Saving for a rainy day

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about saving. Having savings in the bank gives you opportunities—a vacation or a big purchase, for example—you might not have without the extra money. But the real reason for saving is to help you get by if you find yourself in trouble financially. In this economic crisis, people with sufficient savings were able to stay in their homes while others without adequate savings couldn’t pay the mortgage and faced foreclosure.

But I’m not a financial expert, to the real topic of my column is about saving fitness. When you are physically fit, you essentially have a “bank” of strength and endurance that you can draw on when you need it. That could mean that you are able to go on a long bike ride or hike that your less fit friends would have to miss.

But the real reason you need fitness savings is for when you are sick or hospitalized. Bed rest, even a few days, can reduce muscle mass, strength, and endurance. Long-term bed rest can reduce physical functioning that basic activities of daily living are challenging.

I cited a couple of studies in my article. The study that showed that three weeks of bed rest had a greater effect on  fitness than 30 years of aging is here. The study that showed that the loss of strength in 10 days of bed rest in older patients was equivalent to the same loss of strength in 28 days in younger patients is here.

Finally, some smart advice: First, achieve and maintain a high level of fitness now, just as you would save money for a rainy day. You never know when you will need it. Second, if you are hospitalized, take advantage of opportunities to move, whether that is limited to moving from bed to a chair or if it includes short walks or even inpatient exercise–if the medical staff approves, of course. While many well-meaning friends and family members will tell you to rest and not move, true bed rest is almost the worse thing you can do.

For example, inpatient cardiac rehabilitation targets patients who are recovering from heart attacks and even open heart surgery. The goal is to get these patients up and moving as quickly as possible to prevent long-term consequences of bed rest.

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