Rx for a Healthy Life: Move

Exercise can help you get and stay healthier during the pandemic and long after

Imagine you could take a single medicine that would simultaneously relieve your anxiety or depression, strengthen your heart and lungs, guard against weight gain and boost your immune system. 

Are you suspicious it’s one of those late-night-TV wonder cures? Or are you ready to sign on?

This miracle medicine goes by a simple name: exercise.

“Exercise promotes any number of healthy mechanisms in our bodies,” says Eisenhower Health’s Rajiv Tailor, MD, Board Certified in Sports Medicine and Family Medicine. “It helps maintain a positive mindset, improve cardiovascular and brain health, fight off infection and enhance the quality of your sleep.” 

Exercise is even more important during a pandemic, when stress levels are through the roof and social distancing has restricted some activities. “A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a host of health problems, including mental health,” says Dr. Tailor. 

Sharla Jensen, Certified Fitness Trainer at Eisenhower Health, agrees. “We can’t lose any more time waiting for gyms to fully reopen and things to go back to normal,” she says. “We have to do something today.”

Jensen has been on a health journey since she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1984. Now she does some form of exercise every day. Learning to adapt exercises to her own health challenges has enabled her to work with a wide range of patients at Eisenhower Health.  

“COVID-19 has redefined the workout place,” says Jensen, encouraging people to get physical at home and outdoors. Whether you’re a fitness fanatic or just starting out, Jensen recommends researching the many available exercise apps for your phone and other digital devices. “Finding one that works for you can bring variety, fun and consistency to your workout,” she says.  

The top fitness app in 2020, with 43.5 million downloads, was Home Workout — No Equipment. Jensen often turns to OpenFit®, an app she enjoys for its varied menu of yoga, Pilates, cardio, weight lifting, sleep tips and more. “Each activity is rated as beginning, intermediate or advanced, so it can meet a lot of people’s needs,” she says.

For people interested in exercising without an app, Jensen recommends online classes and workout groups on various sites, including YouTube, which can be live or recorded and often led by experienced trainers. 

Home fitness gear can be complex, from multi-level personal gyms to the popular Peloton® bike, or simple. “For strength training, you can buy a set of light weights,” says Jensen, “or lift food cans and filled water bottles. Another basic piece of exercise gear is a chair, helpful for heel and toe raises, leg lifts and knee bends.”

The great outdoors awaits
For people fortunate to enjoy desert weather in cooler months, outdoor activities like hiking or jogging are ideal and may even allow you to hang out with others — from a distance. Other vitamin D-enhancers include tennis and golf, which provide an energy boost, given such precautions as face coverings and hand washing.  

Stuck indoors? “Another way to keep moving safely is to hold an online dance party with friends or family,” says Dr. Tailor. 
Safety first and always
The American Heart Association® recommends that each week adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — hard enough to raise your heart rate — or 75 minutes vigorous activity — resulting in rapid breathing — or some combination of both.

At all times while exercising, “Listen to your body and what it’s telling you,” says Jensen. “You don’t want to be so out of breath that you’re panting.”

 “Consult with your physician if you have a chronic condition or any questions about your fitness program,” says Dr. Tailor. “The important thing,” he adds, is to “take baby steps” at first. “Go slow, and aim for a goal slightly beyond your reach.”

“Set yourself up to succeed,” says Jensen. “Do one thing at a time. Make a commitment to a day, time and how long you’ll exercise. Write it down and keep the commitment you’ve made to your own well-being.” Most of all, she says, get moving. Now.  

To contact Eisenhower Sports Medicine Clinic, call 760.837.8731.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/exercise-physical-activity, has useful tips for older adults, and recommends incorporating different types of exercise for:

Endurance: aerobic exercise, such as swimming, biking or jumping jacks, can improve the health of your heart, lungs and circulatory system

Strength: working out with weights strengthens major muscle groups. The NIA recommends weight-bearing exercise at least two days per week

Balance: doing yoga builds balance, critical to preventing falls. Also useful is Tai Chi, a mind-body practice called a “moving meditation” 

Stretching: regular stretching enhances your flexibility and ability to move more freely