Exercise is the buzz when it comes to keeping fit and staying healthy. However, is it for everyone? From websites dedicated to senior citizens such as Ageless Online or Health Hub, it is clear that exercise is indeed for everyone and anyone. And there are significant benefits. However, if you have not been exercising for a long time and want to start a fitness regime, there are a few things to watch. We learn more from Dr Lim Kay Kiat, orthopaedic surgeon from Synergy Orthopaedic Group at Mount Alvernia Hospital.
Is it for everyone?
In fact, it is not only valued, but appropriate for everyone as well. According to Dr Lim, “general fitness training with the appropriate exercises and at an appropriate intensity is definitely suitable and beneficial for everyone.”
While practical concerns like a busy schedule or poor health can make exercise more challenging, for most people, the biggest barriers are getting out of the sedentary rut, despite our best intentions.
With our busy work schedules, it is not always easy to incorporate a meaningful exercise regimen on a regular basis. “Consider running or walking as part of your daily commute to and from work by stopping a few train stations or bus stops from your intended destination. If you have the luxury of time at lunch, consider a quick visit to the gym near your office for a quick workout,” Dr Lim passing on a few tips.
Then there is a caveat, and that is: what about those with medical issues? On this, Dr Lim says, “Individuals with known medical conditions should consult their doctor before embarking on particular exercise regimens. For example, someone with a heart condition should seek their cardiologist’s opinion regarding the intensity of exercise suitable for them and individuals with joint or muscle/tendon problems should consult a physiotherapist, sports physician or orthopaedic surgeon about exercises to avoid.”
The trend of staying fit has also become surprisingly robust, with age. In a 2016 article published by Channel News Asia1, the number of seniors participating in fitness classes at community centres has increased from 150 in 2011 to about 15,000 as of November 2015.
The timeless adage of ‘staying fit as a fiddle’ applies not only to young fitness enthusiasts, but it has also taken root in Singapore’s silver-haired generation in recent times.
Planning before exercising
Understanding the goal of their exercise is part and parcel of important planning that helps individuals to decide the rigour of their regime. Without which, one’s training could become inappropriate.
Dr Lim agrees, citing his take on exercise intensity. “Exercising at different intensities trains different metabolic systems. To determine the intensity we should be training at (barring medical conditions which preclude high intensity training), we need to know what kind of outcome we are aiming for,” he remarked.
However, the catering of exercise intensity to outcomes is but just one consideration. Another aspect of planning involves biological factors such as age as well. Depending on one’s age, intensity of exercise will have to be adjusted accordingly.
Explaining further, Dr Lim said, “Some sports may not be advisable for the extremes of ages or in the face of medical conditions. Before embarking on a new activity, it would be wise to seek the advice of either your doctor or a qualified coach or trainer who would have experience in that particular sport you are thinking of starting.”
Pushing beyond limits
With a goal in mind, it’s easy to get carried away and push extremely hard in pursuit of one’s desired outcomes. After all, ‘more exercise is better’, right?
Dr Lim disagrees, “a balanced, gradually progressing exercise programme allows the individual to gain the most. It is good to mix up the type of training both in terms of exercises and intensity to work different metabolic systems and muscle/joints.”
What about exercising every day?
“Rest and recovery is an important element of any exercise programme.”
“Professional athletes have the luxury of relaxing between exercise sessions in order to recover. For most of us with work and family commitments, we are not able to lead that kind of lifestyle. It is thus important to have adequate time for our body to recover, especially after a particularly long or hard workout,” he explained.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that between each training session, there is at least 48 hours of rest for muscles to recover.
On the flip side, what happens when individuals have teetered past their bodily limits?
Injuries, of course. “Injuries to the muscles, tendons and joints are the most common injuries I encounter in my practice. These often happen in individuals who are not accustomed to the intensity and duration of the exercise they subject themselves to,” he explained. Gradual progression, then, is the key for both fitness gains and injury prevention.
High intensity versus aerobic training
“Exercising at different intensities trains different metabolic systems. To determine the intensity we should be training at, we need to know what kind of outcome we are aiming for,” Dr Lim advised.
Aerobic training prepares us for aerobic activity which is sustained, low-intensity activity. The intensity needed for aerobic exercise is usually much lower than many people think. “Take running as an example. If you cannot carry out a comfortable conversation while running, you are running at an intensity beyond your aerobic capacity,” he added.
“High intensity exercise is obviously what aerobic exercise is not. When someone exercises at high intensity, the activity, like a conversation cannot be sustained. The body goes into oxygen debt and you feel the muscles burn due to the accumulation of lactic acid.”
For general fitness, an exercise programme should include both high intensity and aerobic training, Dr Lim advised.
Getting fit, getting lean
Losing weight has long been attributed to the notion of becoming fit. However, must the two concepts come together?
On this, Dr Lim says, “For someone who starts out being overweight, weight loss is a beneficial side effect of a fitness programme. Not all individuals need to lose weight, however, but everyone can reap the health benefits of being fit.”
In relation to planning, it all depends on the individual’s goal for fitness. For someone who is overweight, his goal may more likely be that of weight loss, which he can gain through achieving better fitness. However, for an individual who is already of acceptable weight, his aim should likely be inclined to gaining pure fitness alone.
Is strength training a must for everyone?
Strength training is not an absolute must for all individuals. However, we all lose muscle mass predictably beyond the age of 40. For this group, it is beneficial to include some strength training in the weekly exercise programme.
Article contributed by Dr Lim Kay Kiat, an accredited doctor of Mount Alvernia Hospital.