting the right equipment and the right program that works for you will help you to be successful," Joyner said. "Trainers or even your healthcare provider can help assess where you are and where you want to go. And they can then help create a plan to get you there safely."
Joyner notes that as you age, you lose muscle mass. So activities to prevent that from happening are important.
"Close to 70% of 80-year-olds can't get off the floor if they fall," Joyner said. "Many can't open jars. Older people are often more limited by lack of strength than a lack of cardiovascular fitness. As we get older, it's really important to up that strength training. You don't want to lose that muscle mass. It helps you keep doing activities you enjoy and it helps with balance and prevents falls."
Joyner, who exercises for 45 minutes (at least) every day, says that your physical capabilities in middle age play a huge roll in what the trajectory of your life will be like in terms of disability-free years. The good news is that it's never too late to start.
"If you start getting some exercise and stick with it for a couple of years, you'll be able to point that trajectory in a positive position," Joyner said.
So if you're one of the many people who jumps into a fitness program during the summer, more power to you. Just be sure you check with an expert first, take it slow to avoid injury and do something you enjoy so you'll keep it up long term.
"Exercise really is the fountain of youth," Joyner said. "It can't guarantee you'll live longer, but exercise will help you have more life in the years you do have yet to live."
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