A back problem is not just about relieving pain. It’s also about preventing it from getting worse. For that we need the very thing that’s likely to have prevented it in the first place – physical fitness. Most back problems can be traced back to a lack of physical fitness, a lack of a regular workout routine that includes 3 essential exercises.
According to the latest fitness gurus, we all need to engage in physical activity at least 1 hour a day. And not just any activity. According to fitness and health experts we need 3 distinct kinds of exercise – cardiovascular conditioning, strength building exercises and stretching. Each of these gives us important benefits that we can’t get from the other. Furthermore, each of these three should NOT be done every day!
That may sound complicated so lets look at each one briefly. It’s important to know the right way to workout if you want all the benefits without wasting time and effort. And before we get any further along in this discussion, remember to talk to your health care professional before starting any physical activity, especially if you’re a beginner to exercise or have any medical issues.
Cardiovascular conditioning is popularly known as aerobics or cardio. It is any activity which elevated your heart rate to a particular level for at least 10 minutes at a time. 20-30 minutes a day is better. The CDC recommends at least 2.5 hours spread out over a week of moderate aerobics such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of moderate to intense aerobics such as jogging and running. Recent research shows that even more benefits may be gained by doing one longer period of aerobics per week or increasing the intensity of your aerobic activity once a week. This last technique known as high intensity interval training or HIIT has become very popular because a couple proven benefits are not achieved by any other activity such as more calories burned in less time, and the stimulation of an important chemical in our bodies linked to longevity known as human growth hormone. Other important benefits of cardio are:
- To manage your weight
- To strengthen your heart
- To boost your energy
- To strengthen your lungs
- To reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes
- To reduce stress, improve sleep, boost brain function and elevate your mood
The important point to remember about cardio is that if you want its benefits you must elevate your heart rate to a very specific level. This is known as your ‘Target Heart Rate’ and it’s different for each person. There are formulas and devices that calculate this for you. For instance, for men, the formula is 216-93% of your age multiplied by 50-69% for moderate exercise and 70-90% for intense exercise. For women it’s 200-67% of your age multiplied by the same moderate and intense percentages. So as a 61 year old male my target heart rate is 80 – 110 beats per minute for moderate exercise and 111 – 143 beats per minute for intense exercise. Since I’m in excellent health and I workout regularly I shoot for the 111-143 level.
If you use a cardio machine at your local gym such as a stepper, elliptical, bike, etc. – target heart rate is automatically calculated for you. There’s an easy way to find your Target Heart Rate known as the ‘Talk Test.” Quite simply, if your can talk in a complete sentence you’re cardio is not intense enough. If you can just say one word it’s perfect! If you can’t talk at all you may be working too hard.
It is important to begin cardio activities slowly and gradually increase the intensity. Now let’s look at the 2nd of the 3 essential exercises.
Strength Building Exercise
This may be the most important exercise of the 3, especially as the body ages. The truth is that starting at about age 30 men and women begin to lose muscle naturally all over the body creating a greater risk of falls which among the elderly are now the leading cause of death. Cardio and stretching exercise does not restore muscle.
Muscle is crucial for balance and stability. Muscle strength increases athletic performance and makes everyday activities easier such as carrying groceries and climbing stairs. Other benefits are:
- To restore lost muscle mass
- To manage weight – muscle burns more calories than fat even while you sleep!
- To protects your bone health
- To prevent a variety of diseases
- To boost your energy and improve your mood
An important point about any strength building exercise is that it’s not healthy to do it every day. Muscle needs to actually break down to get stronger. The process of muscle repair needs about a day. This doesn’t mean skip exercise for a day! Just skip strength building exercises for a day. You can do aerobics and stretching without interrupting the muscle recovery process.
Flexibility is achieved with stretching exercises. This too is not something you can achieve with cardio or strength training. It is the stretching of muscle tissue so that your body moves easier and more comfortably. It also prevents injury. There are different kinds of stretching basically boiled down to 3 types:
- Dynamic stretch – stretching while you move
- Static stretch – stretching without movement
- Balistic stretch – stretching by harsh bouncing which is universally discouraged due to the increased risk of injury
Interestingly, some exercise methods combine some and even all of these exercises. For instance, the popular women-only workout known as Curves combines aerobics and strength training very effectively adding a stretching period after each session. Swimming combines aerobics and stretching. Pilates is particularly unique – the mat Pilates program is a full-body workout with core exercises that combine cardio, strength training and stretching in one quick 30-minute workout without any equipment or a gym – a great home workout. Here’s why Pilates is special:
Make sure your exercise routine includes the essential exercises – stretching, strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. And be sure to check out one of the few exercise methods that combines all three into and unsurpassed home workout with incredible benefits: Pilates.