While there are many obvious health benefits associated with regular exercise such as improving control of blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and maintaining body weight, we often forget one other vital reason to exercise – to prepare our bodies for life and allow us to maximise what we can do. Training for life brings into mind some important questions that will help to enlighten us about the types of exercise that are most appropriate.
How often do we sit?
The first important question is how many of the physical activities of daily living require us to sit? Most leisure activities, with the exception of rowing and cycling, require us to stand and move position. Many of the physical tasks that we need to do to maintain our houses also require us to be up on our feet. We may be out in the garden weeding or watering, taking rubbish to the bins, hanging the washing out on the line. We start to see a trend – most of the physical activities that form our life do not involve sitting for long periods of time.
With this in mind, if our exercises are aimed at training us for these life activities at least some of them should involve us being up on our feet. It is quite common to walk in to a fitness centre where the resistance training equipment predominantly involve sitting while moving the arms or legs. While performing some exercises on this equipment can be beneficial, it is important to ensure that there are also adequate exercises in an upright position performing those movements that we need in everyday life such as pushing, pulling and lifting.
How many activities are performed in a predictable environment?
The second important question is how many of these activities (leisure and otherwise) are always performed in a predictable and stable environment? While golf courses only have minor changes in hole placement any golfer will tell you about the variability in their game and their scores! Like golf, many leisure activities take place in environments that are under constant change. This is also the case with physical activities of daily living. While we may lift the same size pot and plant to move it around the garden, the path we take may be different each time depending on where we are moving it to and also if the path is wet or dry.
Why does is this important?
Many falls and accidents occur when we are performing a familiar task but are faced with a challenge to our stability that we are unable to react to in time. A common scenario for falls that we hear about frequently is that of falling while walking to the toilet at night. The path from the bed to the toilet is familiar, however the lack of light means that we rely on our joint sensors more than our vision to guide us there.
This is the reason that our exercises need to safely challenge us and prepare us for unpredictable and unstable environments. This can be done by changing our base of support to a narrow stance or one leg, or by distracting our vision so that we strengthen the connections between our joint sensors and our brain.
We all know that exercise is important, however having the right type of exercises makes all the difference in the amount of benefit we can get from our exercises. How is your current exercise preparing you for the demands of your life?