It’s no secret that moving your body has tremendous benefits on long-term health. However, with endless information at our fingertips and a gym on every corner, it’s easy to get bogged down in new fitness crazes and studies touting “the best” ways to get in shape. To cut through vast amount of information, we decided to sit down with fitness and health specialists to get the real answers about physical exercise. Which workouts are the best? How do you know when you’ve pushed it too far? What are some of the immediate effects of exerting yourself? These are some of the questions we asked Dr. Tin Vuong, D.O., Primary Care Sports Medicine, and Dr. Sara Thurgood, M.D., Family Medicine, both physicians with the Brookwood Baptist Health Primary & Specialty Care Network. You may be surprised to read their answers.
What are some of the most common fitness-related injuries that you see?
Dr. Vuong: We see a wide variety of injuries to all different body parts. Some of the most common ones we see are shoulder strains, rotator cuff injuries, wrist and ankle sprains, intrinsic knee injuries and also back injuries. We see kind of the whole gamut, the whole muscle-skeletal system.
Dr. Thurgood: I usually see milder injuries, often due to repetitive movements. Plantar fasciitis is pretty common, especially in younger people who run or jog. People who are overweight or obese and are trying to get into better shape will often injure knees or ankles, or find out that they are suffering from osteoarthritis. Meniscal tears in the knee are also fairly common from pivoting or twisting injuries.
What are some ways that these injuries can be prevented?
Dr. Vuong: Know your limitations. Especially if you’re just starting to work out and get back into the gym routine. Doing a couple warm-ups is a good way to ease up to certain exercises. And also make sure you’re using proper form and technique when you’re exercising. It’s always good, too, to simply listen to your body. If something is hurting or in pain or doesn’t feel right, it’s better to listen to that inner voice than to ignore it.
Dr. Thurgood: Stretching prior to exercise is very important. Take the time to really warm up before you engage in moderate or strenuous physical activity. Taking time to cool down and stretch after exercising is also important. We also need to recognize our limitations as we get older (and heavier), and be patient with ourselves – we’re not going to be able to snap back as quickly at 40 as we do at 20.
What are some common fitness myths that you commonly hear?
Dr. Vuong: I hear quite often that you have to be in shape to exercise. I think ultimately you have to start somewhere and take a slow, progressive route. Start with small goals, something achievable — even if you aren’t in shape. You just have to move.
Another myth is the idea of “no pain, no gain.” If you’re hurting, that’s your body telling you that something is wrong. It is better to stop, reassess, consider doing less weights or less intensity than to push your body and risk injury.
Dr. Thurgood: The biggest one is that men need to “lift heavy” when it comes to weight training, and women need to “lift light,” meaning use smaller weights with more repetitions. Women are afraid that if they lift “like a man,” they’ll start to bulk up and look more masculine, but we don’t produce enough natural testosterone to really “bulk up.” If women really want to tone their muscles and improve their metabolisms (and lose weight in the process), they need to lift heavier, like the men do, with fewer repetitions. Unless they’re taking testosterone shots, women will never have to worry about looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Also, the old “muscle weighs more than fat” myth. Five pounds of muscle weighs the same as five pounds of fat – five pounds! But, five pounds of muscle is a lot smaller (more dense) than five pounds of fat.
Why is it crucial to move your body every day, even if it’s something minimal?
Dr. Vuong: It helps with joint mobility and flexibility. A lot of times, when you’re moving every day — whether that be taking the stairs or taking the dog for a walk — all that adds up. It also helps with vascular circulation like blood flow and improved immune system. It’s a good way to relieve stress, too. All of this, in turn, helps to reduce other conditions like heart disease and stroke.
Dr. Thurgood: Daily exercise improves heart health, circulation and muscle strength. It keeps us strong and helps us better tolerate unexpected physical stress, as well as improving mood and emotional wellbeing. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain, “feel good” hormones, which can be as potent as synthetic anti-depressant medication for those with mild to moderate depression. The less we move, the weaker (and sicker) we get. And as Americans eat larger, more calorie-rich portions, it is crucial to move more and burn off those calories so that we don’t continue to become more obese.
What are some immediate benefits of making fitness a priority?
Dr. Vuong: One of the important things is, again, the stress relief and self-confidence. Exercise helps release certain chemicals and hormones that deal with daily stress. I also think, in terms of the self-confidence component, when you set up goals that you know are achievable and then you accomplish them and then you set the next goal and accomplish that, it gives you a boost in self-confidence — knowing you can go from one step to the next. I think a lot of it has to do with community, too. When you’re in a group class or training for a specific sport, there are like-minded people in that activity, and you can share that with them. It builds a community and friendship.
Dr. Thurgood: Even a small effort and early weight loss can improve systolic blood pressure (the top number) by up to 10mmHg and significantly lower blood sugar levels. Those endorphins are very rewarding – it’s why we feel so fulfilled after a moderate to strenuous workout. And who doesn’t enjoy looking in the mirror and liking what they see? Regular exercise helps us feel more attractive and confident. When we’re out of shape for months, years, or even decades, we often wonder, “How did I let myself get to this point?” But exercise is rewarding in that we really feel like that we’re doing something about it, and it doesn’t take as long as we think to start getting into better shape – the body is truly amazing at healing itself! We’ll often get to the gym and feel intimidated by all those hard-bodies, but the important thing to remember is that we’re not there for them, we’re there for ourselves. It will get easier with time and consistent effort! It doesn’t matter what type of exercise we do, as long as it’s something we can stick with.
Do you have any favorite gyms in Birmingham, or recommendations?
Dr. Vuong: I think it depends on the specific goals that you have. If you want a gym that has a little bit of everything and a wide range of hours, there are plenty of good options that offer access to weights and circuit training classes, cardio and other sports. If you have a particular goal or a specific physique you’re looking to achieve, some of the smaller gyms are great for people who want to hone in on a specific goal. But ultimately, I feel like the best gym is the one that’s closest to you and within your budget!
I think another thing that is underrated is just doing things outside. It’s one of the big benefits of living in Alabama. There are a lot of different terrains and outdoor activities that you can get into to change up your exercise routine and break up the monotony. You don’t have to look far for these, and they’re usually free.
Dr. Thurgood: I personally go to the Greystone YMCA at least three to four days a week. I don’t have much free time, and the earliest classes offered start at 5:30 a.m. I regularly participate in CrossFit, spin class, and yoga. The Y is a great option for those with a limited budget, and they offer income-based scholarships as well. I would tell people to take advantage of free trials offered at different gyms throughout the year – find a class that fits in your schedule, that you really, truly like, and feel that you could do every day without getting sick of it. That’s how I feel about spinning. I actually hate CrossFit, but I lost four inches off my hips and two off my waist in the first month I did it, so I do it because it works for me. Just be sure to talk to your doctor before engaging in regular exercise and don’t be afraid to go slow at first. It won’t take long before you’re a pro!
To learn more about the services offered at Brookwood Baptist Health or to find a physician, visit brookwoodbaptisthealth.com.
This article is sponsored by Brookwood Baptist Medical Center.