Exercise: When it hurts more not to

I started the summer off with good intentions. Hit the gym three or four times a week, take brisk walks in the park, get back into yoga, lose 10-20 pounds. Well, you know how summer can be. Take a few trips, have the family over, bake a few treats (then eat them), and you get out of the routine before you even really establish one.


I did fairly well, most weeks. Last week, though, I kept three of our active grand kids, and while I made sure they had lots to do (they are brothers, very competitive, and my husband and I have learned the best way to ensure harmony is to keep them busy and basically wear them out), I wasn’t able to exercise as much as I needed to. Three days in, I was tired and achy, and spent most of the day on the couch. The boys left Saturday night, and Sunday I had to hit the gym to work out the kinks. I felt better, and vowed again to keep exercise high on my priority list.

I’ve never been athletic, although I discovered jogging (then walking) in college. I added a twice a week (free!) aerobics class taught by an extremely talented fellow student during my sophomore year. After school, marriage and children, life got busier, but as time allowed, I walked, exercised along with Denise Austin when I could find her on TV, and pushed my little ones around in the double stroller. Exercise was so much easier then!

Since that time, I’ve discovered how uncomfortable moving (or the lack thereof) can be. I’ve battled arthritic knees, tendinitis in more places than I’d like to admit, neck problems that cascade over my shoulders and down my spine, and – I’ll stop. I don’t want to bore you. With the help of physical therapists, I’ve had to learn to stand and sit up straight, keep my shoulders back and down, and to use good form when I do move. I’ve discovered the helpful tools of ice and heat, both of which can help soothe tight or knotted muscles. I know now that I can’t make a living doing hard, physical work. And, most importantly, I’ve learned that moving, even when I don’t feel like it, is probably the best thing I can do to make myself feel better.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but, I’ve found that unless I’m dealing with an acute injury, doing what I can to keep my body moving and strong can actually help me battle chronic pain. Research backs me up. According to a recent article in Medscape, low-level exercise, with an emphasis on aerobics and flexibility, can help ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Other experts have found that even in cases involving nerve pain, appropriate exercise can help reduce muscle cramps, improve muscle strength and prevent muscle wasting.

If the last few years are any indication, chronic pain is something I’ll always deal with, one way or another, for the rest of my life. But I also know that I can likely lessen that pain, and its uncomfortable side effects, if I just keep moving.

A late-Summer’s resolution

Some of my many attempts at regular exercise
Some of my many attempts at regular exercise

I rolled out of bed this morning and soon thereafter did something I really need to keep doing shortly after I get up: exercised. I am, not by nature, a morning person, and am also, not by nature, terribly athletic, so this wanna-be habit will be, I fear, hard-fought before it is won.

But, as time (and the years) go by, I realize that I not only feel better if I start moving as quickly as I can talk myself into it, but that if I don’t, I may well put it off until tomorrow, or, even after the weekend. And while I used to be a pretty high-functioning desk potato, that approach does not work well for me any more.

Earlier this summer, I experimented with starting my day with a short walk. The weather was usually cooperative, the birds were out, and I was almost awake by the time I got home. That plan got derailed when I started traveling back and forth to visit my husband, who was working out of state. Then, the weather got hotter . . . my allergies got worse . . . the gym was air-conditioned. . .  and whoever thought getting up in the morning to exercise was a good idea anyway? Yeah. Well.

Then about a week ago I ran into the foot of the bed and knocked my little toe nearly into the next county. It hurt, very bad, requiring ice, and of course, rest, and I’m only now just beginning to be able to walk on it. (In my defense, I did limp from the car to the gym to the exercise bike several times this week.)

During this morning’s debate with myself over whether I should go back to the gym today, I remembered that I hadn’t done yoga in a while, and that was easily remedied. I pulled out my favorite workout DVD, breathed and stretched, and marked exercise off my to-do list.

I’m not sure why something that makes me feel so much better is just so hard to do. I’ve bounced back and forth from exercising 3-4 times a week to getting it over with first thing in the morning. My new resolution is to not let two days go by without doing some kind of exercise. We’ll see how that works out in the morning.