Working Out?
4 things you should absolutely know
By Ruth Diamond

Looking to boost or restart your fitness routine? It’s time to challenge some common misconceptions and focus on what truly matters in achieving lasting strength and health. Two South Jersey experts reveal the essential elements of a well-rounded workout – and they may surprise you.

Hydrate before, during and after working out

Many people start their fitness routine already at a disadvantage: They’re under-hydrated.

“When you’re thirsty, you’re already 2% dehydrated,” says Jennifer Naticchia-Walls, MD, a family physician with Inspira Medical Group Primary Care in Haddon Twp.

Jennifer Naticchia-Walls, MD

A former college athlete who has advanced training in sports medicine, Naticchia-Walls understands hydration in both practice and theory. Dehydration is when your body loses more water than it takes in. It can be caused by a variety of factors, from simply not drinking enough water, especially when you’re sick, to losing fluids through heavy sweating during strenuous exercise or in warm weather. 

“Hydration, particularly through drinking water, is crucial not just for optimal athletic performance but also for maintaining overall health and supporting weight loss,” Naticchia-Walls says. She advises taking fluid breaks during exercise if active for more than 15 to 20 minutes, hydrating before workouts and continuing post-workout as well.

For general health, she recommends drinking eight 8-oz. glasses daily, but some people need more and some less, depending on their size, weather conditions and the activities they’re engaged in. It’s also a good idea to sometimes switch off water with electrolyte-infused sports drinks low in sugar and sodium or even adding Crystal Light to water to improve absorption and provide variety. Eating water-based foods like cucumbers and watermelon counts too.

The risks associated with dehydration extend beyond discomfort, including an increased risk of injuries and the possibility of passing out as the body tries to compensate for insufficient fluids. She also warns of more severe conditions like rhabdomyolysis, which involves intense muscle breakdown which can overload your kidneys.

Monitoring hydration levels can be challenging, even for elite athletes. She points to practices from professional sports: “In NCAA locker rooms,” Naticchia-Walls adds, “urine color charts are used to ensure athletes are adequately hydrated, aiming for pale yellow or clear urine.” 

Strength train for the long haul

“Imagine being just as strong in your 70s as you are in your 40s – that’s the power of strength training,” says Rebecca Benrubi, group fitness coordinator and an instructor at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill.

Rebecca Benrubi

However, Benrubi has concerns about how trendy weightlifting has become among Gen Z, particularly when the appeal is driven by social media influencers. “I’m always watching reels on Instagram or Facebook, and there’s a lot of gimmicky fitness influencers who just want followers. They post things like, ‘Follow me to lose 10 pounds for summer or to get swole,’ and I think, ‘No, no, no, that’s not why we do this.’”

Strength training is no quick fix. Yes, you will build muscle mass, reduce body fat and increase strength and power – but you want to do that gradually and sustainably, she says. 

While it’s a great fit for many – teens up to seniors – it’s especially vital for older adults. “It’s so essential for us as we age because it helps maintain or grow our muscle mass, which we, especially women, tend to lose as we go through perimenopause and menopause.”

Benrubi advocates for a balanced fitness regimen: mixing strength training with cardio a few times a week and incorporating rest days.

Addressing the intimidation factor sometimes associated with strength training, particularly among older adults wary of crowded gyms or the daunting appearance of heavy bars and weights, Benrubi reassures, “Start with lighter weights or bodyweight. Just start somewhere.”

Strengthen your core beyond sit-ups & planks

Fitness classes that focus on the core get a bad rap, viewed as just endless sit-ups and planks. 

“In some of my classes, when we get to core, a handful of people will start packing up early and I’m like ‘Come on guys, this is the most important part of your body,’” says Benrubi. 

The core includes the muscles of the abdomen, lower back, hips and buttocks. Engaging these muscles through varied exercises enhances core stability, which is crucial as we age, she says. It also activates and strengthens postural muscles, enhancing alignment awareness. Moreover, she says, this increased stability supports joints, reduces the risk of injury and can alleviate lower back pain when deep core and pelvic muscles are engaged.

Core-focused classes, like Pilates, not only improve balance and body movement awareness but also increase muscle mobility and flexibility, she says. Besides, core strength doesn’t have to come from traditional exercises. Some find it more fun to work on core stability through Zumba, kickboxing or yoga. 

“It’s the foundation that holds everything together,” says Benrubi, who recommends focusing on core 2 to 3 times a week.

Don’t skip stretching

Stretching, often viewed as a chore, is a crucial part of any workout that many tend to overlook. That would be a big mistake, says Naticchia-Walls.

“What I hear from my patients all the time is ‘I don’t want to stretch for the last 5 minutes. I want to run for 5 more minutes because I feel like I get a better workout,’” she says. 

For those who feel too inflexible or undervalue stretching compared to other exercises, Naticchia-Walls presents compelling evidence: “Stretching is one of the best-researched, evidence-based practices in our medical literature,” she says.

Among proven benefits, it increases blood flow to muscles, which aids in recovery, reduces post-exercise soreness and promotes relaxation. Stretching also improves posture by lengthening tight muscles that can misalign the body. “We know that flexibility and stretching prevent injury,” she says. “And unfortunately, as we get older we all lose our flexibility.” 

Naticchia-Walls encourages making stretching a formal part of every workout routine, particularly during the cool-down phase. “There’s cardiovascular workouts for your heart and weight loss, there’s weight-bearing exercises for preventing osteoporosis and keeping your bones healthy, and then there’s flexibility and stretching, which is probably the least talked about but it’s so important.”  

June 2024
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