Low Impact, Steady Gains
by Yochanaan Coetzee
We’ve all been there. Sitting on the side lines watching a soccer or rugby match and allowing our minds to slip back to a time when we were the fastest people on the pitch. But alas, whether by injury, age or inactivity, most of us will know how it feels to be a shadow of our younger fitter selves.
“Many people don’t know what their body can handle safely, that’s why so many people who enter into intensive regimes like CrossFit end up with an injury,” says Windhoek-based physiotherapist Wayne Damons.
“It’s always best to seek a professional evaluation by a physiotherapist or biokineticist and they’ll be able to tell you what the best options are for you.”
Low impact regimes are perfect for those of who have injuries, damaged cartilage or tender joints. In fact high-impact exercise is especially inadvisable if you suffer from chronic bone and joint problems, such as arthritis, osteoporosis or have injured your joints, bones or connective tissues. Also if you’re overweight or are new to exercise, low impact sports are the best option.
Some find that their joints pain and become inflamed after taking part in physical activities such as running and contact sports. A solution is to find the a low impact exercise or activity that will allow you to get the exercise you need to stay fit, but take it easy on your joints, knees and hips.
Namibian amateur league rugby player Ralton Thompson for example lives for intensive days on the field. A lifetime of hard running, dubious tackles and leaving everything on the pitch have however taken a toll on his body. At 26 he, like so many other avid sportsmen and women, has had surgery on both his knees.
“I won’t even try to describe the pain I experienced when I tore my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), but since my first operation I’ve been able to go back to being competitive on the field, so hopefully with some patience, physiotherapy and the right exercise this knee will heal up fine like the first one.”
Research suggests that moderate-intensity, low-impact activity such as yoga, swimming and fast walking is just as effective as high-impact activity like running for lowering the risk of heart disease.
“Low-impact exercise doesn’t put the joints under much stress and allows them to heal better since you’re allowing the damaged ligaments to be stimulated,” says Thompson.
There are some popular low-impact activities that you can do around the house. These are ideal if you’re not very active but want to improve your health, lift your mood and remain independent. Something as simple as standing up from a seated position repeatedly may not seem like what your PE teacher had in mind but the trick is not to overly stress your body with excessive training in the beginning stages. Rather focus on using your body weight and multiple reps to help strengthen the tissue surrounding problem joints.
You can also try climbing any stairs you have around the house. Do this for 45 minutes and you could use up to 400 calories. Alternatively, you could step it up and step out for the ever trusty walk.
There’s been a surge in dance class memberships in recent years, no doubt inspired by shows such as ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. One of the best things about dancing is that while you’re having fun moving to music and meeting new people, you’re getting all the health benefits of a good workout. This is especially good for couples as the exercise and time spent together learning a beautiful dance will bear much more fruit than being able to show off your moves the next time you go clubbing.
Cycling is a great low-impact, high adrenaline activity, but you can still injure yourself if you fall off or have the wrong size bike. It works your lower body and cardiovascular system with most of the shock being absorbed by the bicycle and the rest of your body, not just your joints and knees. Start slowly and increase the length of your sessions gradually, 45 minutes at a moderate pace could help you burn up to 381 calories.
Swimming works the whole body and is a great way to tone up and increase overall health. Swimming a few lengths involves most of the muscle groups and you’ll get a good aerobic workout if you increase the pace.
“Yoga is a gentle, non-competitive practice which requires you to be kind and considerate to your body. Improved strength, flexibility, posture and balance are just a few of the benefits because it works most if not all of the muscles in the body and doesn’t require any fancy equipment,” says Beauty Boois, a Windhoek-based yogi. Yoga can improve both your physical fitness and your general wellbeing through a series of postures and breathing exercises. It also lifts your mood.
Most strength training exercises are low-impact and still work up a sweat. Try partial squats, lunges, planks and other exercises that make use of you body weight, but make sure to control those movements, otherwise you could still injure yourself. Depending on your condition you could also do weight training, but exercise caution.
Golf is a great low impact sport, that relieves stress (when you’re winning) and gets you out in the fresh air for a few hours. Bonus health points if you skip the golf cart and walk the course.