Exercise Q & A with Allan Abbott, MD
Why is it important to have an exercise routine?
Regular exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. If an individual does not have a job that requires moderate exercise, it is necessary to establish a "routine" of regular exercise so that the person will actually do the exercise. It is natural for us to relax and rest whenever we have the opportunity, thus, a routine of exercise will help us discipline ourselves to get the exercise we need. Current recommendations are for everyone to exercise moderately (e.g. fast walking) for at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of every week.
How does exercise help the heart (what is the mechanism by which it helps the heart and vascular system)?
During moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, the heart increases its rate and force of contraction in order to meet the blood flow needs of the exercising muscles. Thus exercise such as walking increases the strength and fitness of the muscles in the legs as well as the muscles in the heart. The blood flow to the heart is also increased during exercise.
Can someone with heart disease do an exercise routine, and how should it be altered (if at all) compared to someone without heart disease? Is any type of exercise better than another for those with heart disease?
Most people with heart disease can, and should, have regular exercise. However, because there are so many different types and severity of heart disease, anyone with heart disease would be wise to consult with a physician before beginning an exercise program.
How should exercise be balanced with nutrition?
Exercise and good nutrition go together as part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise will not make up for overeating or for poor nutrition, and the person who gets excellent nutrition will also benefit from exercise. Nutrition bars and supplements are not necessary for any exerciser unless that person is participating in some extreme form of exercise such as running marathons. Good nutrition includes adequate amounts of daily whole grain foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and a bit of beans or nuts.
Should anyone starting an exercise program see a doctor before they start, no matter what? If not, who in particular should do that?
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that sedentary men over the age of 40 and women over the age of 45 should consult with a physician and consider having an exercise test before they begin a program that involves intense exercise. However, walking is the best type of exercise for most people, and walking can be done by anyone who can walk without medical consultation.
Should there be differences in exercise done by children, teens, adults and elderly people, and why?
The type and intensity of exercise activity of course varies greatly between, and within different age groups. The most important aspect of exercise is that for optimal health, exercise must be done at least every other day for one's entire life. It is nearly impossible for anyone to keep up an exercise program that they don't like. Therefore, when I am counseling someone about exercise, the first question I always ask is ask is, "what kind of exercise do you enjoy the most?" I vary my own exercise activities and always enjoy the activity - I like to think of my exercise as recreation.
How will I be able to tell that exercise is making my body healthier? Are there any signs I should look for that will show that it's helping?
A program of regular exercise should provide many indications that is helping. Within a few weeks of beginning a regular exercise program, most people report that they have more energy, sleep better, and feel more positive about life. Exercise, of course, also helps people lose weight.