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ALS Registry

Exercise and Fitness

Do you remember when you were a child and you’d look out the window, the sun shining the trees waving in the breeze, and you grab your kite, run outside and not come in until your parents made you?  Do you remember the feeling of exhilaration of running though the grass with the wind in your face, your kite high above like a bird in flight?  Close your eyes and feel it.  That larger than life feeling can be reached again.  How you ask?  Through exercise!

Research has shown that even low levels of activity are better than no activity at all in the keeping fit and healthy. Because of the many benefits of exercise, caregivers are encouraged to find ways throughout the day of becoming more physically active.

If you’re interested in improving your overall conditioning, health experts recommend that you should get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on all or most days of the week. Examples of moderate activity include brisk walking, cycling, swimming or doing home repairs or yard work. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates are other forms of exercise you may want to try.  If you can’t get in 30 minutes all at once, aim for shorter bouts of activity (at least 10 minutes) that add up to a half hour per day.

Instead of thinking in terms of a specific exercise program, work toward permanently changing your lifestyle to incorporate more activity. Don’t forget that muscles used in any activity, any time of day, contribute to fitness. Try working in a little more movement with these extras:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park at the far end of a parking lot and walk to the office or store.
  • Get off public transportation a few blocks before your stop.
  • Get up from your desk during the day to stretch and walk around.
  • Take a brisk walk when you get the urge to snack.
  • Increase your pace when working in the house or yard.
  • Mow your own lawn and rake your own leaves.
  • Carry your own groceries.

With so many fitness possibilities, it’s easy to get started!  Pick an activity that you enjoy and practice it tonight.  It’s good for your body, mind and soul!

Remember, never begin an exercise program without your physician's approval.

Regardless of your age, gender or role in life, you can benefit from regular physical activity. If you’re committed, exercise in combination with a sensible diet can help provide an overall sense of well-being and can even help prevent chronic illness and disability.  Some of the benefits of increased activity are:

Improved health

  • increased efficiency of heart and lungs
  • reduced cholesterol levels
  • increased muscle strength
  • reduced blood pressure
  • reduced risk of major illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease
  • weight loss

Improved sense of well-being 

  • more energy
  • less stress 
  • improved quality of sleep 
  • improved ability to cope with stress 
  • increased mental acuity

Improved appearance

  • weight loss
  • toned muscles
  • improved posture

Enhanced social life

  • improved self-image
  • increased opportunities to make new friends
  • increased opportunities to share an activity with friends or family members

Increased stamina

  • increased productivity
  • increased physical capabilities
  • less frequent injuries
  • improved immunity to minor illnesses

Defining fitness

Physical fitness is to the human body what fine tuning is to an engine.  It enables us to perform up to our potential. Fitness can be described as a condition that helps us look, feel and do our best.  More specifically, it is:

“The ability to perform daily tasks vigorously and alertly, with energy left over for enjoying leisure- time activities and meeting emergency demands.  It is the ability to endure, to bear up, to withstand stress, to carry on in circumstances where an unfit person could not continue, and is a major basis for good health and well-being.”

Physical fitness involves the performance of the heart and lungs, and the muscles of the body.  And, since what we do with our bodies also affects what we can do with our minds, fitness influences to some degree qualities such as mental alertness and emotional stability.

As you undertake your fitness program, it’s important to remember that fitness is an individual quality that varies from person to person.  It is influenced by age, sex, heredity, personal habits, exercise and eating practices. 

Knowing the basics

Physical fitness is most easily understood by examining its components, or “parts.”  There is widespread agreement that these four components are basic:

  • Cardio respiratory endurance - the ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues and to remove wastes, over sustained periods of time.  Long runs and swims are among the methods employed in measuring this component.
  • Muscular strength - the ability of a muscle to exert force for a brief period of time.  Upper-body strength, for example, can be measured by various weight-lifting exercises.
  • Muscular endurance - the ability of a muscle, or a group of muscles, to sustain repeated contractions or to continue applying force against a fixed object.  Pushups are often used to test endurance of arm and shoulder muscles.
  • Flexibility - the ability to move joints and use muscles through their full range of motion.  The sit-and- reach test is a good measure of flexibility of the lower back and backs of the upper legs.

When developing an exercise program for yourself, it should include something from each of the four basic fitness components described above.  Each workout should begin with a warm-up and end with a cool-down.  As a general rule, space your workouts throughout the week and avoid consecutive days of hard exercise.

All-season exercise

The key to a lifetime of fitness is consistency. Here are some tips to help you make exercise a habit.

  • Choose an activity you enjoy.
  • Tailor your program to your own fitness level.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Choose an exercise that fits your lifestyle.
  • Give your body a chance to adjust to your new routine.
  • Don't get discouraged if you don't see immediate results.
  • Don't give up if you miss a day; just get back on track the next day.
  • Find a partner for a little motivation and socialization.
  • Build some rest days into your exercise schedule.
  • Listen to your body. If you have difficulty breathing or experience faintness or prolonged weakness during or after exercise, consult your physician.

It’s a good idea to choose more than one type of exercise to give your body a thorough workout and to prevent boredom. Also, you might want to choose one indoor exercise and one outdoor activity to allow for changes in your schedule or for inclement weather. Very few people live in a climate that’s temperate year–round. But weather extremes don’t have to interfere with your exercise routine if you make some minor adjustments.

When it's hot or humid:

  • Exercise during cooler and/or less humid times of day. Try early morning or evening.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Avoid alcohol, which encourages dehydration.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Stop at the first sign of muscle cramping or dizziness.

When it's cold:

  • Dress in layers.
  • Wear gloves or mittens to protect your hands.
  • Wear a hat or cap. Up to 40% of body heat is lost through your neck and head.
  • Adjust the size of your shoes if you need to wear thicker socks.
  • Warm up slowly.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. You can get dehydrated in the winter, too.
  • Stop if you experience shivering, drowsiness or disorientation. You may need help for hypothermia.

Year-round safety

  • Let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back.
  • Carry identification with you when exercising outside the home.
  • Exercise indoors or try mall-walking when it's stormy. Don't risk a run-in with lightning or ice.
  • Build in warm-up and cool-down periods to decrease risk of injury.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise for one to two hours after eating.
  • Wear sturdy, well-fitting shoes appropriate for the activity.
  • Wear brightly colored clothing when exercising outdoors.
  • Add lights and reflector tape to your body or bike if you exercise after dark.
  • Wear helmets and safety pads appropriate for the activity.
  • Move against traffic if you must run or walk on the road.
  • Don't let headphones distract you from observing traffic and safety concerns.
  • Respect pollution alerts and exercise indoors when warnings are posted, especially if you have heart or lung disease. Avoid areas where traffic is heavy.
  • Take special care of your feet if you are diabetic or have vascular disease.

No more excuses

Among the factors you should consider in developing your workout schedule are personal preference, job and family responsibilities, availability of exercise facilities and weather.  It’s important to schedule your workouts for a time when there is little chance that you will have to cancel or interrupt them because of other demands on your time.

You can probably come up with plenty of excuses for why you’re not more active. You’re too young, you’re too old, you’re too busy, you’re too tired or you’re in pretty good shape—for your age. There are activities for the young and old and for those with little time. So the next time you think about getting fit, don’t ask “Who has time?” Instead, ask yourself “Who doesn’t want to feel better?”

Resources

Pamphlets from the Federal Government:
The quarterly Federal Consumer Information Center Catalog lists more than 200 helpful federal publications. For your free copy write Consumer Information Catalog, Pueblo, CO 81009, call 1-888-8-PUEBLO or find the catalog on the Net- www.pueblo.gsa.gov

Internet information:

MetLife Online (www.lifeadvice.com)

Copyright 1996 Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
All Rights Reserved
Schultz PEANUTS Copyright United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
960113UK (exp1297) MLIC-LD

President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
http://fitness.gov/fitness.html

The ALS Association - 1275 K Street NW - Suite 250 - Washington, DC 20005
All content and works posted on this website are owned and copyrighted by The ALS Association. ©2010

Lou Gehrig® used with permission of the Rip Van Winkle Foundation / www.LouGehrig.com