In the last posting, I talked about finding ways to stay active and exercise over the winter. The next question might be “Why?” Why not hibernate, hunker down, hide indoors until winter is over? If we were chipmunks, that would be a great idea!
There are lots of benefits to exercise. In short, our bodies and minds function better. There is a huge amount of research on how humans respond to exercise. Some of the positives include improved sleep and reduced depression. Immune function is improved, so we get sick less often, and illness is not as severe if we do catch something. Stronger muscles are less painful, less likely to cramp, and don’t need to work as hard as weak muscles, so energy levels and stamina increase. Improved circulation provides further improvement in energy levels. Joint stiffness improves, as the production of the lubricant fluid in joints is stimulated. Pain levels decrease with the production of endorphins, the body’s own pain medication. Many forms of exercise involve social interaction, which adds motivation and further reduction in depression.
“I have too much pain to exercise!!” Actually, if you have chronic pain, you have too much pain NOT to exercise!
I’m not talking about running marathons or other extreme sports. In fact, exercise that is too intense can make things worse. The type and intensity of exercise depends entirely on YOU – your capabilities, your likes and dislikes, your goals. The key is to find something you enjoy, can tolerate, and can commit to doing regularly.
Some great options for people with chronic pain are walking (always a winner – it’s cheap and available for most people), biking, swimming, water aerobics, elliptical (less impact than a treadmill), dancing (my personal favorite), Hatha yoga, Tai Chi. For some activities, like aerobics, yoga or Tai Chi, work with an instructor who can help you modify the activity to compensate for any limitations you may have. When you start any new exercise, start GENTLY and increase gradually. Most folks do better with shorter duration, more frequently – you’ll do better walking 10 minutes 3 times a day, for example, than walking 30 minutes all at once. Some discomfort is normal and acceptable, but you should not be bed-bound for 3 days after exercising – that’s a signal you did too much too soon, not that you can’t do it at all.
Strength training can be a great boost for overall wellbeing, especially combined with aerobic exercise, like those activities listed above. Start with low weights (about half of what you think you can do), and keep your movements slow and controlled. Work major muscle groups equally, left and right, front and back, up and down. Sometimes full range of motion can cause increased pain, so shorten the range.
Set a strict schedule about when and how often you are going to exercise, ideally 4-5 days a week, but at least 3 days a week. Stick with the schedule and make it a priority. You’re worth it! I’ve been known to write prescriptions for exercise, just to make it official. Plan to stretch after you exercise, when muscles are loose and warm.
So get moving, have fun, and feel better!
At North Shore Pain Management we provide advanced, evidence based, multidisciplinary and cost effective pain management. Our goal is to improve your ability to return to the activities you have been missing as well as provide a meaningful reduction in pain.