Are you a marathon runner? Basketball player? Self-taught yogi or bench-pressing master? Regardless of what your exercise routine looks like these days, there’s one thing we can all agree on: breaking a sweat is an incredible feeling.
Those post-workout endorphins can make you feel on top of the world. Not to mention the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing a milestone or hitting a new personal best. Physical activity helps us live longer, healthier lives, so learning how to exercise better can help improve anyone’s journey!
“Humans have evolved to be active. It’s outside of our nature to not be active,” says Alex Chow, a physiotherapist at HealthOne.
Along with creating treatment plans for patients who have injuries, a lot of his work is centered around helping people exercise better. From injury prevention strategies to custom exercise programs, he certainly knows a thing or two about how to optimize your physical activity.
We sat down with Alex to learn his top tips for exercising better!
Why is exercise important?
The reasons why you should be exercising are pretty much endless, but for now, we’ll stick to the basics. Moving your body has an incredible impact on both your physical and mental wellbeing!
“Exercise can improve your cardiovascular health, your heart, give you stronger lungs, better muscle mass, and better bone density,” Alex says. “But there’s also the mental and emotional aspect, which is equally as important.”
Studies show that when we exercise, our bodies release chemicals called endorphins. These are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain and have positive effects on the body. Endorphins also augment the production of dopamine, a “feel good” neurotransmitter that provides us with feelings of pleasure. Runner’s high, anyone?
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in using exercise to look a certain way, we should never forget the benefits it brings to us internally as well. Remember, your physical and mental health is more important than achieving a six-pack!
How a physiotherapist can help you exercise
So, we know that exercise is good for us and especially good for our health. But why trust a physiotherapist if you want to learn how to exercise better? “Because physiotherapists are movement and exercise specialists,” Alex explains. “To become one, you need an undergraduate degree and a Master’s degree and many of us also have some sort of sports and exercise background.”
Physiotherapists are trained to understand how the human body works and the best ways to optimize its functioning. Whether you need to recover from an injury or want advice on hitting your goals, they’re one of the best professional resources that you can rely on to support your journey. With that, let’s take a look at the main ways a physiotherapist help you exercise better!
- Prevent injury.
If you’ve ever rolled an ankle that left you couch-ridden for a few days, you’ll know how inconvenient an injury can be. As much as it’s important to treat injuries when they happen, preventing them is the first step that everyone should take.
A physiotherapist can help you prevent injury by assessing your current physical abilities and making recommendations on the areas you could improve. The way Alex achieves this is by performing a Functional Mobility Assessment. An FMA evaluates how well you’re able to perform simple, everyday movements.
“For example, your squat, your step-up, your push-up… you really need to all those things to function every day. When you get out of a chair, you’re doing a squat. When you go up and down stairs, you’re doing step-ups. In an FMA, we’re looking for inefficiencies that could potentially lead to an injury.”
A physiotherapist like Alex will make personalized recommendations to help you reduce your chances of injury. This may include things like strengthening exercises, stretches, or even referrals to other rehab practitioners. Preventing injuries is one way a physiotherapist can help you exercise better, but their real “bread and butter” comes down to their treatment.
- Recover from injury.
Alex shares that there are two types of injuries he sees in patients – acute injuries and chronic injuries. Here’s a brief example of each:
- Acute: Rachel feels a sharp twinge in her shoulder while throwing a baseball. The pain is severe and prevents her from being able to move her arm. In order to get back to playing baseball, Rachel should make a full recovery to avoid the injury from getting worse.
- Chronic: Devon begins to feel some slight discomfort in his shoulder while doing push-ups. He ignores the feeling, assuming it will go away on its own. Over the next couple of weeks, the pain gets worse and feels like it’s spreading to other areas of his upper body. In order to get back to doing push-ups, Devon should make a full recovery to avoid the injury from getting worse.
In both scenarios, a physiotherapist can help by assessing the injury and coming up with an individualized treatment plan. This might include stretches, a custom exercise program, manual therapy, treatments such as ultrasound therapy or acupuncture, or referrals to other specialists.
While helping you recover from an injury, a good physiotherapist will do more than treat your pain. They’ll also ask about your current exercise routine so you can return to it as safely as possible. “All the sessions should center around getting someone closer towards their goal whether it’s just getting rid of the pain, helping them move better, getting them to run a 5k or helping them squat 100 pounds, for example.”
A physiotherapist should be your go-to when it comes to preventing and recovering from an injury. But what if you’ve never stepped foot in a gym before? Look no further! Beginning an exercise routine is something Alex can help you with, too.
- Create an exercise program.
It can be tough to find a form of exercise that you love doing and stick with it. It can be even tougher to know where to begin if you want to develop a new routine! A physiotherapist like Alex can help by creating a custom exercise program designed specifically for you.
Everyone has different abilities and goals, which is why the customization aspect of exercise programs is so valuable. Want to increase your step count? Lose weight? Improve your strength, flexibility, or endurance? Sharing these details will help your physiotherapist determine the best exercises to match you with.
The programs designed at HealthOne come with easy-to-follow video instructions that you can do virtually anywhere. Most patients follow the program for 4-8 weeks, then re-assess their goals and needs with their practitioner. If you consider yourself an exercise newbie, a custom program is a great first step that a physiotherapist can provide you with.
- Prescribe products.
Our bodies are incredible machines, but they can’t always reach new heights on their own. Did you know there are a variety of products that can help you exercise better?
Take custom orthotics, for example, which are specially designed inserts that you wear inside of your shoes.
A physiotherapist like Alex can assess your unique gait (walking pattern) and prescribe an orthotic that provides even better support than a normal running shoe would. Biomechanical foot issues can be quite a pain to deal with, but an orthotic can support your feet and improve your movements.
There are also a variety of braces a physiotherapist can prescribe, which are used to provide extra support throughout the body.
If you have a knee injury, for instance, a brace can provide extra cushioning and support so you can continue exercising as you recover. Even professional athletes and Olympic sports players rely on braces to keep them in the game!
The best way to determine if a product could help you exercise better is by visiting a physiotherapist for an assessment. Once they have a better understanding of your lifestyle and exercise goals, they’ll determine the best path forward for you to max out that stride.
Final thoughts from our physiotherapist
At the end of the day, we all want to be moving better and with less pain. Our exercise goals may change throughout our life, but one thing remains certain: movement keeps us happy and healthy.
As movement and exercise specialists, physiotherapists can play an integral role in anyone’s physical health journey. Preventing injury, recovering from an injury, developing a custom exercise program and prescribing special products are four key ways they can help you exercise better.
Alex offers in-person physiotherapy in Toronto as well as virtual services, which can be accessed anywhere in the world. Click here to learn more about HealthOne Rehab.
One Life. Live Inspired.