Getting Back Into Your Exercise Routine (Finally)?
Don’t Jump Into that “Deep Water” Too Soon!!!
I’m seeing a lot more of my total patients reporting generalized fatigue, lack of energy, weakness, being unsteady on their feet and maybe even a little down in the dumps. Sometimes there are falls involved. There can be many reasons medically as well as pharmaceutically that can contribute to the above symptoms, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that these are all 100% explainable as the longer-term effects of having our lives contained during an extended Pandemic. We’re not getting out as much or for as long. We’re likely not socializing nearly as much. Maybe we’re enjoying a little too much sitting time, whether it’s video calling friends, family, teachers, etc., or enjoying a little too much TV entertainment, many of us have been sitting a whole lot more than usual. Our relative increase in inactivity over the past two years will not come rushing back to “normalcy” without some work on your part.
That’s right – this won’t be a passive process and the work can be extensive but does not need to be grueling misery. I like to tell my patients, “We’re goin’ swimmin’ but we won’t jump in that deep water just yet.” What does that mean? It means we’re going to start slow and easy and carefully gauge the response, which then guides our way forward in terms of advancing safely and effectively. This is the best way to get back into a fitness routine if it’s been a while for any reason – medically or otherwise. If our bodies are not used to the uptick in activity/exercise we’re planning on, then we stand a pretty good risk of injuring ourselves or at least making ourselves more sore and inflamed than, presumably, most of us care to have to experience.
Let’s face it, the old adage, “No Pain, No Gain” is certainly pragmatically true when it comes to developing strength and stamina, which require physical work and conditioning. Pushing those very physical boundaries involves physical challenge. That challenge stresses our muscles and joints and our bodies push back with tenderness and inflammation as we heal and rebuild ourselves. Regular exercise results in regularly better physical health — so you should consider this a long-term investment in your Quality of Life. Committing with discipline is hard and it’s helpful to have some guidance if you don’t know what you’re doing. How many times have you “started back” to your exercise routine just to have it end up being another “one and done” experience?
The fact is, you don’t want to go after it with uber-intensity as you’ll most likely develop more scar tissue than anything else, which is counter-productive to the development of good physical health in so many ways, such as flexibility and overall muscle function and capacity. Another favorite expression of mine with patients is, “If you wanna PLAY at THIS level, you have to TRAIN at THIS level.” So simple a concept but worth explaining a bit. Think of a marathon runner. That’s someone who can run for over 26 miles. Imagine if someone who has not been engaging in any regular exercise program or progressive running program tried to run a marathon. Maybe their adrenaline and inner drive would get them across the Finish Line, but they’re almost 100% certain to have injured themselves badly with severe damage to their muscles that will cause significant pain and inflammation that could take a few weeks or months and maybe even substantial medical attention to resolve (e.g., see “Rhabdomyolysis”).
Over-doing-it aggressively when starting out on, or getting back to, an exercise program is a common mistake, but if you think about it, you’re probably less likely to continue any exercise program that causes substantial pain and even if you do that pain is your body’s way of telling you you’re likely over-doing-it and actually injuring yourself. So – “No Pain, No Gain” is a YES so long as the pain is minimal and easily manageable with giving yourself even time to rest/rebuild, which usually takes only a day or two, and maybe a little ice if you’re particularly inflamed or tender. You should not be experiencing sharp or intense pain or a lot of swelling. If you can barely move the next two days, you’ve over-done-it! It’s not necessary!
So if you’re headed back into the garage weight room, the local gym or out on the road or trail – take my advice: START SLOWLY and PROGRESS GRADUALLY. You will not rebuild in a day what’s been lost over the course of two years, two months or even two weeks. Take your time. Consider asking your PCP about whether you’re ready to return to exercise. Definitely consider working with a personal fitness trainer.
If you’re feeling like your balance is off or you’re just so weak that you’re having trouble with your mobility, consider seeing your doctor or a physical therapist to help guide you back toward your fitness or mobility goals without jumping in over your head.