It seems that I spend most of my time in my practice trying to either convince patients to exercise, or to convince them to back off from exercise.
Most people don’t exercise enough. Many people come into my office with a health issue that’s been coming on for years, they haven’t done anything to manage it or help it out, and they want me to fix it in one treatment.
On the other end of the spectrum I get people in my office who exercise too much. Their bodies are in a state of chronic overuse which makes them much more injury prone. When a muscle is overused, it is tight, irritated and inflamed. A muscle in this state is primed for injury. When a muscle is in this state, it doesn’t take much to injure it.
A Better Understanding of Your Injuries
Most injuries, even if they occurred from a traumatic event, have been slowly building up over time. Muscles slowly tighten over time, until they get so tight that they tear on a microscopic level and fall into a pattern of spasm and inflammation.
Even if an injury occurred from a traumatic event such as a slip and fall or an accident, the injury is usually made worse if the muscles are not in healthy. A healthy muscle will be loose and strong. The looser and stronger a muscle is, the more resilient it will be and also it will be less likely to become injured.
Conversely, the tighter and weaker a muscle is, the easier it is to injure that muscle. A muscle that is tight and weak will flair or tear from mild motions and minor stress. It will flair and get injured much easier than a muscle that is healthy, loose and strong.
No Pain, No Gain?
So how do you have a healthy relationship with exercise? How do you make sure to exercise enough to get a benefit from it, but not enough to cause the muscles to become overused and injured?
First off, keep in mind that the old adage of ‘no pain, no gain’ is not accurate. Especially as you age, exercise in a way to avoid pain. If you are over age 40, then exercise in a way that is easy on your body. You shouldn’t be in pain while exercising. If it hurts to do a particular exercise, then don’t do it. It won’t kill you to skip one exercise.
After exercise it is normal to have some soreness from the exercising. But if you are so sore that you have trouble moving the next day, then you are going too hard. Mild soreness after exercise is a good thing. Severe soreness and pain after exercising means that you are going too hard and will injure yourself.
Finding Your Exercise Rhythm
Know how to rest. Enjoy taking rest days. You work hard at exercising the rest of the week, now time for a well deserved break day. No one can go hard all of the time. We need to let our bodies recover and heal from our workouts, and from the stresses of daily life. If you exercise every single day, you will be setting yourself up to become over trained and eventually become injured. Enjoy your day, or days off. If you are exercising consistently, then you deserve these rest days, and you need them to stay healthy.
I take at least 1 full day off per week from any and all exercising. How tired I am, how much is going on in my personal and professional life, how fatigued I am and how recovered I am will all determine how many days off per week I take. If I am tired and fatigued and not recovered, I’ll take 2 to 3 days off per week. If I am stressed from work or home life, then I’ll take an extra day off per week. One week per month I take an easy week from exercise and make sure to take off 3 to 4 days that week, each and every month.
Another often overlooked component to exercise, but one that is essential if you want to stick with exercising consistently, is to like what you are doing. If you hate the exercise, or exercise class that you are doing, you will not stick with it.
If you hate the elliptical machine, then don’t do it. If you hate going to gyms, then exercise at home (Pain Free Lifestyle is set up to be able to do at home, easily and with little equipment). If you don’t like lifting weights, then do another form of strength training such as yoga, pilates or ti chi.
There are so many options out there for exercising that there is no reason to follow a routine that you don’t like. If you don’t like the routine or activity, then you will not stick with it consistently enough to get a benefit from it.
Exercise to feel better, don’t exercise just to look better. Doing hundreds of crunches a day to get 6 pack abs is not smart. Doing too many crunches will create an imbalance and cause low back issues. I would rather be happy and feel good and not be ripped, not be lean and not have 6 pack abs, than to have 6 pack abs, 4% body fat, be ripped and lean, but be miserable and in pain trying to maintain this societal ideal of health.
Know that consistent exercising will give you more freedom and leeway with eating, but it still doesn’t mean that you can eat anything that you want to. Walking on a treadmill for an hour will burn around 300 calories. A single, large cookie can be 300 calories. A single piece of cake or cheese cake can be 300 calories. It is much easier to overeat and take in too many calories than it is to burn it off.
Consistent exercising means that 1 cookie, 1 piece of cake, 1 fried food, etc, will not affect you that much and is not worth stressing about. You get into trouble when you try to eat whatever you want to, most of the time. Consistent exercising will not compensate for eating whatever you want to. But it will compensate for eating occasionally eating badly. Remember, you can’t out exercise a bad diet.
Don’t stress about exercising. Enjoy exercising as much as you can. You don’t have to go hard and be in pain to get into shape and feel good. Be smart about exercising and eating right.
Exercise smarter, not harder. Have a healthy relationship with exercise. This is, the Pain Free Way.