I tend to write about whole foods, sourced locally, as an essential element of health. But nutrition alone is not sufficient for vitality. A healthy body requires regular physical exercise. The truth is, if you’re not also exercising, you’re dying.
If you are unable to do the physical equivalent of a brisk 20 minute walk, you are falling behind in health. It takes a minimum of 20 continuous minutes of exercise virtually every day to keep a body strong. If you’re not able to do that now, can you work up to it?
What about swimming? The water takes the weight off of bad knees. You don’t have to swim laps, there are “aqua-cise” classes that use water resistance to build strength.
Don’t live close to a pool? What about cycling? A stationary bike parked in front of the television works well if used. For three years now, I’ve been biking the 8 km to work year round. We live in the most mild climate in Canada — weather is not an excuse for staying in the house. The fresh air will be good for you and all but the rainiest days have at least an hour of dry.
It is essential that you get some exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, but if you don’t feel some exertion, you’re not working hard enough. Shortness of breath is your heart and lungs telling your brain they are working harder than normal — this is good, it is where strength grows from.
Chest pain is different from shortness of breath. We have all experienced normal shortness of breath at one time or another, but hopefully you haven’t experienced chest pain. Seek medical advice immediately for chest pain, especially if it radiates to the back, arm, or jaw, which could be signs of a heart attack.
You shouldn’t push yourself too hard too quickly. On a personal scale of 1 to 10, your exercise target exertion level should be 3 to 5. You should be able to speak easily to your partner, but become winded if you try to carry on a conversation.
Hills are an excellent challenge for your walking. Walking on the flat is like lifting a barbell with no weights — it’s good for the muscles, but they aren’t going to grow. Hills are like packing pounds on the barbell. If you want results fast, climb the highest hill you can several times a week.
If you get short of breath walking on level ground, it is a sign of very poor cardiovascular fitness. If you are a smoker, your shortness of breath is most likely as a result of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD. Again, consult your doctor — there is a quick and painless test called a spirometry to detect COPD. The shortness of breath with COPD is relentless and progressive. Only quitting smoking will stop the progression, and it takes exercise to build the stamina back up.
When you don’t exercise, the body literally starts to shut down. When you are young, the process takes a long time, but the older you get the faster your body shuts down. Until finally, you die.
We all die. No matter how much I exercise, one day life will get me. However, I want to enjoy the life I have left being in the best health possible! That requires feeding my body nutritious food and exercising it every day.
Chris Semrick, B.Sc, RRT, CRE is a Registered Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Educator and a Smoking Cessation Counselor.