Your Health

Get active

Get active

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2011

Eating right is just one half of the equation when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight or slowly shedding extra pounds. Exercise is also essential. In fact, it's prescribed by doctors.

"Exercise is medicine," says Dr. Peter Nemeth, a sports medicine physician at the Winnipeg Health Region's Pan Am Clinic. "We absolutely know that and believe that, and from a medical standpoint, there are very few conditions that exercise can't make better and improve our quality of life."

The recommended dose: exercise for 40 to 50 minutes, five times a week. Unfortunately, most Canadians are falling far short.

Nearly half of Canadians 12 years of age or older report not being physically active, according to a 2009 health survey by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.

And the cost of that inactivity is immense. A 1999 study sponsored by the Canadian Diabetes Association estimated physical inactivity cost Canadians $2.1 billion. That's one-fifth of the total health-care costs of coronary artery disease, stroke, high blood pressure, colon cancer, breast cancer and diabetes.

In contrast, several studies support that exercising often and regularly not only staves off illness; it increases our longevity. A study of Harvard graduates over several decades found that those alumni who exercised the most and continued to do so lived longer than those who exercised infrequently or not at all.

There are very few reasons stopping most people from getting active right away, Nemeth says. If you're concerned about the potential risks, you can go online and take the PAR-Q (the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire). "It's designed to identify red flags that may make exercise dangerous for you," he says. "There are some people out there, like the 50-year-old smoker who hasn't done any exercise in five years and who has chest pain when he walks up the stairs." If that sounds like you - or if you have any pre-existing health conditions - you may want to consult your doctor first.

Otherwise, start off with moderate exercise and build your way up, Nemeth says. Try to incorporate many different types of activity to work out all parts of the body.

"If you look at the basic components to an exercise program there's muscular training, endurance/cardiovascular training, flexibility training and agility training that improves our balance."

Each type of exercise has its benefits. Cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart, helps maintain healthy arteries, burns off fat and reduces stress. Muscular or resistance exercise builds up bone and muscle strength - something women in particular often miss in their routines.

"There are two things that help women maintain their bone stock: nutrition and some type of resistance training and also some training that provides impact for their joints." Flexibility training - like yoga - helps us improve range of motion in the joints, preventing injury. And agility or dynamic training helps maintain core strength and keeps us fleet-footed as we age, reducing our risk of falls.

But before diving right in, Nemeth also says it's important to warm up before hand. "Most warm-ups should be gradual, at a conversation pace," he says. "It's actually good to get your body temperature up before you stretch."

And remember to make it fun. "If you can figure out ways to make it enjoyable and self-reinforcing, that's when you get the greatest long-term benefits."

For more information, visit (Search: Canada's Physical Activity Guide).


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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