How I Exercise through Injuries and Setbacks
I started this post early in February, but then the month just carried me away! Sorry about that!
So, I participated in Vegan-uary last month to further optimize my diet and to challenge myself. (Thanks to all of those who joined me!!) Surprisingly, it wasn't hard at all! I'd already been primed to go full-vegan but that last leap created a lot of anxiety. This month, I wanted to turn to a a bigger challenge for me: physical activity.
As I am a mere mortal, I've had multiple struggles with exercise over the years. My issues center around my various medical ailments and consequential limitations. Between migraines and loose joints as well as just not being athletically-inclined, there are many activities I wouldn't even consider trying. Most contact sports are out as well as anything too expensive. I spent much of 2019 working to optimize my medical status and have made significant progress. I've let physical activity take a backseat so that I could make faster strides to reengage later. So far, it fortunately seems to have worked but I'm anxious to get back to a fully active lifestyle.
There are national thresholds at which significant health benefits are recognized. National Physical Activity guidelines for adults age 18+ recommend the following:
150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
Strength training 2 days per week
Flexibility exercises 2 days per week
Balance activities 2 days per week, especially if older
While it may seem like a lot, it is evidence-based advice that can allow you to live happier and healthier while spending less time in hospitals and doctors' offices instead. Physical activity decreases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and even several cancers! The best part is that any activity is better than no activity. Just be more active than before and your risk goes down. These guidelines are something to work toward making a habit, not to suddenly start doing Day 1 of a new lifestyle.
For me, physical activity can't just be tedious. Sometimes I have worked out just because I know it's good for me. But mostly I have to work out in a way that I enjoy. While navigating my limitations, here are some things that have worked for me:
1) Variety: I tried lots of different things. I got Groupons for cheap trial packages. I signed up for various free community events to check them out. Doing this, I did a month of hot yoga, tried pilates for the upteenth time in my life (and still hated it! Never again!), archery (excellent upper body work-out!), dodgeball, pickleball, a half dozen different types of yoga and OrangeTheory-style exercise classes. Ultimately, I found the activities I enjoyed and could do, and had fun learning about other possibilities that just weren't for me. This is how I found and fell in love with aerial yoga, which emphasizes the strength training part of yoga while allowing me to get deeper stretches--hitting 2 of the recommended guidelines in 1 class!
2) Commitments and accountability. Some people are able to pick up new habits and stay motivated really easily. Most people, like myself, are not as good. By finding ways to stay accountable, I am able to at least maintain a base level of physical activity. The best way I've learned to do this for myself is by financially committing to a minimum number of work outs per month. By getting a membership at an OrangeTheory-style gym, if I didn't use all my class credits per month I was losing money. Losing money is not acceptable! While this commitment didn't meet the minimum guidelines, it was at least something while providing me the flexibility to participate in other activities. (I have since changed gyms and am now a real OrangeTheory Fitness member. Membership fees are going up in April 2020, so I encourage people to lock-in rates now if interested!)
3) Accepting my limitations. Every human body has its limits. As a physician, I see a wide variety of limitations every day. A big aspect of my working out is staying aware of my boundaries and respecting them without shame or judgment. To keep my injuries from worsening, I maintain mindfulness at all times in whatever exercise I'm doing to see how my body is responding. Every day is different so my abilities change with every work out. While I often wish I could push myself harder, I'm grateful for what I can do while getting a good work-out in. It's taken time and practice but has allowed me to be more active as time has gone on. I also make use of braces and tapes to support me, which I think people in general tend to under-utilize.
4) Taking breaks when needed. I love running. I purchased my first pair of Asics running shoes in 2006, which were an excellent investment. I never feel as good as I do after an excellent run. Unfortunately my migraines have always been a big disruption to this activity and I pretty much stopped running completely 3 years ago. I took time to focus on my overall lifestyle and to better manage my migraine disorder instead of continuing to suffer and struggle trying. I did a bunch of physical therapy as well. Finally I tried a run a few months ago and finished the mile headache-free. I stayed painfree the rest of the day. I literally cried. I've found that I have a ceiling and can't run as vigorously as I used to and would like to. However I'm back to running at long last! Victory!
It's now the end of the month. My goal was to increase my physical activity by double. Despite some contingencies, I actually did manage to do this! I am now working out 2 times per week (mix of aerobic, strength training and flexibility). I also have been able to navigate my running ceiling by increasing the incline when I'm on the treadmill in order to get a more effective aerobic work-out. I am still not meeting guidelines, but I am making progress and feeling better!
What's your current status meeting national physical activity standards? Is there something that you can start doing to get you moving more over the next week?