As the clock ticks over, one extra second too this year, into 2017 and the festivities cease and minds begin to turn to the New Year and new aims. Many people might be considering something new or getting back into something old after a gap, short or long.
Particularly when it comes to exercise the New Year is a prime time for us to “get back into it”. Combining the excesses of Christmas eating and drinking, the time off to refresh the body and mind and the return to routine often prompts an increase in physical activity. This is a great thought and we really encourage physical exercise and training for preventing health issues, improving energy, quality of life and generally feeling better. However, changes in physical activity levels can make us prone to pain and injuries. The Christmas period is a time when our “relaxing” nervous system is working more (hopefully- he says). The parasympathetic nervous system encourages us to slow down, recuperate, heal and store up some fat for the future efforts (hopefully not too much fat- he says). This means our bodies, quite rightly, get a bit lazy and sluggish. Even if we are very fit and active before we take a break. The sympathetic nervous system does the opposite. It fires us up, gets us ready for action, it can also make us alert to problems. Now we think of pain and injuries as protection in our body. The body and nervous system can respond to shocks with protection. Shocks can be big or small, depending on how used to things our body is. Small shocks or alterations are good; they trigger the body to adapt, to get stronger and fitter. Big shocks are likely to trigger protection. Protection often means pain, stiffness and unwillingness for the body to continue with physical activity. The body has been used to being in the parasympathetic, sluggish, mode, so it can be more prone to shock with the sudden change to more of the sympathetic, get going, mode. So whilst “getting back into it” is certainly commendable we advise thoughtfulness with the program. It is advisable to think about what physical activity your body is used to and how long the gap is since you were last doing it, if ever. Then have a think about what your goal is- how much exercise do you want to get back to and what type? Setting a longer term and then a shorter term goal for January could help. Let’s use an example of a novice runner, who is used to walking but new to running. Their goal is to be running 45 minutes three times a week by March. They would ideally start with just twice a week in January. As they aren’t used to running but are more used to walking it is best to begin with a run/walk strategy, perhaps 1min run: 1min walk. Now here is the important bit, our runner’s combined time and effort increase we call their load. This shouldn’t increase more than 15% a week as they are new to the exercise (new to exercise means: had a long gap, doing something different as well as completely new to exercise like our runner). If however, you are more used to exercise and returning to it then you should lower your efforts for the first week to two weeks and stick to only 10% load increases each week. So for our novice runner aiming for 3 x 45mins in March they can start at 2 x 20mins of run/walk- 15% increases per week can be in either reducing the amount of walking or by increasing time. In six weeks they can be up to 45minutes of run/walk or they could have reduced the walking right down so they are consistently running only and then started to build up the time. Obviously the original exercise level of 20mins may be found to be tough or too easy, the speed of adaptation can vary by individual- but better to start safer and lower. Following the plan the runner’s goal will be within reach by mid-February and their body could have more easily kept up with the adaptation. Remember you can be fit for one activity- like walking, but that only goes a certain way to making you fit for something very different- like weight training say. If we are conscious we have got a bit sluggish after Christmas, which we all need from time to time to allow proper recuperation, then we can train smarter and build up more sensibly so we can train harder in time! Remember: Load= effort + time.
Getting back into it is a great idea! Doing it gradually and adjusted to your level is an even better one! Get healthier, get back into exercise but stay out of the physio room, that’s what we want.