The “E” Word

KerriSue_thumb-1by Kerri Sue Stange, MPT, Director of Rehabilitation at the Orthopedic Institute at Southwest Health | 

The “E” word, exercise, for some the word elicits excitement and for others, it causes feelings of dread and hopelessness. Whatever your body type, exercise is important for your health. It’s just as important to know that it doesn’t have to be an obstacle. As a physical therapist, part of my job is helping my patients develop exercise routines for their body types in order to keep them strong, flexible, balanced, and most importantly, to prevent injuries. Here are some of my tips to get you looking at exercise in a new light.

Why should you do it?

A good exercise routine has both short and long term benefits, but you probably already knew that. Short term benefits include boosting alertness, improving memory and intellectual function, and even increasing creativity.

In the long run, exercise can help reduce your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), stress, osteoporosis, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s. Studies even show that a bit of exercise a day can help reduce your risk of developing colon and breast cancers. If that’s not enough, a good routine will also improve your blood glucose and lipids, strengthen your immune system, improve your endurance, strength, energy, and memory. It can increase your metabolism, sexual function, and overall quality of life, too, helping you to live longer and more independently as you age.

Overcoming obstacles

IMG_6640Still, more than 50 percent of adults admit that they don’t exercise. If you have reasons running through your head right now like, “I don’t have time” or “I don’t know what to do” or “It hurts to exercise,” you’re not alone. Everybody has obstacles, but there are ways overcome them. Start by thinking of the reasons that YOU need to exercise. Is it for your children, to look good in a particular outfit, to feel better overall, or just to live longer, healthier, and happier? Whatever your reasons, the first step is creating a healthy habit.

Creating healthy habits

If you’re serious about ensuring you fulfill your weekly exercise requirement, exercise must become a habit for you, rather than a casual activity. To start, select the time of day when you’re most likely to exercise depending on your schedule and energy level. Then, block that time just for exercise in the same way you would a dentist appointment or meeting. By treating exercise as an appointment, you’ll eliminate time as an excuse. It may also help to enlist a friend to provide support by exercising together. This adds an element of accountability until exercise becomes second nature to you.

Set goals

When setting goals, think short and long term. How will you benefit from your fitness plan day to day? In 1 year? In 5 years? Decide if your goal is to lose a certain amount of weight, to maintain your current weight, to decrease or eliminate diabetes or blood pressure medication, to wear special clothing, or to run a 5k. Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s achievable. And don’t be afraid to change your goals as time goes on. Secondly, consider a reward for meeting your goals. Treat yourself to a massage or pedicure, buy a new outfit, go out with a friend, schedule a vacation day, or do something simple and easy just for you! Everyone benefits from a good reward.

Before you start!

If you are over 40 or have health problems (heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, muscle or joint problems), see a doctor before beginning a new exercise routine. Make sure you’re informed, and be curious. Learn as much as you can about exercise by reading and talking to other people; learning about things is a great motivator, too! Learn safety precautions before you do any exercise. Meet with a trainer or health care professional to learn about a specific program for you. Other ways to prepare can include:

  • Buying appropriate shoes.
  • Purchase or wear comfortable clothing.
  • Avoiding outdoor exercise when it’s way too hot or way too cold outside. Be sure to adjust clothing to the temperature. Consider exercising outdoors in early morning or evenings on hot days.
  • Run and walk with a friend.
  • Stick to well-lit areas during nighttime activities.

walkingDevelop a routine

Choose a routine you actually enjoy for a better chance at fulfilling your weekly goals. Decide whether you want to exercise inside or out, with family or friends, or on your own, with equipment or walking. Playing sports also counts as exercise. Most communities have sports leagues for adults. Select activities that are fun …To YOU!

Exercise equipment can be useful, but avoid monotonous activities. If you ride a bike, treadmill, elliptical or recumbent equipment consider listening to music or a book on tape. Watch a TV show or movie. Alternate machines and try interval training with resistance, speed, intensity, or incline. You can create fun challenges with friends or co-workers by tracking and logging your miles.


The only totally free form of exercise that almost anyone can do is walk. It can be done anywhere and anytime! Everywhere is within walking distance… given a little time. If walking is what you chose, make it interesting. Vary your route, go to a destination, bring a friend or pet. Consider counting your steps, and tracking your miles; recording your accomplishments is a great feeling. There are several devices and even cell phone apps that allow you to track your steps and miles. Some even allow you to create virtual competitions with others!

How much should you walk?

The average child should walk between 12,000 and 15,000 steps a day. That might seem like a lot, but children are not meant to sit still. Encourage them to explore and move. Healthy adults (20-50) should get at between 7,000 and 13,000. People over 50 should aim for 6,000 to 8,500. Even people with disabilities or chronic illnesses should try to get in between 3,500 and 5,500 steps per day. If you’re not sure how to add steps to your routine, try taking the stairs, park away from entrances, take your dog/children/grandchildre
n for a walk, walk somewhere instead of driving (the store, the post office, the coffee shop), or try joining a new club or group like Hearts In Motion, joining a fitness club or the Pioneer Activity Center, or get in touch with Friends to exercise with.

Strength and Flexibility

Exercise can increase your flexibility and decreases your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion. Before you exercise you should do a warm up activity which includes stretching without pain and holding the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. Relax, breathe, repeat each stretch 3 to 5 times. Move slow and steady; don’t bounce.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends performing strengthening activities two or more days a week to work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). Start with small weights and increase the weight gradually. Breathe continuously through each repetition by exhaling through your mouth as you lift the weight or exert yourself and inhale through your nose as you lower it. Do 8 to 15 repetitions, and avoid lifting same muscle groups (that is, legs and arms) two days in a row.

Endurance and Cardio

When looking to do endurance or cardio workouts it’s important to start slow and increase your time and intensity gradually. Make sure you do a warm up and cool down to avoid injury. The Department of Health and Human Services states that adults need at least:

  • Two and a half hours (150 minutes) of moderate intensity aerobics (i.e., brisk walking) every week which adds up to be 30 minutes 5 days a week andpink shoes
  • Strengthening on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).


  • One hour and fifteen minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous intensity aerobics (i.e., jogging or running) every week and
  • Strengthening on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).


  • An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobics and
  • Strengthening on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).


One hundred fifty minutes a week may seem like a lot at first, but let’s break it down. That’s 2.5 hours a week, about the same amount of time you might spend watching a movie or two. You can spread your activity out, so you don’t have to do it all at once. Fifteen minutes five times a week of vigorous exercise or 30 minutes five times a week of moderate activity. It’s about what works best for you, as long as you’re doing physical activity at a moderate or vigorous effort for at least 10 minutes at a time. Break up into separate sessions during the day. If you have never done any exercise before, you can start with 10 minutes and add 3 to 4 minutes every few days until you reach 30 minutes a day.


Increasing your balance with exercise not only decreases your risk of injury, it helps decrease fall risk and ultimately, helps you avoid disabling injuries from falls. You can practice balance anywhere, anytime. Practice balancing on one leg by single leg standing on a cushion, single leg standing while brushing your teeth or doing dishes, single leg standing while your eyes are closed (use caution). Balance can also be improved through participating in Tai Chi or Yoga classes or with balance boards or balls.

Sample Exercise Program

If you do 30 minutes a day 5 days a week, that leaves you a whopping 23 ½ hours in your day every day to sleep, sit, and do whatever else you want to do. Here’s a good sample program for any healthy adult:

  • Cardio 30 minutes, 5 times/week
  • Walking, jogging, elliptical, biking, swimming, tennis, basketball, soccer, etc.
  • Strength training twice a week
  • Exercise classes
  • Body weight exercises (squats, pushups, lunges)
  • Balance/Flexibility
  • Tai Chi or yoga 1x/week
  • Warm up with a brisk walk or stretching prior to cardio or strength training

Bottom line is, there’s no magic number. The essence of success is really simply moving a little more each day than you did the day before. Just remember, it’s never too late to change your life! If you are considering starting an exercise routine, talk to your doctor to make sure you’re fit enough for the activity you want to do. Any one of our caring primary care practitioners is delighted to help. Call (608) 348-4330 for an appointment. You can also view their profiles online at

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