Exercise: sound and safe

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

May 2010

Why do people quit an exercise program — or never even start? Some claim the usual excuse that they don't have time but a prior experience with injury, severe muscle soreness or a fear of these things might be the reasons.

Mild muscle soreness that follows a strenuous bout of exercise happens to be a good thing, a sign that the muscle is not only healing itself but that it will be a little larger and a little stronger in only a couple of days. Repeated over several weeks, the same routine will result in a visible increase in size (if not obscured by a layer of fat) and a doubling or tripling of strength.

The keys to avoiding really painful delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) are low and slow. If you start using free weights or machines be sure to use the lightest weights or lowest settings. That's because you first need to increase blood flow to muscles and to strengthen tendons and ligaments that will soon be stressed by the new activity. If you decide to walk or jog, do it for no more than 5 or 10 minutes on the first day and add another few minutes to your routine every day until you're putting in the time you want.

After a long layoff or if you have never seen the inside of a fitness center, begin by getting some tips from a certified trainer. Some centers provide an introduction to their program at no charge but it's worth a few dollars to avoid serious pain or even a mild injury. That small investment of time and money will pay off if it helps you to avoid an injury that could put you on the sidelines for months.

Age is not an issue. If 90-year-olds in a program at Tufts University Medical School — who averaged 4 chronic diseases — could double or triple their strength in a matter of weeks, so can you.

As for that old excuse of "I don't have time to exercise" it's a matter of when you choose to spend the time — while you're healthy or when you're in cardiac rehab.

It doesn't take hours every day. Some studies have shown that exercising about 4 days a week for about one hour is more effective than prescription medications for staving off osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. And the price is right.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.