The winter months are here, a slower time of year for the construction industry in many parts of North America. It is natural for sedentary tendencies to take hold, with that couch becoming an all-to-welcome sight.

Don’t waste your winter.  Keep yourself in shape and be ready for the outdoor season come spring.

What is the best exercise program?

The best exercise program is the one that you will actually do. A good mix of cardiovascular and strength training exercises will yield good results.

Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise are important.

Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases the heart rate and causes the body to consume more oxygen. Every cell requires a constant supply of oxygen, and a lack of activity deprives these cells. This is why, once a regular routine of aerobic exercise is established, your body begins to feel better.

Anaerobic exercise is any type of physical activity that is not significantly aerobic. This includes exercise that builds muscle mass, such as weight lifting. It also includes other types of training such as resistance and isometrics. Building muscle mass does not mean becoming one of those bulging bodybuilders.  Anaerobic exercise helps stave off the loss of bone density that accompanies aging. This is why resistance training is so important to prevent osteoporosis.

Getting Started

As with any new exercise regimen, a doctor should be consulted, especially if you have health problems or have been inactive for any extended period.

Start out slowly and gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts.

To reap benefits from any exercise program, it is important to stick with it:

  • Choose something that is enjoyable. Make sure it is within your physical capabilities. For instance, swimming is easier than running on arthritic joints.
  • Get an exercise partner. Exercising with someone else can make it more fun.
  • Vary the routine. You may be less likely to get bored or injured if you vary your routine. Walk one day. Bicycle the next. Consider activities like basketball and racquet sports, even active chores like chopping wood.
  • Set aside a regular time of day. Don’t work out too soon after eating. Dress for the weather; don’t let it be an excuse to skip your workout.
  • Don’t get discouraged It can take weeks or months before any changes from exercise are noticed.
  • Forget “no pain, no gain.” While a little soreness is normal when first starting to exercise, pain isn’t. Stop if it hurts.
  • Make exercise fun. Read, listen to music or watch TV while riding a stationary bicycle, for example. Find fun things to do and challenge yourself by being creative with a wide variety of ways to get fit. Check out your local YMCA or community center for fitness classes, organized sports and fitness equipment.

How can injuries be prevented?

Start every workout with a warm-up to keep your muscles and joints flexible. Spend five to ten minutes doing some light calisthenics and then stretching. Do the same thing when you’re finished – until your heart rate returns to normal.

Pay attention to your body. Stop exercising if you are out of breath, dizzy, nauseated or have pain.

Benefits of regular exercise

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the benefits of physical activity should be reason enough to start an exercise regimen. Exercise:

  • Reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes and obesity
  • Keeps joints, tendons and ligaments flexible so it’s easier to move around
  • Contributes to mental well-being and helps treat depression
  • Helps relieve stress and anxiety, while increasing energy and endurance
  • Helps maintain a normal weight by increasing metabolism (the rate at which calories are burned)

LHSFNA Resources

A number of resources to encourage and guide exercise are available from the LHSFNA online publications catalogue. One is a 25-minute video, Spring Training, that draws out the parallels between the working lives of construction Laborers and baseball players, both of whom need to be fit in the spring in order to get back to work while avoiding unnecessary injuries. Laborers’ Building Better Bodies is a 53-page manual for trainers that reviews the physical tasks and common musculoskeletal injuries of construction and makes recommendations for strength and flexibility training. An 8-page booklet, Build a Better Body, presents similar information in a shorter, more easily digestible format.

With dreary, cold and wet weather outside, it is easy to be swallowed up in the winter doldrums. Yet, most people, once they push themselves to action, feel better – emotionally as well as physically. As the new year kicks off, get yourself off that couch. Come spring, you’ll be happy you did.

[Steve Clark]