Wednesday, December 10, 2014

3 Reasons why I choose to exercise even when I get hurt

As I write this my leg is tight and painful. After past encounters with shin splints, pulled muscles, plantar faciaitis and even a stress fracture my current glute tear has proved to be the longest recovery. I refer to it jokingly as a real "bummer".

I’ve been running and exercising seriously for over 22 years and some of my friends shake their heads at me each time a new injury surfaces. They wonder why in the world I would keep exercising when I seem to keep getting hurt. The truth is that I have 3 main reasons that I will explain below.
Before I expound on these reasons, however, I want to be clear that I am not advocating to push through an injury. I think that it's important to rest, recover and get proper and early treatment on the affected area. What I am sure of however is that it is important for me to work around injuries and find other ways to exercise while I recover.

1- I will hurt either way
Once during a pregnancy and while fighting a bad case of pneumonia I tried to hang some curtains. At the order of my doctor I had not been exercising for over a month. While I hung the curtains my arms, which were above my head fatigued quickly and began to hurt. I got frustrated and thought “My arms would not have hurt like this if I could still lift weights.” 

It then occurred to me that for the rest of my life I will hurt either way, whether it is from a running injury, simple soreness or being too out of shape to climb stairs I was going to hurt one way or another. I take courage in the thought that by choosing to exercise I am also choosing my “hurt”. I may be sore on some days from lifting weights or running but I am also more likely to avoid the pain of being sedentary when needing to do something that requires muscle movement.

2- More debilitating injuries can come from being sedentary
The injuries that I accumulate from my workouts are annoying. Even with using extreme caution, rotating shoes and assuring correct form I still get a mild injury usually once a year. I attribute some of it to having 5 babies in a short amount of time while still exercising. The hormonal changes have an impact on ligaments causing placement issues which lead to injury. 

But despite the annoyance of these injuries they in no way compare to the debilitating injuries and illness that is more likely to come from being sedentary. Injuries that come from being sedentary do not have quick fixes but they usually turn into long term health problems. Osteoporosis, diabetes and stroke are only three examples of illnesses that can quickly turn into debilitating injury. 

A person with severe osteoporosis, for instance, can cough and actually break a bone. Osteoporosis is best prevented by nutrition and weight baring exercise. Type 2 diabetes can lead to amputations of the feet and loss of site. Stroke can lead to permanent loss of function and paralysis. All of these illnesses mentioned can be greatly reduced by exercise.

3- It is a great opportunity
Getting hurt at times can be a hidden blessing and a great opportunity to fall in love with different types of exercises. I have a friend who got hurt running so she began to bike. She then got hurt biking so all she could do was swim. In the end when she was healed she had picked up some new skills, friends and positive challenges. She started doing triathlons and did really well. After a personal running injury I began to lift weights heavy and fell in love with an area of exercise that I never dreamed I would have liked.

Injury can be different than pain and fatigue, know the difference
I once saw a guy out jogging. His face was red, he was sweaty and wincing. He had a shirt on that said "Pain is weakness leaving the body." It was ironic to see him wearing that shirt while he was in that condition but it also struck me how true that phrase actually is. 

Pain is usually one of the first things that makes people quit. Our bodies often respond to exercise stressors by sending us signals such as pain and fatigue to stop what we are doing. After experiencing a stressor the body gets to work repairing itself in such a way that it rebuilds stronger and to be more equipped for the same challenge if it is repeated. 

Some people exercise and feel the stress and stop never to return while not realizing that their bodies have already started to change at a cellular level in order to become stronger. Even after one episode of exercise our cells start to build more mitochondria, the power house portion of the cell. It's fascinating! 

Pain or fatigue isn't a sign of weakness it is actually a celebration because it is a sign that the body will initiate cellular change. 

We don't need to push the pain or fatigue very far at all in order for the changes to start to occur. Pushing too hard leads to more injury. It is good for a person who exercises to get familiar with their own body's pain signals and know the difference between fatigue pain and injury pain. Snaps, pops, sharp pains and burning pains specifically in joints and pin pointed areas are never a good sign.

For those of us who exercise diligently we have come to understand that there are various obstacles that will stand in our way. These come in several forms. We cannot always guess what our next obstacle will be but we can be certain that one will come. If we let injuries or pain which is a routine part of exercise make us fearful of exercising than it is also easier to let other barriers stop us as well. 

If we anticipate the pain that comes with exercise and also the rewards that follow we can better manage with patience the feeling of quitting while our bodies become stronger and more equipped to deal with the stresses that are placed upon them. It is always smart to consult with a doctor about what other exercises you can do in order to stay active but continue to recover from injury.

Happy Healthy Eating!
- Susan

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