Adding exercise to your life

By Dr. Shane Drakes

Happy New Year to all! During this month, many persons will be seeking to add a regular exercise routine to their lifestyles. Regular exercise is beneficial for persons of all ages, levels of fitness and is also important for those who are known to have health challenges. Many of the benefits of exercise are mentioned regularly but we will discuss these in this article as well as some guidelines for an exercise routine.

Over the past few years it has been reported that the percentage of our citizens who are overweight or obese has been increasing. Several publicized sudden deaths occurring in public spaces caused concern last year and these were thought to be the result of chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular disease (heart attacks) and cerebrovascular disease (stroke). Inadequate physical activity has been linked to 22 harmful health conditions, including obesity, hypertension, type two diabetes, stroke, heart attack and cancer. A group of Australian researchers calculated the global cost of physical inactivity based on data on 5 diseases from 142 countries at $67.5 billion US. It is likely that the overall global cost of physical inactivity could be 3 to 4 times that amount.

There are multiple benefits of exercise including:

  • Improved cardiovascular health, strength and muscular endurance
  • Increased resistance to fatigue
  • Decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Helps control hypertension, diabetes and elevated cholesterol
  • Reduced cancer risk
  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis
  • Along with dietary changes, assists with weight loss
  • Decreased anxiety, depression and stress

A good exercise program has several components:

  • Cardiorespiratory (aerobic)- walking, running, treadmill, cycling, elliptical, swimming
  • Resistance (strength training)- free weights, resistance bands, weight machines
  • Flexibility – stretching
  • Neuromotor- balance, coordination and agility

The American College of Sports Medicine has published guidelines for physical activity for persons of all ages. Children and adolescents should participate in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity daily. These activities should be age appropriate, offer variety and be enjoyable. Adults should participate in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly. All persons should do muscle strengthening activities at least 2-3 days per week. For young children, such activities can include climbing, jumping, tumbling and gymnastics while older children and adolescents can participate in supervised strength training programs with emphasis placed on using good technique. Flexibility and neuromotor exercises should be performed at least 2-3 days per week in all age groups. Neuromotor exercises are particularly helpful for the elderly to help reduce the risk of falls. Tai chi and yoga are good examples sources of neuromotor exercise. Persons unable to meet the requirements can still obtain benefit from whatever exercise they can tolerate.

How do you know if you are exercising at the correct intensity?

  • Light- you can easily sing while exercising and under most circumstances, you won’t break a sweat
  • Moderate- you can talk while exercising but not sing
  • Vigorous- you will be breathing very rapidly and you will find it hard to talk while exercising

The Borg Scale (Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale) can also help you gauge how hard you are exercising.

Some persons will need a medical evaluation before starting a new exercise program. These include men over 45 and women over 55, those with known cardiovascular, pulmonary or metabolic diseases and those with more than 2 cardiovascular risk factors. Further testing may be necessary in some cases. Exercise is beneficial in those who suffered heart attacks and strokes once it is initiated under medical supervision. It can reduce the risk of another event, improve endurance, strength and physical function. Persons with joint pains should be evaluated and treatment started prior to beginning an exercise program. Consider a medical evaluation if any of these scenarios apply to you.

If you are planning to start an exercise program, the principles discussed in this article will be useful. If you need help, get a reputable, certified personal trainer for individual or group sessions and obtain great guidance in designing your exercise routine. You can get healthy, have fun and work towards optimal physical function.


(Dr. Shane Drakes is Specialist in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine. He can be contacted at