Guest Post: LynnAnn Covell on Fitness Options

This post was inspired by an e-mail from reader Beth. She wrote:

I would love to hear about some resources for people who are trying to get physically fit, yet may have some circumstances which means they just can’t go “bust a move” like everyone else. I do a lot of yoga but need cardio badly, and walking doesn’t fit all that great into my schedule (or, currently, climate). I have knee tenderness and scoliosis (30% curve that starts at the base of my spine, so my lower back can be wonky). Everything I check out seems to be made for people who are younger and/or can do exercises I can’t do; you’re not really even given ways or examples to build up to something. I think this really hits at diversity and health–for people who really want to try to get healthy, it’s hard to find good resources unless you’re already really into it.

Since this is a question that I felt ill-qualified to tackle on my own, I enlisted the help of a pro. LynnAnn Covell is a senior fitness specialist at Green Mountain at Fox Run, and I worked with her during my visit there. She was SO FABULOUS at customizing exercises and workouts for those with physical challenges, while simultaneously reinforcing the idea that “your pace is THE pace,” and I knew she’d be the perfect person to tackle Beth’s question. Here’s her response:

* * * * *

Fitness Soul Search: Finding Your Cardio Match

It is an exciting and hopeful moment when you find a physical activity that works for you and your body. One that feels good. One that feels right. When you’ve decided after a period of being sedentary that you want to get moving again, you might need to try several things until something clicks and you want to keep doing it. But, the number of options when you have schedule or physical limitations can be … well … limited. So, you might need to get creative.

When time is getting between you and your fitness, one solution is to break down activities into shorter increments. At Green Mountain at Fox Run, one of our favorite quotes is, “Something is always better than nothing.” If your schedule prevents you from taking a one-hour class or going for a longer run or walk, think about breaking the activity down to, say, three times/day for 10 minutes each. It all counts!

Another solution when time is scarce is to incorporate more movement into your “everyday life.” No class or fancy equipment necessary. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you typically drive to the store, try walking. Instead of watching TV with the family after dinner, play a game of badminton instead. You can even find inventive ways to fit strength training into your daily routine – like at your desk or while you are on the phone.

When physical limitations are your primary concern, there are more cardio options than you might realize. First, the classes where you think you might have to “bust a move” and therefore might bust your knee, may be able to be modified for you. Let’s say you want to try Zumba®, but are afraid that it’s just going to be too much for your body. Talk to the instructor before class, let her know what you are dealing with, and ask if she can show you modifications for your knee, hip, shoulders, etc. If she can’t, then move on to another class or another instructor.

Also, consider new activities where there is much less impact on the joints, like swimming or aquatics. Or, how about using an exercise ball? Not only can it remove pressure from the knees, but it can also support the lower back. FitBALL® offers several beginner DVDs that you can try at home, including one I recommend for under-active adults. Of course, you should ask your physician before you try any new workout.

Lastly, don’t forget about online resources in your fitness soul search, where you can learn from others who found what worked for their bodies and their lives. Some of my favorites include Curvy Yoga and MizFit Online.

LynnAnn Covell is a senior fitness specialist at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a retreat helping women find health and their healthy weights since 1973. LynnAnn was named one of SpaFinder’s Spa Professionals of the Year in 2011 and 2010.

P.S. Since LynnAnn was too modest to mention it, I will. The Green Mountain blog, A Weight Lifted, often has tips, suggestions, and occasionally videos that can be helpful to those who face workout challenges.

Image via The Big C.

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  • lindsay

    I go to Dance Dance Party Party, which is a women-only dance class where you can dance however you like. It’s attracts people at all different levels and they encourage you to do whatever you want and at whatever pace you feel is best for you. There was even an 80 year old lady who came regularly to DDPP. I go to the Twin Cities one, but they have them all over the country:

    • LynnAnn

      Dancing is an awesome way to get in cardio. For many people, it doesn’t even feel like working out – it’s just FUN. And that’s the way cardio should be if you want to make sure you keep it up. Thanks for sharing this info.

  • You may also want to look into rebounding. There are a lot of DVDs out there that show people jumping all over the place and I don’t know how they do it but I just do the “Health Bounce” a few times per day as I too have knew problems -you can check out youtube for demos showing the health bounce.

    A well respected “rebounder” is called the Cellerciser and it comes with a safety bar:

  • I recommend – it is a very welcoming community of people who support each other. No matter what your level of activity is, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find a group of like-minded people with exercise and activity suggestions. There are exercise video and resources too. Check it out!

  • Bekka

    I’m a definite fan of aquatic aerobics, especially when dealing with joint pain. My mom has arthritis and lymphedema, and aquatic aerobics has been such a wonderful fit for her. Not only does it get her exercise without putting extra stress on her joints, but she loves how limber she feels in the water.

    • Yes, I was going to suggest deep-water running with flotation, actually. Aquatic aerobics are SO much fun, too. My mom and I took three classes/week one summer, and I was surprised at first that I got a good workout in – I’m a runner, gym rat and Bikram yogi, so I tend to like my physical activity to pack as much punch as possible (also because I like to eat dinners that pack a huge caloric punch…. mmmmmm, punch…).

  • Cass

    There’s a lot of research being published recently that should cause us to reconsider the conventional exercise wisdom. Basically, the gist of recent publications is

    1) Being on your feet is important, regardless of whether you’re out jogging. In fact, sitting all day is stunningly bad for you, even if you run marathons on the weekend.

    2) The greatest risk reductions come in moving from no exercise to low or moderate exercise (in terms of both length and intensity). Some studies have found no additional reduction in adding more or harder exercise, and one, which had sample size issues in the most active group that make this point not entirely convincing, actually saw an increase in risk going past low to moderate exercise. (In that study, less than ten miles a week, at a pace somewhere around a 10 or 11 minute mile conferred the greatest benefits of all.)

    The main takeaway *seems* to be that it’s not necessary to go nuts (unless you love it). Just get up frequently during the day and take a quick walk around the office (if you have a desk job), walk a lot, and fit in whatever exercise you enjoy.

    There’s also been a growing body of research for quite some time showing that shorter workouts of high intensity sprints (high intensity interval exercise/training, or HIIE/HIIT) have usually similar and in some markers–abdominal fat, insulin sensitivity–better effects than long aerobic workouts. And strength training has its own benefits, especially in women predisposed toward osteoporosis.

    In other words, all of this is mostly a long-winded way of saying you don’t need to be a distance junkie to get in a useful amount of exercise. Just lacing up your shoes (or ditching your shoes entirely) and getting moving somehow is way better than nothing, and sometimes even better than the conventional standard.

    • LynnAnn

      Thanks, Cass. Something is always better than nothing. Walking around the office, just getting up and moving around, it’s all better than sitting. Your body will thank you.

  • The Mobility Workout of the Day is jam-packed with information relevant to those of us with limitations and / or varying degrees of wrecked-ness in just about any and every particular body part.

    Hope you find the support you need in your quest toward improved health and fitness!

  • Margeax Batts

    I hate cardio. Heavy, heavy weights, compound lifts do it for me

  • I’d like to recommend Jazzercise as well. I’m heading tonight back after a flirtation with Club Dance and Zumba. Jazzercise is great because it incorporates cardio, weights and stretching all in one class. And the instructors are trained in how to present the steps with lower impact too.

  • Michelle

    Cardio–I’m not getting enough of it lately, but I will second the women who recommend dance or dance-related classes (if you’re into that).

    My scoliosis is not to the degree yours is, but it is still enough to cause wonkiness! There are just some things I have trouble doing with my legs, or can do with one legs but not both, etc. I have been concentrating lately on strengthening my core. YMMV, but I’ve NOT been using more core. Ever. What’s doing it for me is Pilates. At a gym by a trained, attentive instructor who demonstrates alternate ways to do an exercise and has the attitude that no matter what it is I’m doing (compared to the amazing/impossible things others are doing), if I can feel
    it, I’m getting a benefit from it. Progress has been slow but noticeable.

    Best wishes.

    • Michelle

      I mean, I’ve not been using MY core. Not “more core”. 🙂

  • Jenni

    I am thirding (or fourthing?) the mentions of dance-related classes. If you have Nia classes in your area, they can be wonderful. The routines start off very gentle, there are lots of modifications, and the instructors go through A LOT of training that includes being present with and paying attention to individual needs in their classes. of course, it is a time commitment and involves leaving the house, which is tough. i think there are some vids you can buy on the Nia Now website. Pop one in for a 10 minute dance break here and there? That’s some advice I should take myself….

  • Alex

    Rebounding is a really good recommendation. Once you’ve mastered a few very basic moves, it’s really easy to get your heart rate up with much less impact on your joints than, say, running, and you can combine arm moves (e.g. punching the air) with the jumps so that you are working your whole body. You also don’t need fancy running shoes. If you have enough indoor space to do it safely (and I don’t think you need a great deal), I think it’s a really good option. Also, it’s fun!

  • Elizabeth

    I am in love with Pilates, when done with a qualified instructor that will pay good attention to form. Since it was originally invented as a form of physical therapy, it’s very adaptable to differing physical abilities. (And I didn’t have to stop when I blew out my lower back a few years ago in an unrelated piece of idiocy.) It’s not really cardio, but it can make you more stable for whatever cardio you try.

    Also, I’ve really been getting into exercise dvds lately. I find it easier to try different things and use what little time I have efficiently. (No time spent driving to and from the gym, for instance.) The site has reviews of practically everything ever made, and the sites and have clips of the videos you can watch to see if you might like them. I would recommend Ellen Barrett’s stuff for something relatively accessible with minimal equipment and easy modifications to make the exercise even more gentle. (It’s sneaky though – I always think I haven’t done anything particularly hard, but I sure feel it the next day!)