Caring for Yourself: A Maintenance and Prevention Strategy Part 2: Exercise

This post is a continuation in a series on establishing a maintenance and prevention strategy, and may be best understood by reading prior related posts.

Are you one of those who is addicted to exercising and working out? Or in the other camp of those who prefer the recliner and remote? Regardless of your feelings about exercise, studies support that EVERYONE needs it in some form. Those whose lifestyle entails sedentary tendencies require it even more. Research also demonstrates that exercise can be as addicting as sugar, and help rewire the brain to feel as rewarded with exercise as it is with sugar – a much healthier trade off.

Exercise is sugar to the brain
Exercise can promote changes in the brain that satisfy cravings as completely as ingesting sugar. From the article Sugars, exercise and health by Robert Codella accessed here.

My intent with this post is not to outline the parameters of appropriate frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise. That can be found in multiple other sources such as Physiopedia, and this article on exercise. It spells it out far better than I can or want to. They open with this statement that is so true: “Physical activity prescription is an under-utilized tool for improving community health.” Bingo.

I would much rather do an activity that I enjoy – like hiking, biking, swimming, volleyball – than to get on a stationary bike or do exercise. I get bored with working out. I used to love running, but ankle surgery years ago kiboshed that one for me. So now I bike, outside, where I don’t get bored. But that’s tough to do in the cold and snow.

Colleen and husband Bill after biking
Here we are – the dream team! My husband, Bill, and I enjoy biking together every chance we get. It’s been a great outlet for us and part of what’s helped him lose 30 pounds since this picture was taken. Go Bill! Photo by Colleen Whiteford.

When it comes to doing exercises, like the kind you may get in physical therapy or rehab, the camp of those who love doing them gets even smaller. In this classic 1991 study researchers Sluije and Knibbe found that 64% of patients complied with their physical therapy prescribed exercise program while in treatment. But this number dwindled to 23% after discharge from a formal therapy program. While the numbers may vary, rest assured that this construct has not changed over the years. Maybe it’s because often these exercises are BORING! Compound that with the fact that patients are often given a LONG LIST of BORING exercises and it’s no wonder they go AWOL! Then PT’s blame a patient’s lack of progress or a return of the problem on the fact that the patient did not adhere to their exercise program. Furthermore, there remains much controversy over the ideal frequency, or how many sets, reps, and even which exercises really work best. It’s no wonder most people aren’t motivated about doing them.

PT's and exercise
It’s true! PT’s have no shortage of exercises. Image accessed here.

These are some of the reasons I don’t like doing exercises and I don’t like prescribing them. Having said that, I do believe if we are going to MAINTAIN mobility and health, and have the best chance of PREVENTING problems, a few exercises may help us accomplish this goal. Over the years I have compiled a very short list of my favorites – the ones I use the most and with most people. One role they can serve is to highlight a problem, especially if you can’t do them. They aren’t for everyone, and they don’t solve everything. (If you have trouble with them or feel they aggravate something then maybe they are not for you. Consider seeking help to find something more suitable for you.) Here they are, in no particular order.


  • Target: Stretch the front of the hip (of the leg behind), the back of the calf (of the leg behind), and the front of the chest/shoulders. This is where you should feel it stretching. Be sure to keep the back heel down.
  • Purpose: Counteract the effects of sitting, wearing heels, and arm use in front of us (computer, phone, reading, driving).
  • Frequency: for someone who sits a lot at least once daily or more if possible. Others once a week.
  • Duration/reps: Hold for 4 slow breaths in through the nose, out the mouth, pause for 4 seconds between each breath. Do as many as you like, but each leg gets a turn in back as that’s where the stretching occurs.
  • Who needs this? Everyone who can do it safely, especially those who sit, work at a computer.
Doorway lunge stretch
The doorway lunge stretches the calf, hip, and chest/shoulder area. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.


  • Target: Stretch the back of the neck by gliding the head back.
  • Purpose: Counteract the effects of a forward head posture, which often occurs with reading and computer work.
  • Frequency: for someone with a very forward head or who reads/is on the computer a lot at least once daily or more if possible. Others once a week.
  • Duration/reps: Hold for 4 slow breaths in through the nose, out the mouth, pause for 4 seconds between each breath. Do as many as you like.
  • Who needs this? Everyone who can do it safely, especially those who have a forward head posture.
Chin tuck exercise
The chin tuck can help correct a forward head posture. It can also be done in standing. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.


  • Target: Stretch the side of the arm, trunk, and leg.
  • Purpose: We rarely if ever in the normal course of a day elongate in this manner. If you don’t use it you lose it.
  • Frequency: once daily to at least weekly as needed/desired.
  • Duration/reps: Hold for 4 slow breaths in through the nose, out the mouth, pause for 4 seconds between each breath. Do as many as you like. Do on both sides.
  • Who needs this? Everyone who can do it safely.
Standing side stretch
A side stretch elongates the entire lateral aspect of the body. Photo by Colleen Whiteford.


  • Target: Pelvic and lumbar segments.
  • Purpose: Increase/maintain mobility and neuromuscular control in the core.
  • Frequency: daily/weekly as needed/desired.
  • Duration/reps: As desired, all directions. The sagittal (front to back) and frontal (side to side) planes of motion are shown below. The horizontal plane (not shown) involves moving the pelvis in a circular motion, clockwise and counterclockwise. With all movements try to keep the upper body still while the lower body does all the movement.
  • Who needs this? Everyone who can do it safely.
Pelvic ball exercise front to back
Rolling the ball forward and backward works the torso in the sagittal plane. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.
Pelvic ball side to side
Rolling the ball side to side or cheek to cheek works the torso in the frontal plane. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.


This one needs no explanation! This is one of the best, safest, and funnest core exercises there is! Many people can’t do this, and often say they never could even as a child. I’m not sure what to make of that, as I always have been able to and still can. Not all hula hoops are the same – cheap, small, light ones can be hard to use (but you don’t have to pay a lot for a decent one). It’s a great torso exercise, but if you can’t do it then the Pelvic Ball is an option. The main thing is to get active and have fun!

Nun doing hula hoop
Look at how much fun they are all having! If she can do it decked out in that habit surely you can too. Image accessed here.

Wishing you health and joy!


Published by Colleen Murphy Whiteford

I am a physiotherapist, graduate of Saint Louis University Class of 1984. I married my best friend and business partner, Bill, who is also a physiotherapist, in 1988. We have worked together all these years - an example of God's grace! Together we started Appalachian Physical Therapy which continues to thrive. I am a big believer in the power of touch, the manual therapies, and treating holistically. There are many alternatives to medications, surgeries, and testing, but people are often uninformed. My perspective emphasizes the role of the connective tissues including the fascia. Lack of attention to this structure is the source of many physical ailments - our bodies are truly fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)! I am passionate about helping people of all ages and diagnoses maximize their health, and empowering them to understand their role in management and prevention of problems.

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