The Importance of Exercise to Physical and Emotional Well Being
Physical activity and good nutrition are perfect partners in good health. This winning combination finds a balance between what one eats and one's daily activities. Together they help in managing weight and providing energy. Physical activity not only burns calories, but it can also help the person in your care by doing the following:
- Make the most of muscle strength, or even build strength, depending on the program.
- Slowly increase the ability to do more for longer periods of time.
- Increase range of motion and joint flexibility (the ability to move easily).
- Strengthen the heart.
- Decrease feelings of fatigue.
- Decrease symptoms of depression.
- Maintain regular bowel and bladder functions.
- Cut down on the risk of skin breakdown and irritation.
- Protect weight-bearing bone mass (spine, hips, legs).
Good physical fitness is made up of three types of exercise: stretching, strengthening, and aerobics. Each is important by itself, but together they can help the person in your care remain active as long as possible. This will help the person deal better with the changes illness may bring.
A person should always stretch before exercise. This warms the muscles, helps prevent stiffness, and improves flexibility and balance. The person should work at his or her own pace, even if it seems very slow. Encourage the person in your care, even if the exercises seem difficult at first. Watch for signs of fatigue. Always cool down after exercise.
Regular s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g is the first step, and it can be one of the most enjoyable. Stretching helps muscle rigidity (stiffness). It also helps muscles and joints stay flexible (able to bend). People who are more flexible have an easier time with everyday movement.
Stretching increases range of motion of joints and helps with good posture. It protects against muscle strains or sprains, improves circulation, and releases muscle tension.
Do's and Don'ts of Stretching
- DO stretch to the point of a gentle pull.
- DON'T stretch to the point of pain.
- DON'T bounce while stretching.
- DON'T hold the breath during a stretch. Breathe evenly in and out during each stretch.
- DON'T compare yourself to others.
Stretching can be done at any time. The person in your care can start the day by stretching before getting out of bed. Have the person stretch throughout the day, while watching television or riding in a car.
Aerobic activities raise the heart rate and breathing, and promote cardiovascular (heart and lung) fitness. Other activities develop strength and flexibility. For example, lifting weights develops strength and can help maintain good bone health. Activities like yoga and gentle stretching can improve flexibility.
Some key points to remember:
- You and the person in your care should talk with the doctor about exercise, target weight, and special needs. If possible, get a referral to a physical therapist to help begin the program.
- An exercise program needs to match the abilities and limitations of the individual. A physical therapist can design a well-balanced exercise program for those who need more help. With some changes, people at all levels of disability can enjoy the benefits of exercise.
- The person in your care should commit to doing what he or she can do on a consistent basis. Choosing activities you both enjoy will help you stick to your fitness plan.
- Start slowly. If the person in your care hasn't been active, begin at a low level of intensity for short periods. Alternate brief periods of exercise with periods of rest until the person in your care begins to build up endurance. Gradually increase how hard you are exercising and the length of time you are doing it.
- Join a group! Exercising with others may give you the motivation and support to keep going.