Aerobic exercise is key to fitness

Aerobic exercise is best defined as activity that improves the use of oxygen by the human body.

The term was first popularized by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, an Air Force physician, who published a book in 1968 titled “Aerobics.” His book was the result of research explaining why people with excellent physical strength could not perform well on tasks involving running, swimming and bicycling.

The target organs for this part of an exercise program are the heart and lungs. Increasing the ability for these organs to better utilize oxygen will impact all phases of human performance.

The human brain especially benefits from improved aerobic capacity. Studies have now demonstrated increased cognitive abilities along with benefits for patients suffering from migraines. The progression of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is slower in those who are aerobically fit.

Aerobic exercise involves the use of large muscles in repetitious and rhythmic movement. Walking is probably the best example and a great way to start. After consulting with a physician, gradually increasing speed and distance will lead to weight loss, improved mood and better stamina.

“The key to an effective aerobic regimen is variety,” said Marc Nee, a local personal trainer and owner of Training with Heart who works with clients of all ages and abilities. “Each workout should include three different aerobic activities such as biking, walking and stairs for ten minutes each. Variety combats boredom and allows athletes to use different muscles.”

Pedometers are an inexpensive way to measure the number of steps taken during the course of a day. A goal of 10,000 steps is the equivalent of five miles.

Although 30 minutes three times per week is recommended, all experts agree that any movement is an important start. While aerobic exercise is a critical part of any workout, weight training is an important component to be discussed in next week’s column.

The complete workout: Stretching, aerobics and resistance training

Designing a workout regimen involves three basic components: stretching, aerobic activity and resistance training. Balancing these elements properly results in a workout that yields the greatest results in the least amount of time.

Over the course of the next three weeks, each element will be discussed and suggestions for putting together an efficient workout outlined.

The goal of stretching is to warm up the muscles that are about to be stressed. The term “warm-up” actually refers to increasing blood flow to the muscle.

Muscles are the engines of the human motor system. They are attached to bones by tendons at each end. Tendons become frail with age and disuse. Stretching refreshes elasticity before exercise. Immediate stress on a tendon often results in tearing.

Contracting a muscle moves a joint and places the body in motion. The muscle itself consists of a series of fibers that rely on blood and nerve supply for energy and direction. Increasing the supply of necessary nutrients before activity allows for a smoother transition from idle to active.

Static stretching is the type that includes going into a stretched position and holding it for 20-30 seconds. Dynamic stretching involves stretching muscles while moving.

Muscle physiologists have demonstrated that static stretching alone will result in muscle fatigue and loss of power. It also facilitates an inhibitory impulse from the nervous system. Dynamic stretches increase power, flexibility and range of motion while eliciting an excitatory neurologic stimulus.

“I recommend older athletes begin a workout with a walk or light jog,” said Marc Nee, a local personal trainer and owner of Training with Heart. “Younger, more aggressive athletes should combine dynamic and static stretching through lunging movements performed slowly and held for several seconds.”

Repetition of an activity such as a tennis serve or baseball swing before competing is a very effective way of stretching.

Careful stretching before each workout is an important and often overlooked component of an effective workout regimen.

Mountain rescuers there when needed

Winter mountain sports include a wide variety of activities. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice climbing require understanding of the terrain, adequate training and the participant’s physical limitations.

Unfortunately, even with the best preparation, serious accidents can occur and the intervention of outdoor rescue specialists is needed. These rescues can vary greatly and include searching for avalanche survivors, getting injured participants off a mountain and administering medical care in the cold wilderness.

Ted Grave of Cheshire, Conn. directs the Mount Snow ski patrol in Vermont. The staff consists of 80 members, 60 of whom are volunteers. Although many have some medical background, all share a love of the outdoors and a willingness to risk their personal safety for others.

“The most important requirement of the National Ski Patrol is excellent skiing or snowboarding skills; the medical information can be taught,” said Graves. Each staff member must successfully complete a course in outdoor emergency care.

Sally Grave, Ted’s wife, manages the base unit that is attached to an urgent care center staffed by physicians and physician assistants. Serious injuries may require helicopter evacuation to a trauma center.

Although the most common injuries continue to be fractures and sprains of the extremities, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are available on the mountain in case of cardiac arrest.

Adequate preparation is crucial for winter mountain safety:

• Participants should be in good general health before venturing into the wilderness.
• Helmet use is essential for winter activities that include moving at high speeds.
• Appropriate equipment including GPS devices, radios and clothing can be crucial in a crisis.

All mountain safety experts agree that the most important safety factor is good judgment. Knowing the abilities and limitations of yourself and others in your party is imperative to avoiding tragedy.

Special Olympics show special side of sports

In 1968, the word “special” was used to describe the first Olympic competition designed for athletes with cognitive challenges.

In the subsequent 41 years, this term became more descriptive of sportsmanship, spirit and approach to athletics rather than the challenges participants face.

This week Boise, Idaho, will host more than 2,400 athletes with intellectual disabilities and 6,000 volunteers from 107 nations for the Special Olympics World Winter Games.

An individual is considered to have an intellectual disability based on an IQ below 75 and significant limitations in adaptive skills that manifest themselves before age 18. There are more than 200 million people with intellectual disabilities worldwide, making them the largest disability population in the world. Participation in Special Olympics can begin at age eight.

These winter games will include alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating. The floor hockey event will have several “unified teams.” A unified team consists of both athletes with intellectual disabilities and those without. The non-disabled athletes are referred to as partners. Interestingly, it appears that the partners on these teams gain as much satisfaction as the special olympians from the bonding that takes place on the gym floor.

Michelle Hayes is a nurse at Backus Hospital. Her son, Michael, is a 16-year-old swimmer who participates in summer games.

“The sense of accomplishment attained by athletes on the playing field clearly carries over to success in other areas,” Hayes said. “What is most inspiring is witnessing how, despite the competitive nature of sports, these athletes don't hesitate to assist opponents who may be struggling during an event.”

Many current sporting events have become overrun with commercialism, high salaries and poor sportsmanship. It's interesting that it may take a group of athletes with intellectual disabilities to remind us of how “special” sports should be.