Touching Lives - March 2009
The doctor’s notebook
##Why is exercise important?
Regular exercise is an important part of body maintenance throughout life, strengthening your muscles and bones. Weightbearing routines really help and there is evidence that they can help prevent osteoporosis.
Exercise isn’t just about a healthy heart. Staying mobile is the best option for people with all kinds of conditions ranging from chronic back pain to osteoporosis. Exercise can also speed recovery following surgery.
The idea of bed rest for patients with, for example, bad backs is out-dated, but some patients are still surprised when their doctor urges them to exercise joints that are stiff and sore. Be cautious, certainly, and consult your doctor before starting a new exercise regime, but staying active is often the best therapy.
##How should I get started?
You don’t necessarily need to join a gym, although joining regular classes can be a motivation to keep up your chosen exercise. But you can easily build exercise into your daily routine. For example a brisk walk with a shopping bag in each hand can be of benefit. Keep weight evenly balanced – a backpack is better than a heavy bag slung over one shoulder.
##What if I’m recovering from surgery or injury?
Many people have physiotherapy following joint surgery, or after trauma such as muscle tears. It builds muscle strength and can help restore movement. Swimming is excellent in rehabilitation because the water supports vulnerable joints. Look for low impact exercises if you have sore ankles, knees or hips. Stay warm and wear a joint support if necessary (ask your doctor or pharmacist).
##Some golden rules
Always take professional advice, especially after surgery. If an exercise hurts, stop at once. Remember, a short session each day is better than a ‘mad hour’ once a week. Stay strong, stay supple – and keep moving!
Action Medical Research has funded many projects demonstrating the benefits of exercise. For example, researchers are investigating how physical activity affects the joints and hope that their findings will help develop new treatments for osteoarthritis. We are also funding a project investigating how immunity to flu could be boosted if a simple exercise routine is performed before the flu jab is administered.
In the past grants have also helped researchers develop a technique to grow new knee cartilage and look at the benefits of exercise after stroke, where there is evidence that additional early exercise training may help people recover more quickly.