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Understanding Exercise

What is exercise?

Exercise can be anything that gets you moving and active. It is often thought that you are only exercising if you are doing sport or going to a gym. However, it can be anything that you enjoy that might raise your heart rate and/or make you breathe a little faster.


What types of exercise can I do?

Many different forms of exercise or activity exist and often the best one for you is the one you enjoy, as you will stick with it. For exercise to be effective, it needs to challenge you and could involve movement, lifting weights or fitness (cardiovascular exercise). It does not matter what time of the day you complete any form of exercise, but the best time is when you can give yourself the time to do the exercise properly.


Strengthening exercises

These are exercises that involve you and your muscles working against resistance. Resistance can be anything that makes your muscles work harder such as using weights, exercise bands or pushing or pulling against something solid. The aim of strengthening exercises is to improve your strength or power which can help your muscle perform tasks more easily. It is well known that being stronger can help almost every body system that you have including your joints, heart, mental health and immune system.

You can vary the amount of times you lift weights or push or pull and these are called repetitions. You can do certain numbers of repetitions and these are called sets. Often you will need to perform a certain number of repetitions for a certain number of sets, aiming to work until your muscles tire from the exercise in order to benefit from strengthening exercises.  


Movement (flexibility) exercises

These type of exercises aim to increase the amount of movement at a particular joint. Some of the words that are used when talking about movement exercises might include active exercise (you completing the movement yourself), active assisted (using another object to help with the movement) and passive (someone else completing the movement for you). Movement exercises are generally best completed little and often most days. They are often used to prevent stiffness of a joint or to help manage uncomfortable complaints.


What should I feel when I do exercises?

The type of exercise you perform will depend on what you feel. The first feeling should always be enjoyment. If you are enjoying your exercise then you are more likely to complete the exercises and continue to do them on a regular basis.

It is normal to feel your body working harder when you exercise. This might be felt as stiffness or discomfort or just generally hard work. It is ok to feel some discomfort within your muscles and joints when you exercise. This discomfort should settle sometime after you finish, but may still be present a day or two later. You should not look to make your exercises painful. It is a common misunderstanding that exercises have to be painful to be effective.


How do I know that my exercises are working?

When completing your exercises they should be challenging but not impossible. You should feel that the muscles are working and your joints are moving.

The best indicator of whether your exercises are working is if you feel better for doing them. As with a lot of things, exercises do not normally work immediately and therefore it may take some weeks or months to feel the benefit.

If you feel that your exercises are too easy, most exercises are progressed (made more challenging) by varying the speed, the weight, the terrain (i.e. walking over uneven ground instead of flat) or how often you do them.

If you find your exercises are too hard, most exercises can be made more easy using less weight, not moving a body part quite as far, doing fewer repetitions (see ‘strengthening exercises’ section) or having longer rest periods/doing them less often.

If you have been given exercises by your physiotherapist and are still receiving treatment, you can contact them to discuss any questions you may have.

Physical Activity Guidelines

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