Cardiovascular Exercise and Your Back

Most people are aware of the many benefits that regular cardiovascular (CV) exercise provides for the health of our hearts and minds, as well as our overall health.  However, you may not know how CV exercise also benefits our spine! 

  • Our blood stream provides our bodies with the nutrition and oxygen that is vital for our cells to heal, including those that make up the various structures of our spine.  When we’re engaged in CV exercise, two things happen:  We increase both the rate of our circulation and our blood volume.  As a result, we get more blood to the spine.  The more blood we get to our spine, the more nutrition and oxygen, which speeds the healing process of our painful neck and/or back! 
  • CV exercise also helps to decrease pain by decreasing inflammation, by calming our overly sensitive nervous system, and by releasing more endorphins into our bloodstream.  These are our “feel good” chemicals, which not only improve our overall outlook on life, but also play a significant role in pain reduction.   
  • The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of CV exercise per week. While the gold standard is still 20 – 40 minutes, 3 – 5x/week; recent research has shown that 2, 10 minute bouts of exercise is just as beneficial as one, 20 minute bout.  Meaning, everything you do adds up! 
  • Examples of CV exercise include bicycling, walking briskly, swimming laps, or using a variety of CV machines such as an elliptical machine or treadmill.  CV exercise should be performed at an intensity level that causes you to break a light sweat and make your heart beat faster. 
  • So, pat yourself on the back every time you do CV exercise, knowing that you’re not only doing good things for your heart, but for your back as well!   

Exercise Guidelines for Rheumatoid Arthritis

One important thing that you can do to help manage your RA symptoms is to exercise! The right exercises can help relieve joint pain and build muscle strength.  There are three main groups of exercises you should incorporate into your fitness routine:  stretching, strength training and cardiovascular (CV) exercise.  Weight bearing exercise (such as walking and elliptical machine) is especially important to promote bone health and improve your functional abilities.  The following is a list of exercise guidelines:

  • Start slow – If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start with 5 – 10 minutes of light exercise and gradually increase time and intensity in order to build strength and avoid discomfort and injury.
  • Avoid exercising joints that are flared-up.  Choose an exercise that targets other parts of the body that you can perform comfortably. If several of your joints are inflamed or you’re not felling well, rest and drink plenty of water.  Once you feel better and are able to resume activity, listen to your body and talk to your doctor if you have any issues that don’t improve with rest.
  • Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program, and to find an exercise plan that will keep your arthritis under control so you can enjoy a more active lifestyle.
  • Using resistance band is a safe and gentle way to perform strength training exercises.  
  • Several small bouts of exercise during the day may help with decreasing fatigue level.
  • Stretch only through available ROM or slight stretch, especially in affected joints.
  • Exercise may be more comfortable later in the day if symptoms and stiffness are worse in the morning.
  • Monitor increase in symptoms vs. muscle soreness to determine exercise intensity.  Muscle soreness is normal with exercise especially when starting a new program. 
  • Most importantly, choose exercises that you enjoy most, and have fun!

Exercise and Weight Loss

Many people spend countless hours searching for a quick and easy weight loss plan. Whether your goal is to lose a few pounds or 50 lbs, adding regular exercise to your daily routine is the best way to lose weight and keep it off.

Eating a healthy diet is important for everyone. Decreasing your caloric intake may initially cause you to lose weight, but over time as you consume less calories, your metabolism decreases to conserve energy. Basically, if your body expects only a certain number of calories, it doesn’t want to use them too quickly. Therefore, oftentimes diet alone causes weight loss to plateau.

Diet plus exercise is a healthy and efficient way to lose weight. This combination has proven to be more effective than dieting or exercise alone. Cardiovascular (CV) exercise is the best way to burn calories and lose weight.  The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of CV exercise per week (such as 30 minutes, 5 times per week). Strive to increase your intensity level to what you perceive as a “somewhat strong to strong” effort for at least 20 minutes.  This means you should break a sweat while breathing harder; you should be able to talk, but you don’t necessarily want to.  Examples of CV exercise include a brisk walk or bicycling (indoor or outdoors), swimming laps, using an elliptical machine and cross country skiing, to name a few.  If walking on a TM, be sure to increase the incline to at least 3%.  This will effectively increase your heart rate to the recommended intensity level.  Walking outside can also improve memory, fight depression, and lower blood pressure.  Adding strength training into your routine may also speed up weight loss.

Exercise is not only an effective calorie burner, it also decreases body fat and can maintain/increase lean body mass. Lean body mass is metabolically more active than body fat, maintaining a higher level of resting metabolism, thus burning calories at a higher rate without a plateau.

So, choose whatever form of CV exercise that you find most enjoyable, and most importantly, have fun!