Physical fitness includes activities that will improve your strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. It is divided into the following components: cardiorespiratory endurance, which is the ability of your heart and lungs to transport oxygen through your body and is commonly referred to as aerobics-, muscular strength and endurance, which is the ability of your muscles to lift objects such as weights or groceries, and also helps you maintain good sitting posture if you use a wheelchair or better standing balance- flexibility, which is the ability of your muscles and tendons to move your joints through various angles and ranges, and balance, which involves your ability to maintain your center of gravity in a position that does not risk a fall. Depending on your condition, each of these components will require a greater or lesser amount of your attention. For example, someone with poor balance will have to spend more time performing exercises that will help maintain or improve balance. Individuals with poor strength should begin a weight training program to improve their strength.
Physical fitness is a vital part of improving your health, so make sure you focus on several of these areas in your exercise program. Examples of what you can do in each area of fitness are described below.
Improving Endurance (Aerobics) Endurance-type physical activity refers to activity that involves large muscle groups and is sustained for a few minutes at a time to 30 minutes or longer. Examples of endurance activity include cycling, swimming, walking, and lifestyle activities such as gardening and yard work that incorporate large muscle groups. The key to performing endurance activity is to make sure you don't experience too much fatigue immediately after the activity or a day or two later. It is important to balance the amount of activity with how you feel. Some days will be better than others, so adjust the amount of endurance activity depending on how much energy you have that day. Don't hesitate to adjust your daily routine from a few minutes a day when you are tired or fatigued, to 30 to 60 minutes a day when your energy level is good. Any amount of exercise is good, and moving a few minutes a day is better than doing nothing.
Strengthening Activities Strength activities increase your muscle strength and help you perform more easily various activities such as climbing stairs or carrying various items like groceries, luggage, or handbags. You can improve your strength in a number of ways, such as using weight machines, elastic bands, or lifting 1-gallon milk containers filled with water (one full container weighs 8 lbs.). The amount of resistance and number of repetitions you should perform will depend on your current level of strength. In general, one to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions are recommended for improving or maintaining your strength. As your strength increases, the amount of weight that you lift should also increase. Ideally, strength training should not be performed on consecutive days, in order to allow the muscle groups being used to recover between sessions.
While both upper and lower body muscles should be included in a strengthening program, this will depend on how much use you have in each set of muscle groups in your upper and lower body. Muscles in the lower body (ankles, hips, and legs) are particularly important for mobility, and muscles in the arms are important for performing transfers, getting up from the floor, and lifting and carrying various objects. And remember to strengthen the muscles in your stomach and back area. They are important for maintaining good postural alignment.
Flexibility activities will help you maintain or increase your range of motion around various joints in your body. It is a good idea to get into a routine of daily stretches, especially if you have a lot of tightness in various parts of your body such as your hips or legs. Some people like to stretch for a few minutes a day before going to work or getting out of bed. They find that it helps "loosen up" tight or spastic muscles. Flexibility activities can be incorporated into your daily routine at work or home, or may be done as part of an exercise class during the warm up and/or cool down phases of the class.
Stretching should include both static and/or dynamic exercises. In dynamic stretching, the muscle moves through the full range of motion of a joint, such as when you perform arm circles. A static stretch is when the muscle is lengthened or stretched to the point where there is some discomfort or tension, but it is not painful, and you are able to hold this stretch for around 15 to 45 seconds. Static and dynamic flexibility are both very important for keeping your joints moving through their full range of motion.
There are two types of balance: static balance and dynamic balance. Just as the name implies, static balance is performed by moving into various positions and holding them for a certain amount of time (a few seconds up to a minute). Dynamic balance is the ability to maintain your balance while moving. Static balance activities are commonly used in various types of yoga positions, which is an excellent way to maintain and improve your static balance. Yoga can be performed in a chair, lying on a mat, or standing.
Dynamic balance can be improved by decreasing your base of support while walking, such as walking between two narrow lines, walking on a straight line, or walking heel-to-toe or on your toes or heels. If you are having trouble with your balance, try static balance activities holding onto a chair, and dynamic balance activities sliding your hand along the wall as you move across the room. Try not to get frustrated. Some days your balance will be better than on other days. Balance is also affected by the type of medication you're taking. If you have a change in medication, you might notice that your balance has changed. On days when your balance is not so good, try doing sitting balance exercises from a chair or on the floor. It is important that you make balance exercises a regular part of your daily routine. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD) can provide you with a variety of balance activities that will keep your balance program both interesting and challenging (see Appendix A, Resources).
Adaptive Fitness Equipment There are special types of adaptive fitness equipment that can help with your exercise or recreation program. These are too numerous to list here, but include such things as adaptive gloves and straps that will keep your hand(s) connected to an exercise machine or piece of equipment, and various types of exercise equipment made specifically for people with limited use of their arms and legs. A list of these adaptations and equipment can be found on the NCPAD website at www.ncpad.org or by calling its toll-free number at 800-900-8086. See Resource Appendix for additional places to obtain assistance.
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