Thanks to all those of you who took part in our poll about the top exercise for overall fitness. 50% of you believe that walking is best, followed closely by just under 40% who opted for swimming with running coming last in your opinion with just 10% of the vote.

In fact, no form of exercise has been proved to be superior to any other.  They all have benefits and in this newsletter we take a look at the three types in more detail and explore their individual benefits. Although we’re planning to focus solely on walking in our next edition so do look out for that.  There’s also information on how much exercise we should all be doing. Plus of course there’s our brand new poll –  so please do scroll down and cast your vote.

Alison and the Surrey Physiotherapy team

Walk, Run, Swim …

It is well documented that exercise combined with a healthy diet can contribute to reduction of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50%, as well as lower your risk of early death by up to 30% – yet many of us still spend most of our time inactive and sedentary.

There’s a great deal of sitting involved in modern life – think computers, television, driving and computer games to name a few. In fact, research shows that we spend over 7 hours a day sitting, with this increasing to 10 hours for those over 65. No wonder the Department of Health refers to inactivity as a ‘Silent Killer’. So what can we do to make a change?

Fit and fabulous

There are many forms of exercise available from joining a gym, or doing a class to just lacing up your trainers and going for a walk around the block or a 5 mile run. Find the one that suits you and your lifestyle and you’re one step closer to being fit and fabulous.  Here we take a closer look at three different types of exercise to get you started.

Swimming:

Swimming is good for those who are unable to put full weight through their legs e.g. after a sprain or fracture. It is also great for those that don’t like to put pressure on the  joints or have arthritis in the legs. And if you live near the coast or a public lake it can also be free! Some of the benefits include:

  • The buoyancy of the water supports the body and takes the strain off painful joints so you can
    move more fluidly;
  • It can be counted as cardiovascular exercise if you swim hard enough to get out of breath;
  • Swimming is good for those with arthritis and joint problems, especially in the legs;
  • Water can provide resistance to help improve strength;
  • It has also been shown to improve mental state and make you feel happier.

Or you could give water aerobics a go?  It’s a good form of exercise for those with neck and shoulder problems, for whom swimming may not be suitable. It is also a great alternative for those with osteoporosis or thinning bones.

Running:

Running is good for all ages but if you have a pre-existing problem (i.e. arthritis) or are recovering from injury you will need advice on whether and when you could try.

Running can be for absolutely anyone and everyone.  It’s an efficient way of burning calories, improving cardiovascular fitness and aiding your body’s ability to deliver oxygen to muscles.

If you have never run before try the Couch to 5K programme on the NHS website. Alternatively, we can do an assessment and get you ready to run safely. How about a goal of completing a 5K Park Run?

Running also helps to:

  • Strengthen muscles so they become more efficient at using oxygen;
  • Keep your heart healthy – reducing the risk of a heart attack;
  • Keep blood pressure under control;
  • Improve bone strength;
  • Engage your abdominals and strengthen your core;
  • Promote the release of endorphins which make you feel happy and more awake.

But be careful not to overdo it as the impact on your joints could lead to stress fractures and cartilage loss. If you are going to run regularly make sure you know how much is appropriate for your body.

Walking:

Walking is one of the best forms of exercise as it’s free and you can do it anywhere! All you need is a well-fitting and supportive pair of shoes and you’re away! Start by walking for about 10-15 minutes at a time and gradually increase to walking farther and faster until you’re walking for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. Other benefits include:

  • Improved cholesterol levels and strengthened bones
  • Keeping blood pressure in check and lowering the risk of a number of diseases including diabetes and some cancers;
  • Helping to lift your mood:
  • A number of studies have shown that walking and other physical exercise can even improve memory and resist age-related memory loss.

So what are you waiting for? With so many options available there is definitely  an exercise out there suited to you. Everything should always be done in moderation. So all that’s left now is to choose the form of exercise that appeals to you most and get started. Or even better – vary it and give several things a go!


So how much exercise should I be doing? Is it different for young people? What types of physical activity are best for me? Here we take a look at exercise by age range.

YOUNG PEOPLE (5-18 years)

It is recommended that to maintain a basic level of health, children and young people aged 5 to 18 need to do:

At least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – this should range from  moderate activity, such as walking, cycling and playground activities, to vigorous activity, such as running, football, hockey.

On three days a week, these activities should involve exercises that strengthen muscles and bones such as ballet, running and skipping.

Many vigorous activities can help build strong muscles and bones, including anything involving running and jumping, such as gymnastics, martial arts, netball, skating and football.

Children and young people should reduce the time they spend sitting watching TV and playing computer games. And instead get active!

Adults

Adults should try to be active daily and aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week through a variety of means.

  • Try to make activity part of your day. Walk or cycle rather than take the car. Go for a brisk walk at lunchtime. Use the stairs at work rather than the lift.  And taking part in activities such as sports and exercise will make you even healthier.
  • Beneficial activity is strenuous enough to raise your heart rate, make you breathe faster and feel warmer. This level of effort is called moderate intensity.   You’ll be able to talk but not sing the words of a song.
  • If your activity requires you to work even harder, it is called vigorous intensity activity. There is substantial evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity. During vigorous activity you will be breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate will go up quite a bit. If you’re working at this level, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

Adults over 65

Older adults who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, should try to combine moderate and vigorous aerobic activity with strength exercises on a weekly basis:

  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

and

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling, walking, dancing, doubles tennis, water aerobics, pushing a lawn mower every week

or

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running, fast swimming, football or a game of singles tennis every week.

or

  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs, plus 30 minutes of fast walking.

As a guide one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity.

Try to break up long periods of sitting with light activity, as sedentary behaviour is now considered an independent risk factor for ill health, no matter how much exercise you do.

Older adults at risk of falls and this can be helped by do exercises to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week. Examples include yoga, tai chi and dancing.

WHAT ARE MUSCLE CRAMPS AND HOW CAN WE PREVENT THEM

By Ben Austen, Chartered Physiotherapist

Muscle cramps are sudden and involuntary contractions that occur most commonly in the leg muscles.  They can be painful and uncomfortable.  And they can affect top level and recreational athletes alike.

Why do they occur?

Whilst the exact cause remains unknown and theories are based on observational studies rather than sound experimental evidence, possible causes of exercise-induced muscle cramp, include:

  • Poor blood circulation
  • Dehydration – insufficient fluid intake pre and post exercise
  • Overexertion of muscles whilst exercising causing muscle fatigue
  • Exercising in the heat – causing dehydration and muscle fatigue
  • Lack of conditioning (weak muscles that will then fatigue early)
  • Insufficient stretching prior to exercise (tight muscles)

As you can see its all about hydration, nutrition and fatigue!

Treatment and prevention

An attack of cramp can be relieved by moderate static stretching of the affected muscle.

For recurrent bouts of cramp it’s advisable to see a physiotherapist who can take a proper medical history to determine any predisposing conditions that may have triggered the cramps, as well as ruling out any more serious injury.

In terms of prevention, there are a few things worth considering:

Fluids/Hydration – 

Drinking a litre of water or a hypotonic sports drink at least an hour before sports or exercise will help ensure that fluids, electrolytes, and nutrients have been absorbed and are available in the body, therefore acting as a preventative measure for muscle cramps.

Neuromuscular/Conditioning – 

Try prevention exercises that target calf muscles such as ….

Plyometric exercises are designed to train the elastic strength and explosive ability of muscle to enhance performance. This combination of speed and strength is power.

Endurance training may also be an effective way of preventing muscle cramps by helping you keep going for longer.

For further guidance and advice on the treatment and prevention of muscle cramps, or how to be your own physio then I can help. Contact me today to arrange a consultation.