Robert Winslow is like a many middle-aged men and women — too busy with their office jobs and hectic lifestyles to get the recommended minimum of 30 minutes of daily exercise.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/7/2017 (1575 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Robert Winslow is like a many middle-aged men and women — too busy with their office jobs and hectic lifestyles to get the recommended minimum of 30 minutes of daily exercise.

A malaise of the physique, along with other indicators of poor health (high blood pressure and cholesterol), slowly and quietly entrench themselves, until one day you realize you may not be as healthy or looking as good as you think.

"I’m a really busy, mid-level executive — that means a lot of time spent sitting at a desk," says Winslow, a Winnipeg architect approaching the half-century mark.

"Hollywood likes to portray architects standing at a site or over a drafting board, but the reality is we sit in front of a computer just like most people."

Winslow worked out frequently in his 20s, a little less in his 30s, and rarely over the last decade. He had become too busy with work. And his body hurt as a result. His neck, shoulders, back and hips ached from hours of desk work.

"I resorted to popular exercise videos, and had limited success," he says.

But it was difficult to remain motivated.

Then came a moment of reckoning — a flash of insight of just how far his physical fitness had slipped. His spouse signed him up for a gym membership. Hint. Hint.

At first Winslow went to the fitness club intending to cancel. But he ended up working out with a personal trainer... for months. And today he’s a leaner, sleeker office dweller, urging others toiling under dropped ceiling tiles and fluorescent lighting to do the same.

Winslow’s story can be an inspiration because a lack of physical activity is a problem for every adult Canadian.

Statistics Canada data from 2014 found 85 per cent of us don’t get enough physical activity, putting us at risk for more than pear-shaped silhouettes. The sedentary life is a foundational cause of cardiovascular disease, insulin-resistant diabetes and plenty of other possibly lethal maladies.

But changing course isn’t easy. Decades of mousing and typing can leave muscles, joints and other body parts in states of decay.

A sallow-hued cubicle toiler might then ask: how do I get started?

The first step is to take it easy, says personal trainer Steve Ramos with GoodLife Fitness near Kenaston Boulevard.

It seems a little too simple, but that’s the point.

"I stress form over force," he says. "It’s all about longevity. You want to be able to maintain the training regimen."

Far too often people start at the gym without a plan. They hit the weights, the elliptical or treadmill willy-nilly. Plus they often do more than they should — the wrong way.

"I call it ‘ego-lifting,’" he says. "That’s when you try to overload and then you can’t perform the weightlift correctly."

Besides achieving poor results, the approach can aggravate past injuries and create new ones.

Athletic therapist Melissa Deonaraine has seen plenty of newbie gym rats at her practice — their egos broken along with body parts — the consequences of poor preparation.

"People go in hard and strong and don’t realize they have limitations," says the owner of Academy Athletic Therapy in Winnipeg.

"From an athletic therapist point of view, what I like to do is ease the person in with what I call ‘lazy man’ exercises."

She suggests individuals with existing injuries either from repetitive motion from the office — or past glory days as youthful jocks — see an athletic therapist before returning to the gym.

"We educate them. We correct their body positioning," she says. "We point them in the right direction where they can exercise so they feel good and confident."

Besides starting out with achievable goals, Ramos says success hinges on two other commonly overlooked aspects of the workout: the warm-up and warm-down.

"You’re slouched over your desk at the computer. You’re slouched over at the wheel in your car, and then when you get to the gym, you work out, activating the muscles, and then just leave."

That’s a recipe for injury, or at least less than optimum value for your time, effort, money and perspiration.

"One of the most common mistakes is improper warm-up or none at all," he says

The right way involves about five to 10 minutes of light cardiovascular exercise.

"You don’t want to just start with weights with your body cold," he says. "It’s like pulling on a cold rubber band."

Once sufficiently warmed, be methodical. Personal trainers can help develop a strategic plan of attack. Most gyms provide a free consult with one to get started. Past that it can get costly. Even a consult with three one-hour sessions at the Winnipeg YMCA costs about $175.

But the assistance is worthwhile. For instance, a trainer will make stretching after the workout mandatory, which many people fail to do on their own.

"It’s annoying," Ramos says. "If you spend all your time working your butt off for an hour, the last thing you want to do is stretch."

But stretching limbers muscle tissue, reducing tightening and aches a day or two later. That pain, by the way, is normal. Still, proper stretching minimizes future discomfort, increasing the chance you keep working out.

Working with a personal trainer paid dividends for Winslow.

"After about eight months, I’d dropped about 25 pounds, and my mobility and flexibility had improved dramatically."

That’s good news for a man with a family history of heart disease, and whose trainer told him after the initial assessment he had the fitness level of a senior citizen.

"I was expecting to go there and pump weight, sweat a lot and get on a cardio machine, but that’s not the approach," he says. "He was really concerned about not injuring me and easing me into a routine."

Winslow views the money and time spent at the gym as equally as important as saving for retirement.

"If I don’t have my health, all those good financial investments I’ve made won’t matter."