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Health & Exercise Forum

Top Exercise Gifts for Christmas

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Dec 5, 2011

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumEvery year, well-intended family members purchase expensive exercise equipment as Christmas gifts for loved ones with the hope of encouraging exercise and fitness for the New Year. I applaud the attempt to encourage wellness because the value of regular exercise is well known. However, a high percentage of these products serve as clothes hangers and diversions for visiting grandchildren before the holiday decorations are stored away. This year, I hope to offer sage advice to help avoid common mistakes and misconceptions about this equipment. Selecting the right product for the specific needs of the person using the equipment may lead to better compliance and success.


The primary advantage of a treadmill is the fact that it allows you to exercise doing one of the most natural things in the world –walk. Almost anyone who does not suffer from severe paralysis, advanced osteoporosis and pain in the lower extremities can walk for exercise. Also, a treadmill allows one to gradually advance the time, speed and intensity of the exercise. For some, walking may be advanced to running by alternating 1:5 minute walk/run ratio. For others, running will be the entire form of exercise on the treadmill. In either case, it is so natural that one can easily watch television while exercising. Another advantage is the fact that it can be used indoors regardless of the weather – hot or cold, rain or snow. The disadvantage is that it is 100% weight bearing on the lower extremities and those with lower back, hip, knee or ankle arthritis may have difficulty exercising on it for long periods of time. Another disadvantage is that some find the boredom, impossible to overcome.

Purchase: Buying a treadmill as a Christmas gift does not have to be difficult. Most walkers can purchase an $800 to $1000. unit for a satisfactory product. However, if you are buying it for a large frame person or someone who wants to run on it, you must buy a good one. The frame has to be solid: longer and wider than a low end product. A good home treadmill can cost $1,500 to $2,500.


There are two types of bikes to choose from: a standard upright bike and a recumbent bike. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The standard upright bike is good for young healthy fitness enthusiasts who bike outdoors in the summer. They are looking for a winter alternative to maintain their legs and aerobic capacity over the winter. However, if you have lower back pain, lower extremity arthritis and pain, or poor balance, then a recumbent bike is for you because it requires only partial weight bearing on the lower extremity because some of the weight is born by your butt. It offers cardiovascular fitness and lower extremity strengthening. Some home models are as inexpensive as $400 - $500. and offer a reasonable quality for small and moderate framed individuals. For larger framed people, or those interested in a more aggressive workout, a $600 to $800 model may be more appropriate. The next level for non-commercial use, $1,000 - $1,200 offers great options and durability but is not necessary for most people.


An elliptical is an upright exercise device that imitates the “elliptical” pattern that the legs and arms normally move when running. While it requires standing and full weight-bearing, its advantage is that it eliminates the pounding and compression associated with running. It is an excellent cross-training alternative to running. It requires good strength and balance and should not be purchased for someone that has never used it before. It is important to try it out in the store because each unit has a slightly different pattern and some are more comfortable than others depending on body type. Some home models are less expensive ($600. - $800.) and offer a reasonable quality for small and moderate framed individuals. For larger framed people, or those interested in a more aggressive workout, a $1,200. to $1,600 model may be more appropriate. The next level for non-commercial use costs $1,800 - $2,200 offers great options and durability but is not necessary for most people.

Weights/Balance/Core Equipment

Don’t get carried away. For most novices, a set of hand held dumbbells and resistance bands will be adequate. Adolescents beginning weight training at 13-14 years of age might use 5 -10-15 pound and older newcomers to exercise might use 3 – 5 – 10 pound weights. Also, a variety of resistance bands in yellow, red, blue, green and black will be effective for most.

Balance and core equipment includes: (easy to difficult) Balance Balls ($15-20), which are used to sit on while Dynamic Discs ($25-30) and Bosu ½ Ball ($70-90) are used while standing. These devices allow balance training and core stabilization while using free weights or resistance bands.

Locally, beginners on a tight budget can find adequate equipment and service in the sporting goods and fitness departments like Sears or Dicks. While Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart offer these products, I am not sure about the knowledge of their staff and if they offer delivery or service. Specialty fitness stores in Northeastern Pennsylvania, such as Fitness Headquarters, usually have staff that are knowledgeable and offer, deliver set-up and maintenance. Ask questions and try the product out on the demo equipment on the display

Before you begin an exercise program, consult your family physician for medical clearance. Then, consult your physical therapist to help you design a program for your individual needs.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”   This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliated faculty member at the University of  Scranton, PT Dept.