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Health Problems and Exercise

Contact Mike Gascoigne
Contact Mike Gascoigne

There are lots of us just like me. You will find us at...
Cardiac Athletes

I write this from the perspective of a big wake-up call, and you can read about it by clicking here, but you would be better off reading this first so you can see where I'm coming from. There are all sorts of health conditions that might put people off doing exercise when in fact their condition presents little or no impediment, and in some cases exercise might bring some relief and it might be recommended as part of their treatment.

For example:

  • Arthritis affects 1 in 5 adults in the UK. Osteoarthritis is a deterioration of the articulating cartilage in the joint, while rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammation of the synovial membrane. In both cases, regular moderate exercise can reduce pain and stiffness.
  • Osteoporisis is a reduction in bone density, making people susceptible to fractures. It's more common in men than women under 45 years of age, but then the risks are reversed and women become more susceptible after the menopause because of reduced levels of oestrogen. Weight-bearing exercise is recommended because it helps to increase bone density.
  • Asthma is a respiratory condition resulting in shortness of breath, caused by contraction of the muscles around the airways, swelling of mucous cells or over-secretion of mucus. There are various types of asthma, and in some cases it can be aggravated by inappropriate exercise, but normally a moderate and regular exercise programme will help to keep the lungs healthy. People with asthma should always have their inhalers with them while exercising.
  • Diabetes is a metabolic disorder associated with insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose levels in the body, converting it to glycogen for storage in the liver and muscles. Type 1 diabetes develops quickly in people under 35 and involves a failure of the pancreas so that insulin production ceases and regular injections are required. Type 2 diabetes develops more gradually, usually in people over 40, and insulin production is reduced but does not stop altogether. In some cases the body becomes resistant to insulin. The treatment is diet and exercise, especially aimed at weight control. Oral medication might be required, but not normally injections. For people with type 1 diabetes, exercise and insulin are complementary because they both have the effect of reducing blood sugar levels. However, you wouldn't exercise and take an injection at the same time because you might reduce your blood sugar level too far.
  • High blood pressure is a condition caused by fatty deposits on the artery walls, restricting the blood flow and increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Regular exercise reduces blood pressure by relaxing the muscles around the arteries, causing them to open up. Exercise should be dynamic, involving plenty of movement, and you should expect to see a measurable drop in blood pressure afterwards. Static holds such as the "plank" should be avoided because during the exercise they increase blood pressure to unacceptable levels.
  • Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease and strokes because of the fatty deposits that clog up the arteries, and it also increases the risk of developing diabetes. The effective remedy is to exercise more and eat less, but it's important to maintain a balanced diet with all the essential nutrients. Don't go in for any crash diets, they don't work. You need to lose weight gradually over a period of time. An exercise programme should be mainly aerobic, aimed at burning off as many calories as possible while not placing too much stress on the joints.

As a personal trainer I can work with people with any of the above conditions, although in some cases, depending on the severity, I might have to send you off to your GP to get a doctor's note. Your GP has access to your whole medical history and will be able to identify any issues that might be important in the design of an effective exercise programme.

Heart Disease. Yes, I can work with that, but not in the rehab stage because it's a specialist activity that requires some training at REPs level 4. There are a number of different things that can go wrong with the heart, requiring a variety of treatments including stents, bypasses, valve replacements, pacemakers, etc. Normally there will be a period of rehabilitation, starting with rest, followed by light exercise such as walking, then more intensive exercise such as going to a gym. After a successful rehab you will be given the green light to continue as a regular member of a gym or join a sports club, and that's the stage where I can help you. Regular exercise strengthens the muscles of the heart and makes it work better, pumping more blood with each beat and reducing the number of beats required for any given level of activity.

Amazing People

There are some amazing people who continue to engage in regular physical activity, including competitive sports, in spite of odds that are stacked against them.

  • If you go regularly to a gym, you will occasionally see someone arriving in a wheelchair. You wonder what they could possibly do, then you see them doing the chest press, the lat pulldown, the arm-bike and lots of other upper-body exercises. At the competitive level, they turn up at endurance events and race their wheelchairs.
  • On one occasion I went to our local gym and two girls arrived. One had come for an induction and the other was a friend helping her out because she had a problem with her hearing. The instructor was apparently unaware of what sort of help was being offered, until he opened his mouth and she started signing. The girl who had come for the induction was totally deaf, but it seemed as if it was no impediment whatsoever.
  • I am a member of the Sandhurst Joggers, and during the winter we have a series of cross-country races with the participating clubs of the Thames Valley Cross-Country League. In one of these clubs there is a blind runner. She has to be led round the course by a friend, but she jumps over tree roots, climbs over stiles and tramples through the mud just like any other runner. Normally she finishes near the back, but not necessarily last and I've seen her beat some of the slower runners who have perfectly normal vision.
  • I know someone who had a heart transplant, but it doesn't stop him doing anything. He participates in lots of competitive running events including marathons and ultras, and he organises a triathlon team.

I thought I'd write this short article just to show that there are some health problems that might be perceived as impediments to normal activity, when exactly the opposite is true. Instead, the problem should become part of the motivation to activity.

Of course there are some problems that will get you down, at least for a while. They are commonly known as "sporting injuries", but you have to rest and recover from them, and then you come back again with renewed vigour. As you get older, the recovery times get longer and eventually there comes a time when you have to hang up your running shoes, but you are left with a shelf full of medals and trophies and some great memories.

Now that you know where I'm coming from, it's time to find out what my problem was (although you've probably guessed it already). To read about it click here.

Mike Gascoigne