Why does exercise have to be so tough?
This is a common question that I hear from patients of mine.
It is a common topic of discussion with friends of mine who are in the exercise profession, and with patients of mine.
At times it seems that people are looking for permission to not beat themselves up. They need the reassurance that it is alright to go easy.
I am here to tell you that the older you get, the less appropriate it is to go hard and beat yourself up with exercise. Why wreck your already irritated joints trying to “get into shape”.
Why not just exercise and move with the goal of feeling better? Reduced pain, increased stamina, increased strength, better balance. These are all results you should expect from an appropriate exercise routine. Not pain, soreness, irritation, inflammation, and muscle spasm.
My Exercise Philosophy
Helping thousands of people out of pain has shaped my philosophy on exercise. I have treated professional football players and professional ballet dancers. I have treated construction workers and weekend warriors. I have treated infants to 90 year olds. I have treated many baby boomers who are in pain and aren’t looking for 6 pack abs, they are looking for pain relief and to maintain their activity levels.
The world is hard enough on our bodies, why make things harder?
Most, if not all, of us will get osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the slow breakdown of a joint. It describes it in various states of decay. The first step is the breakdown of the spongy surface of the bone –the cartilage. After the cartilage breaks down you are left with bone on bone. Which, as those of you who have it know, is extremely painful and very little reduces the pain. Let alone relieving it.
Once you have osteoarthritis, you will have it for life. There is no known cure for it. You can only manage it and slow the progression. Which will ideally prevent having that joint replaced.
What Does This Mean for Me?
This has important implications on exercise. I believe that as you age it becomes more and more inappropriate to exercise intensely and with heavy weights. I feel that intense, heavy exercise is appropriate before you reach age 40. After age 40, it becomes too tough on your body, you don’t recover quickly enough, too much wear and tear builds up, and you become more injury prone.
In your teens, 20s and 30s you still suffer from injuries and insults to your body, you just recover from it much quicker than you do a few decades later.
Unfortunately, once you injure yourself you are never the same the again. Most people won’t feel those injuries sustained in their 20s and 30s until they are in the 50s and 60s.
The best example that I have demonstrating our reduced capacity to heal is a hangover. Alcohol is a toxin. Our bodies have to heal and recover from it. That is why we get hangovers after a night of heavy drinking. It is our body detoxifying and clearing the alcohol. The older we get, the slower we recover from the toxin that is alcohol. The worse our bodies are at clearing the toxin, and the worse our hang overs become.
That is why our hangovers get worse and worse over the years. I used to be able to drink a martini and go out for a night on the town. Now, if I have a martini, I am done for the night, and hurting the next morning. I am not recovering from the toxin that is alcohol as quickly as I did when I was younger.
Living With Injury
As most of you reading this can attest to, once you injure yourself -no matter how minor- you are never the same again. It reminds of a joke that my grandfather used to tell:
What’s the definition of minor surgery?
Surgery done on someone else.
Once you injure yourself, you are never the same again. Those areas of previous injury are structurally less stable then the rest of your body and are more likely to become arthritic over time. Chances are that those areas of your body that you have injured in the past will get irritated before the rest of your body.
And intense exercise will only make those areas of previous injury even more irritated.
Low impact, low intensity exercise is much easier on your body and much easier to stick with. It doesn’t cause injury so it is easy to stick for a long time. The longer you can stick with an exercise routine, the more benefits you will get out from exercise.
By exercising smarter, rather than harder, you will get better, longer lasting results.
That is the Pain Free Way.