Explore concerns

Many people with health problems - and those without - have reasonable concerns about becoming more active

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1
Ask

“What concerns might you have about becoming more active, if you decided to?”

Saying “if you decided to” reminds them that they are the decision maker, not you. This helps keep the discussion open and active, focusing your role on providing support.

 

For example say ‘Yes, that is a common concern’  or a reflection such as ‘you’re concerned that being more active may make your pain worse’ (said as a statement, not a question)

Your role is to help them feel listened to and understood rather than to immediately jump in to dismiss their concern or to offer information, advice and reassurance.  Acknowledging their views will help them to feel supported and may help them to be more receptive to any new information you might want to share with them.

Allow some space for people to talk about and explore new information, asking ‘what do you think about what I’ve just said?’ rather than asking ‘do you understand?’ which can shut things down. Ask if they need anything clarifying and what concerns they might have about how the information applies to them.

 

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Share

If they mention one of these common concerns, click on it to see a useful response.

I already feel tired and you want me to do more….

Becoming more active is the most important treatment for persistent fatigue as it helps with body reconditioning and boosts energy levels. It can be a way for individuals to take back some control over their health

Tips you may wish to share:

  • Encourage a slow start with a gradual build up to small bouts of activity (this just needs to be a few minutes). This can increase over time
  • Increase the number of activity sessions first, then increase the duration each activity, followed by the intensity of an activity

I am already in pain being active will just make it worse

In most cases, regular physical activity helps reduces pain over the time. Some mild discomfort after activity does not mean there has been damage. It is normal for anyone who is not used to being physically active to experience some muscle soreness after doing a new exercise. As people become accustomed to the activity this pain will reduce.

Tips you may wish to share:

  • Ensure an adequate warm up and cool down of 5-10 minutes
  • Exercise at the time of day when pain is usually least severe

 

I am worried I will damage my joints

There is no evidence to suggest that regular, even intensive exercise will harm joints.

Tips you may wish to share: 

  1. Regular physical activity does not damage joints
  2. Stronger muscles help support joints, improving pain
  3. Encourage a slow start with a gradual build up to small bouts of activity
  4. It is normal for anyone who is not used to exercising to experience some muscle soreness after doing a new exercise, but this will reduce over time

My gym said I need medical clearance before being active: am I OK to exercise?

For the vast majority of people, medical clearance is not required to safely undertake progressive, moderate intensity activity. Important exceptions to this are people experiencing active symptoms (see below) or previously inactive people who disregard advice to build up gradually. An additional list of contraindications is listed below [1,2].

Significant events are so rare that medical screening has the potential to be an unnecessary barrier to physical activity. Screening is most effective when focussed on active symptoms and co-morbidity [3].

It is fairly common for gyms to request a medical letter for people to use their facilities. Consider the option of providing a signed letter to overcome this barrier for individuals. Encouraging a slow start with gradual build up of activity (over 3 months or so) reduces the chances of poor outcomes.

This flow diagram will help you decide who might need referral for formal assessment before increasing their physical activity levels and may help address queries from gyms:

Notes

Signs and symptoms, at rest or during activity; includes pain, discomfort in the chest, neck, jaw, arms, or other areas that may result from ischemia; shortness of breath at rest or with mild exertion; dizziness or syncope; orthopnea or paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea; ankle edema; palpitations or tachycardia; intermittent claudication; known heart murmur; or unusual fatigue or shortness of breath with usual activities

  1. An easy way to explain the intensity of exercise is the talk test:
  • Moderate intensity: breathing rate is increased but you can still talk
  • Vigorous intensity: breathing rate is further increased and it is not possible to talk in full sentences
  1. Patients with active symptoms or high risk necessitating medical screening will require formal investigations such as cardiac stress testing

Contraindications to physical activity include:

  • Unstable angina
  • Severe valvular stenosis or regurgitation
  • Active myocarditis or pericarditis
  • Ventricular tachycardia (uncontrolled)
  • Decompensated heart failure
  • Blood pressure >200/115 mmHg
  • Recent myocardial infarction (< six weeks)
  • Other clinical entities known to worsen during exercise
  • Acute Systemic infection

References

1) Fletcher GF, Ades PA, Kligfield P, et al. Exercise standards for testing and training: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013;128(8):873-934.

2) Pedersen BK, Saltin B. Exercise as medicine – evidence for prescribing exercise as therapy in 26 different chronic diseases. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2015;25 Suppl 3:1-72.

3) Thompson PD, Arena R, Riebe D, Pescatello LS, Medicine ACoS. ACSM’s new preparticipation health screening recommendations from ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, ninth edition. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2013;12(4):215-7.

How do I know when to stop exercising?

It is normal for anyone who is not used to being physically active to experience some muscle soreness after doing a new activity and this pain will reduce as they become more accustomed to the activity.  Worsening symptoms may be due to increasing activity too quickly – reducing activity levels a little and then gradually increasing them again more slowly can help

Dizziness, sickness or excessive tiredness are signals to stop exercising and wait for symptoms to settle. Warning signs to seek urgent medical attention include blacking out, chest pain, or excessive shortness of breath.

Tips you may wish to share:

  • Encourage a slow, steady increase in activity to allow for adaptation to the new activity
  • During the first 2-3 months of increasing physical activity it is sensible to be physically active with other people

I am worried about having a heart attack if I become more active

The risk of dying during physical activity is very low. The risk to health from being inactive far outweighs the risk from regular physical activity.

For the majority of people starting moderate intensity activity, medical screening is not indicated. It is often an unnecessary barrier to physical activity.

Who has increased risk?

  • Habitually sedentary individuals may have unknown cardiovascular disease so should increase physical activity very gradually – suddenly doing vigorous intensity activity may increase risk of myocardial infarction in this inactive group by 100-fold
  • Those with active symptoms such as chest pain, acute breathlessness, palpitations signs of heart failure may have serious underlying pathology and should be referred for specialist investigation

Tips you may wish to share:

  1. If starting physical activity for the first time build up very gradually over 3 months
  2. Avoid sudden unaccustomed vigorous physical activity. Vigorous activity increases breathing to the level that it makes it hard to complete a sentence

References

Whang W, Manson JE, Hu FB, et al. Physical exertion, exercise, and sudden cardiac death in women. JAMA. 2006;295(12):1399-1403.

Albert CM, Mittleman MA, Chae CU, Lee IM, Hennekens CH, Manson JE. Triggering of sudden death from cardiac causes by vigorous exertion. N Engl J Med. 2000;343(19):1355-1361

Thompson PD, Arena R, Riebe D, Pescatello LS, Medicine ACoS. ACSM’s new preparticipation health screening recommendations from ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, ninth edition. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2013;12(4):215-217.

Are there any activities I should avoid because of my inflammatory rheumatic disease?

For those with advance disease is generally recommended to avoid contact sports such as rugby, hockey or basketball and high impact activity.

If balance is reduced, then avoid activities that have a high risk of falling such as climbing or horse riding.

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise as it uses many muscles and joints. Those with limited neck movement may find breaststroke and front crawl more difficult. Using a snorkel can be helpful.

What is meant by physical activity and what counts as moderate?

Moderate intensity activity is any activity that makes you breathe faster whilst still being able to hold a conversation compared to vigorous activity where you are breathing too fast to hold a conversion. This will vary on an individuals fitness levels.

Activity/exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial and doesn’t have to be in a gym or exercise class to count.  Every activity counts in as little as 10 minute bouts.

The UK CMOs recommendation is to build up to at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes for vigorous activity and perform muscle strengthening activities twice per week. Those over 65 they should also perform balance exercises twice per week.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/541233/Physical_activity_infographic.PDF

Tips you may wish to share:

  1. Build up gradually in as little as 10 minute bouts
  2. Try and build activity into the daily routine and pick enjoyable activities
  3. Suggested activities include brisk walking, swimming, jogging, yoga, pilates/tai chi,  housework, gardening, cycling, taking the stairs and dancing.
  4. Muscle strengthening exercises vary from body weight or chair based exercises being performed in 8-12 repetitions involving all major muscle groups, bag carrying or a Tai Chi class,  this is also helpful to maintain balance.
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Ask

“Has that helped?”

Did you know?

Start gently and build up slowly

The risk of death from physical activity is extremely low. For Men it is 1 death per 23 million hours and Women it is 1 death per 36.5 million hours.

  1. Albert CM, Mittleman MA, Chae CU, Lee IM, Hennekens CH, Manson JE. Triggering of sudden death from cardiac causes by vigorous exertion. N Engl J Med. 2000;343(19):1355-1361.
  2. Whang W, Manson JE, Hu FB, et al. Physical exertion, exercise, and sudden cardiac death in women. JAMA. 2006;295(12):1399-1403.

Behaviour change techniques should be an integral component of physical activity interventions