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Exercise is Essential for Everyone, All Year Long

Richard J. Mitchell, M.D.The hardestSpring is here! It's time to get outdoors to enjoy the sunshine, fresh air and blue skies again. Although the Pittsburgh region has enjoyed a rather mild winter, the transition to spring is always welcome. For many people, it's an opportunity to shake off the doldrums and inertia of winter and jump eagerly into sports and fitness activities – a time to dust the cobwebs off the bike, take the golf clubs out of storage and lace up the hiking boots. It's time to get outside and get active!

Not so fast, says Richard J. Mitchell, M.D. Dr. Mitchell is an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist with St. Clair Orthopedics Associates, and he warns against making exercise a purely seasonal activity. Exercise and activity, says Dr. Mitchell, is essential to health, but it must become part of one's routine, all year round. An all-or-nothing approach, he says, is risky. "When people start working out and they never have worked out before or they have been sedentary for a long period, they can get musculoskeletal injuries," he explains. "It's best to start slowly and be consistent. The most important point is that everyone, at any age, needs to exercise and be active. Inactivity is a major risk factor for many chronic and debilitating illnesses. It's as deadly as smoking. Physical activity is critically important to health and longevity and it improves quality of life. The benefits are tremendous, and are both immediate and long term."

Among those important benefits:

  • Exercise delays mortality from all causes
  • Exercise improves cardiovascular health and lowers blood pressure
  • Exercise reduces the risk of certain cancers
  • Exercise reduces the risk of developing Type II diabetes
  • Exercise helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Exercise reduces obesity by burning calories;
  • Exercise improves mental health, reducing anxiety and depression
  • Exercise improves the quality of sleep

According to The President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, only one in three American adults receives the recommended amount of physical activity every week. This is due in part to our reliance on cars as well as our increasing use of technology. In the last 20 years, obesity rates have skyrocketed in the U.S.; one-third of American adults are now classified as obese.

Getting activity into your life is safer and easier than many people think, says Dr. Mitchell. He encourages his patients to include the four basic types of exercise: cardio; strength training; flexibility; and neuromuscular exercise. "The prescription for exercise should include frequency, intensity, time and type of exercise, also known as FITT. For cardio, or aerobic exercise, which builds endurance, the ideal is 30 minutes, three to five times a week; this can be walking, water aerobics, biking or swimming. Strength training is resistance or weight training; it means exercising every major muscle group several days a week with weights. You want to build endurance and then strength; the recommendation is 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions each, with the goal of increasing the reps before you increase the weight.  Flexibility is stretching – it allows you to increase your range of motion and do more activities. Neuromuscular exercise, such as yoga or Tai Chi, improves balance, agility and coordination to prevent falls and maintain balance."

Dr. Mitchell practices what he preaches. He enjoys outdoor activities with his wife and two young children and especially loves to go to Ohiopyle for hiking, whitewater kayaking and biking. He is a native of San Francisco and attended medical school at Tulane University; he completed residencies in general surgery at the University of California at San Francisco and in orthopedic surgery at George Washington University; he also completed a fellowship in sports medicine at Washington University, which is known for its outstanding program in that specialty. With his four partners in St. Clair Orthopedic Associates, he treats people with problems in the knee, shoulder and other joints. "Orthopedic surgery procedures may seem routine but each one is a little different," he says; "it's always challenging. I like helping people, getting them back on their feet and active again."

Dr. Mitchell encourages his patients to make the effort to remain physically active as part of a healthful lifestyle. "Inactivity is dangerous. It causes 250,000 deaths per year independent of smoking, obesity and high blood pressure and it doubles the risk of coronary artery disease. Exercise is important for everyone."

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To schedule an appointment with Dr. Mitchell, please call (412) 942-7262.

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