Your Body is Not a Sports Car … YET
So the New Year is upon us, and as it has become common tradition, it is time to lay down some goals for the upcoming year. Maybe you want to take up a new hobby, or possibly become more financially competent. Probably the greatest enthusiasm for New Year goals is seen in health and fitness. We experience a rush of people joining our ranks for the first time – or simply revamping and reinvigorating a stale and stagnating workout routine. Unfortunately, these well-intentioned thoughts can often lead to more disaster than success.
For those just beginning an exercise routine (or for the first time after an extended layoff) it would be prudent to begin slowly. Not only may you be unfamiliar with how to safely perform different exercises, your body’s internal mechanisms are also unfamiliar with the new amount of stress you will be placing on it. When starting a new exercise program, muscles that have not been used for some time – if at all – cannot produce the amount of contractile force you may be asking of them. This may lead to a significant amount of soreness in the hours and days following the workout as your body tries to remove metabolic waste and repair tissue damage in the exercised muscles. Additionally, the hormonal and enzymatic pathways are not significantly developed in order to perform the exercises with the efficiently or intensity required to initiate desired changes. While it only takes hours after first beginning an exercise program for your body to start improving and enhancing the physiological pathways (increased oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells, improved nutrient uptake into muscle cells from the digestive tract, etc.), it take time for these mechanisms to reach a level that can sustain the workload you maybe asking of your body.
While the objectives and goals of improving your health and wellness are laudable (in whatever form those goals may take – losing some body fat, improving your blood/lipid/cholesterol numbers, increasing activity to keep up with kids), it would be wise to follow the advice that luxury car dealers give their clients when driving off of the lot in that new cherry red speed demon: “Take it easy for a while”. This advice is given because the engine and suspension have not covered enough miles to withstand the stress of high speeds and quick cornering. Similarly, your body needs time to prepare for the stress and intensity of a demanding workout. If you have never exercised before and have been generally sedentary for quite some time, just moving at a casual pace for thirty or more minutes at a time may be enough work to start with. If, however, you haven’t exercised in quite some time, but are relatively physically active – walking the dog, a job that requires a lot of movement or lifting/carrying things – a comprehensive bodyweight resistance-training regimen may be just what your body needs to “prime the pump”. Using bodyweight exercises, such as lunges and push-ups will increase the strength and circulatory capacities of the connective tissues that support muscles and bones, and ultimately provide greater joint integrity (where most injuries from drastic changes in activity or routine occur).
In closing, I want to applaud all those that are making their health a priority in this New Year. Just remember that there is no harm in starting slow, learning to listen to your body, and enjoying the process for the long haul. Just like that nice car that you enjoy driving down winding roads on a sunny afternoon, wash weekly, and ensure proper maintenance, your body needs careful attention and gradual tweaks to keep it roaring at full speed.