When was the last time you talked to your doctor about exercise?
For some people, the answer may be “never.” In fact you should make a discussion about physical activity a priority as part of your annual well checkup. Moreover patients should feel free to ask questions about exercise at any doctor’s visit.
“A discussion about exercise often is overlooked” in doctor’s offices, says Moin Salahuddin, MD, primary care sports medicine physician at Providence Medical Institute’s Torrance Urgent Care and Primary Care Clinic. “But exercise is a great, proactive measure that can help you in so many ways. The adage I live by is: Exercise is the best medicine.”
How Much Do I Need?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults ages 18 to 64 should aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity) plus muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. Adults ages 65 and older who are generally fit and have no limiting health condition can adhere to the same guidelines.
Some people may be reluctant to discuss physical activity with a doctor because they feel it’s not as important as other issues, such as health problems they may be having. Others don’t want to admit that they don’t work out. But the annual exam is the perfect time to discuss exercise, says Brenda Shen, MD, a primary care provider at Providence Medical Institute in Redondo Beach.
“People may not understand how much exercise actually improves their health,” she says. “Exercise touches everything. It improves your bone health, prevents you from getting early-onset osteoporosis, helps your heart. It helps anyone with diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. It affects your mental health.”
Even people who are injured, have health problems or swear they don’t have time can find a way to exercise, Dr. Salahuddin says. “There is always a way to stay active regardless of injury or medical history. There are so many exercises out there that are easy on the joints.” For example, someone with an ankle sprain can exercise in a pool or perhaps do gentle stretches or yoga.
Many Americans complain that they simply don’t have time to exercise. But it’s important to do what you can, Dr. Salahuddin says. Get off the bus one stop early and walk the rest of the way. Walk the dog, taking along your kids and spouse. Plant a garden that requires you to spend some time tending to it.
“The most important thing is to find something that you like doing,” Dr. Shen says. “And if you have someone to do this with-a spouse, children, friends-that’s even better.”
As you become more comfortable with exercise, aim to reach your target heart rate during aerobic activity. That will ensure you’re getting the most benefit from exercise, she adds.
And don’t forget that physical fitness features two components: aerobic activity and strength training. About 2/3 of your workout should consist of resistance exercise, which involves weightlifting and building core muscles. You don’t have to lift weights to do strength straining however. Yoga and Pilates can also build the core muscles: those in your spine, pelvis, hips and abdominal areas.
“Aerobics alone will not provide the full results you need,” she says. “Sometimes the results of a fitness program are not as good if people are just doing aerobics. They get sprains, strains and other injuries because they are not building up their core muscles.”
Sports medicine isn’t just for athletes or people who are injured, Dr. Salahuddin says. “Preventative medicine is so key. Forming an exercise plan is important, and that’s definitely something we can do.”
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