Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2003 / 1 Adar I, 5763

An expert guide to exercises that heal



Fill these prescriptions at the gym, outdoors or anywhere you can move


By Sandra Gordon

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | When most people think of medicine, they visualize a pill to be popped, a liquid to be swallowed or an injection to be endured. But in recent years, study after study has shown that one of the most potent forms of "medicine'' is movement.

Health experts now prescribe exercise to help prevent and treat a broad array of ailments, ranging from certain cancers to heart disease, stroke and even sexual dysfunction. The basic recommendation is to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, most days of the week. But specific advice varies, depending on an individual's fitness level and health goals.

Based on research results and interviews with exercise scientists, here are exercise guidelines for several disorders.

PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME

Regular exercise can improve the flow of blood and fluids throughout the body, which decreases fluid-related symptoms, such as abdominal bloating and constipation; increase the effectiveness of insulin, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels and decreases food cravings; and strengthen back and abdominal muscles, which reduces back pain and cramping. It also can relieve anxiety and depression and boost mood.

Do some form of aerobic activity three to six days a week, at about 55 percent to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate, for 20 to 60 minutes. Pick an activity you enjoy, and do it daily, or almost daily, throughout your cycle -- not just on symptomatic days. Although short, 10-minute bouts can boost cardiovascular fitness, activity should last for at least 20 to 30 uninterrupted minutes to provide maximum benefit to PMS sufferers.

Consider exercising in fresh air and sunlight when possible -- both can enhance mood. A regular practice of mind-body exercise, such as tai chi or yoga, can be helpful, as can specific yoga postures -- such as the lying down cobbler's pose -- to relieve some symptoms.

ASTHMA

Regular physical activity can decrease the frequency and severity of asthma attacks, reduce the need for medication, cut down on absences from school and work, and improve quality of life.

Of course, discuss exercise plans with your health-care provider, especially if activity tends to bring on symptoms; always use prescribed medications, if necessary, before exercise; and warm up for at least five minutes before exercise and cool down after exercise to help prevent symptoms.

Pick a form of exercise that is less likely to induce symptoms, such as swimming and aqua-aerobics, because water tends to moisten inhaled air. Moderate-intensity activities and stop-and-go activities (such as racquet sports or golf) also may be less likely to provoke symptoms. Your goal is to do at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week. In addition, practice deep-breathing and relaxation exercises for at least five minutes a day.

HIGH CHOLESTEROL

Burn at least 1,000 calories per week -- the equivalent of walking or running eight to 10 miles -- through some form of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. One of the easiest options is walking three miles, three days a week, or walking 30 minutes a day. You can also break this up into two daily 15-minute walks.

Although most people don't need to consult a physician before doing moderate activity, check with your doctor if you're planning to start a program of vigorous exercise and you're a man over 40, a woman over 50, if you have risk factors for heart disease (such as cigarette smoking, diabetes or obesity) or if you have a chronic disease.

DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, STRESS

Find an activity you enjoy and can commit to doing regularly. Dancing, gardening, in-line skating, yoga -- virtually anything that moves you is fine. Start slowly and progress gradually, working toward the goal of being continuously active for at least 30 minutes a day. Consider exercising outdoors when possible -- bright light is known to improve mood.

Don't worry about taking your pulse or burning calories. And don't make the exercise so challenging that it contributes to stress or feelings of inadequacy. Just enjoy the sensations of moving your body.

OSTEOPOROSIS

Many of the exercises to prevent osteoporosis, such as those used in resistance training, are well known -- but sometimes poorly executed.

To build strong bones, children and teens should get at least 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity daily. For optimum bone health, choose sports that involve jumping and running, such as basketball, rope-skipping and soccer. To help maintain bone, adults should do at least 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise most days of the week plus 30 minutes of resistance exercise two or three days a week.

Weight-bearing exercises are those in which body weight is supported by the legs and feet, such as walking, stair-climbing, dancing and running. (Swimming and bicycling are non-weight-bearing activities.) Upside-down weight-bearing activities -- such as handstand and other inverted postures in yoga -- can strengthen bones in the arms and upper body. The higher the impact of the activity, the more it strengthens bones.

Resistance exercises, such as working out with free weights or weight machines, should include eight to 10 strengthening exercises for all the major muscle groups. Use a heavy weight that you can lift at least eight times, but no more than about 12 times, with good technique. (Older and frailer people may find it more appropriate to choose a lighter weight they can lift at least 10, but no more than 15 times.)

Doing lots of repetitions with a very light weight won't do much for your bones; bones add density when greater demands are placed on them.

)Carol Krucoff is co-author, with her husband, Mitchell Krucoff, M.D., of "Healing Moves: How to Cure, Relieve and Prevent Common Ailments with Exercise,'' (Three Rivers Press/Random House 2001). Comment by clicking here.

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