Start saving in your fitness bank for when you need it most.

Saving money for emergencies is good advice and important for maintaining quality of life in the event of a lost job or other financial crisis. While this may seem like common sense, many people have been caught without enough savings when they needed it and found it difficult to meet basic needs.

This principle can also be applied to fitness. When you are healthy, you can maintain a high level of fitness. This makes your day-to-day activities easier and serves as a reserve or “bank” to draw on when you need it. Your good fitness now can get you through a health crisis just like saving money can help you through a financial crisis. This health crisis could come in the form of an injury or illness that keeps you from being active for several days or a hospitalization that keeps you in bed for a week, a month, or longer. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Patient walking in hospital


The problem with periods of inactivity, like bed rest or hospitalization, is that there are severe physiological effects that occur within days and get worse over time. You may have noticed this as weakness and fatigue after spending a few days in bed with a cold. Muscle strength declines with each day of bed rest, and can be 50% lower following as little as three weeks. That reduction in strength could limit a person who was already deconditioned to a point where he or she would have difficulty completing the most basic activities of daily living.

A person who was fit and strong when they went into the hospital would certainly be better off when released. And older adults fare worse than younger individuals. According to one study, the decline in strength seen in older men in just 10 days was equivalent to the change measured after 28 days in men 30 years younger.

It’s not just the muscles that are affected, the bones get weaker, too. In fact, 12 weeks of bed rest can reduce bone density by as much as 50%, exposing patients to a greater risk of fracture. This is due to the reduced stress on the bone from not standing and walking as well as the lack of muscle activity. Two of the most effective ways to build bone density are putting stress on bones through weight-bearing activity and the action of the muscles pulling on the bones from resistance training. Because bed rest eliminates both of these stresses, bone density declines rapidly.

One unique study from the 1960s had healthy young men complete three weeks of bed rest. They all experienced a rapid decline (over 20%) in their aerobic fitness, but recovered quickly after the experiment ended. These individuals also had their fitness tested again 30 years later. It turns out that the decline in fitness in those young men in three weeks of bed rest was greater than the decline in fitness that occurred over 30 years of aging!

The good news is that most patients are encouraged to move around as much as possible. Some receive in-patient physical therapy or rehab, even after major surgery, to help lessen the effects of prolonged bed rest. It is important to take advantage of these opportunities if you, or a loved one, are hospitalized.

There are many reasons to exercise and be fit, but an important reason may be to develop a fitness “bank” you can draw on if you become injured or hospitalized. Since the effects of bed rest are seen in people of all ages, everyone can benefit from a good fitness foundation. Just like putting money in the bank, doing a little now can have great benefits later when you need it most.

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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Hidden benefits of exercise

There is no question that exercise is essential for achieving and maintaining physical fitness, losing weight and keeping it off, and preventing and treating conditions like diabetes and heart disease. What you may not know is that exercise can improve your health in ways that you may not be able to notice in the gym or on the scale. Here are a few surprising ways that exercise can improve your health.

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This is your brain on football: The Super Bowl, concussions, and CTE.

Since the Super Bowl was this past weekend, football is a major topic of conversation. Football has also been in the news for another more serious reason—the association with traumatic brain injury. But football has been in the news for another more serious reason—the association with traumatic brain injury. Over the years, it has been reported that several former NFL players suffered from brain injury as a result of concussions sustained over years of playing. Some players have even retired early in their careers in an attempt to avoid such injury. Far from being an NFL problem, the issue of sports-related concussion is something that should concern young athletes who play football and other sports, as well as coaches and parents. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Concussion


Football, especially at the professional and college level, has long been known for violent collisions. An obvious concern is that players could sustain a career-ending injury and head injuries, including concussions, are particularly worrisome. In particular, repeated concussions can cause a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The 2015 motion picture Concussion brought this issue to the attention of a wider audience, but many sports medicine professionals have been aware of this problem for years. A recent report suggests that CTE may be far more common than previously thought.

A concussion is caused by the brain moving forcibly inside the skull as the result of the head striking an object (another player or the ground) or simply the head moving violently without hitting anything. Because of this, concussions and sub-concussive injuries can occur even when an athlete doesn’t lose consciousness or appear to be injured. This can put athletes at increased risk for multiple injuries in a season—or even in a single game. This last part is critical, because much of the permanent damage comes from a second concussion sustained before the first has healed completely.

New rules banning helmet-to-helmet contact are part of an effort to reduce the risk of concussions. Off the field, players are subjected to special screening to detect concussions, assess recovery, and determine if it is safe to return to play. Improvements in equipment, including helmet technology that can monitor potentially concussive hits, may also help reduce the risks of serious injury.

Despite these efforts, some experts believe that football is simply too dangerous and have called for tackling to be banned. These concerns are more frequently expressed when it comes to youth football. The evidence that accumulated brain trauma sustained by young athletes can have immediate and lasting effects has led some communities, schools, and even whole states to consider banning tackling in youth football.

This is complicated by the fact that other sports also have a high risk of concussion, including hockey and soccer. In fact, heading has been banned in some competitive youth soccer leagues. And there is the fact that all sports have some risk of injury, including concussions. Furthermore, youth sports, including football, provide a great many young people with opportunities to be active, promote growth and development, enhance academic achievement, and have fun. The effect of banning tackling in football or heading in soccer on the health, social, and educational opportunities for young athletes is unknown and should be considered.

Whether policies like these are practical or not remains to be seen. In the meantime, there are steps we can take to make all sports safer for young athletes. We should make sure that coaches are educating players how to compete as safely as possible instead of emphasizing winning at all costs. We should also advocate for having certified athletic trainers at all games and practices to teach players safe techniques, assess and treat injuries, and ensure appropriate return to play. Most of all, we should be mindful of the risks of playing sports while encouraging kids of all ages to be active, play, and have fun!


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No pain, no gain? Nope, but some muscle soreness is okay, even beneficial.

If you exercise, especially if you lift weights, you have probably heard the adage, “No pain, no gain.” This may serve as motivation for some people, but the belief that exercise results in pain might be a good reason not to work out for others. If you are one of those people, you should know that idea that exercise should hurt is simply wrong—muscle pain during or following exercise usually suggests an injury. However, some muscle soreness is unavoidable, especially if you are new to exercise. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Fit to Serve

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a time to celebrate the birthday and reflect on the accomplishments and legacy of Mr. King. It is also a  on which people are encouraged to use their day off from work and school to volunteer in their community. Individuals and groups across the country participate in community service, with some making this their first-time volunteer effort and many more continuing a year-round commitment to service.

You can maximize your impact in community service activities by being fit and healthy. To be sure, there are ways that people of physical abilities can contribute, but many service opportunities require a certain level of fitness to participate. And it is certainly more enjoyable to volunteer if you aren’t being pushed to your limits. In fact, some service activities are similar in exertion to many forms of exercise and some may be consistent with maximal exercise. Unfortunately, the common pattern of inactivity and obesity can limit people’s ability to function optimally at school, work, or in leisure-time activities, including community service.This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Mobility matters.

Achieving and maintaining a high level of physical fitness is essential for good health and an active lifestyle. Regular exercise can promote weight loss, enhancing wellbeing, and improve endurance, strength, and flexibility. Of these three components of fitness, flexibility is the one that often gets the least attention. Unfortunately, this can lead to limitations in movement that can interfere with activity and may cause injury.

 

But improving flexibility alone is not the answer—you should also focus on improving mobility, which is the ability to move without limitations. If flexibility allows your muscles and joints to move through their full range of motion, mobility promotes proper movement and posture.

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Planning to join a gym? Here’s what to expect from a fitness test.

Getting in shape is a common goal for the New Year. Before you start an exercise or weight loss program you may want to have a fitness test to determine your current status and to assess improvement as you progress through the program. If you join a gym, a fitness assessment may be required. This is wise, because a fitness test is important for determining a safe and effective exercise recommendation.  It also provides a baseline for you to realize your improvement. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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