Five experts, five tips: How to maintain good musculoskeletal health

Part three of a series where health professionals share their tips for a healthy lifestyle

We start losing muscle and bone strength every year after the age of 30. Image: iStock

We start losing muscle and bone strength every year after the age of 30. Image: iStock

 

1. Nicola Sheridan

Clinical specialist physiotherapist, Children’s Hospital Ireland at Temple Street
“Children need a combination of aerobic and strengthening exercise to develop fitness and skills of balance, co-ordination and visual motor control. Children need at least one hour of exercise daily and limiting their screen time can help them achieve this. Having fun when playing also improves mood, confidence and self-esteem.

“Ideally, children should not become sport specific too early, to allow their muscles, joints and skills to develop across a range of activities. They need to explore and ‘free play’ with other children to develop a range of skills in a fun way, at their own pace.

“For strong bones and leg muscles, children need weight-bearing exercise. Bones get stronger during any activity that involves running, jumping, hopping, skipping, dancing, or a combination of these. For strong arms and posture, children need activities that challenge their postural control and balance – like climbing, yoga, dancing, gymnastics, horse or bike riding, martial arts and playground play.

“From age nine onwards, when sport becomes more competitive and growth spurts are also happening, regular stretching and rest days from structured sport are important to prevent inflammation at bony growth points. Broad experiences across a variety of games and activities develop flexibility and ligament control which, in turn, prevents injuries. Good co-ordination and balance prevents trips and falls, and thus childhood fractures.”

2. Vanda Cummins

HSE primary care physiotherapist
“Exercises that keep us strong, steady, straight and ‘switched on’ aerobically are the most effective. We start losing muscle and bone strength every year after the age of 30. Ill health, pregnancy and menopause accelerate this loss. It’s far more serious than most people realise so action is needed.

“Emerging research shows muscles and bones can strengthen with resistance and impact exercises. Resistance exercises such as pushing, pulling or lifting a load make muscles work harder than they’re used to. Exercises with impact, include marching, jogging and dancing are good and should be increased over time to 30-50 repetitions.

“There are exercises to benefit all abilities and if you are living with conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis, physiotherapists can teach you how to exercise safely instead of not doing exercises. Regular progress checks can keep you motivated and may include you monitoring the number of times you can stand up in 30 seconds without using your hands or how many seconds you can stand on one leg [beside a support].

“While there’s no quick fix, or one exercise to suit all, start small, build slowly and ‘train to gain’. Make exercise a habit for life just like brushing your teeth.”

3. Victor Megannety

Osteopath in Greystones, Co Wicklow
“If you look after your structure [ie, your musculoskeletal system], your body will function better. If sitting or even standing for long periods, take a postural break every half-hour, or at least every hour. To do this, stand up. Open your arms, palms facing upward and bend your whole body backwards. Hold for at least 20 seconds. Doing this regularly throughout your day is more beneficial than one long period of exercise.

“Regular gentle exercise is important. Walk at a good pace – slightly out of breath but still able to talk, and creating a slight sweat. Ensure the ergonomics at your workstation are correct. Laptops are lethal. Invest in a stand or separate desk screen. Or at least put your laptop up on something so you’re not looking down at it.

“Listen to your pain. Pain is like the warning light coming on in your car. Simply taking painkillers or ignoring it is like putting a plaster over the warning light. Pretty soon your body – like your car – will break down. Of course, the musculoskeletal system doesn’t work alone and your diet, hydration, sleep, stress control and emotional wellbeing all contribute to keeping you well.”

4. Richard Brennan

Alexander technique teacher
“Most of us are not aware of the muscular tension we hold as it builds slowly up over many years affecting our posture, our movements as well as our mental and emotional wellbeing. To release this tension you can try this Alexander technique awareness 15-minute exercise:

“Lie down on a carpeted floor with the support of some books or a pillow under your head. Bend your knees so that your feet are on the ground and knees are pointing upwards. Since muscular tension always shortens or narrows the body you can send instructions to your body to lengthen or widen. Alexander called them ‘directions’. It is important that you think only of these directions and do not do anything. Some examples are: ‘Think of your back lengthening as it makes more contact with the floor,’ or ‘Allow your shoulders to move away from each other and away from the head.’

“Any direction that allows one part of your body to move away from another part will help to release this detrimental tension. You may or may not feel the tension release at the time, but with daily practice over a few weeks you should feel more relaxed, less discomfort and more energy.”

5. Neil Fleming

Exercise physiologist at the Human Performance Lab at the School of Medicine, Trinity College, Dublin
“Slow down and listen to your body. Most people train at too high an intensity and end up injured or over-trained. Use the talk test to control intensity. You should be able to hold a conversation with your training partner or sing a line or two of each song you’re listening to without getting breathless. Better yet, use a heart rate monitor. For most of your training, your heart rate should be no higher than 85 per cent of your theoretical max (maximum heart rate equals 220 minus your age). More minutes at controlled low intensity is the key to success.

Neil Fleming, exercise physiologist, at the Human Performance Lab at the School of Medicine, Trinity College, with Aoife McGovern. Photograph: Mark Sheridan
Neil Fleming, exercise physiologist, at the Human Performance Lab at the School of Medicine, Trinity College, with Aoife McGovern. Photograph: Mark Sheridan

“Take time to prepare. Devote a minimum 10 minutes to a warm-up routine before every session. This should include five minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise, followed by another five minutes of dynamic stretching exercises where you move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion. This reduces risk of injury and enhances your performance during training.

“Taking the time to cool down with static stretching at the end will enhance the recovery process, reduce any muscular pain or tightness, and keep your body in good condition long term.” 

Five experts, five tips
- GPs
Heart
Musculoskeletal

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.