If you’re recovering from surgery or an illness, exercising can be tough. Maybe your doctor has told you it’s time to start exercising again to aid in your rehabilitation, but even though you know it’s important, you sometimes feel worse when you try to move. This can lead to feelings of discouragement and the desire to just give up.
But exercise is a great help in recovering from illness and surgery … just make sure it’s the right kind and the right amount. Here are 11 key things to remember about exercising when it hurts.
- Start slowly.
If you exercise too much, too hard or too fast, you’ll feel worse and it may be harder to make yourself exercise the next time. If your body is in pain, inflamed, fatigued or weak, it will respond best to a gentle, slow approach.
- Believe in your ability to get better.
Wherever you are in terms of fitness level, you can increase balance, strength, muscle tone, endurance and range of motion if you work with your body rather than against it.
- Treat your body like a good friend.
Exercise in a kind, enjoyable way. No bullying or forcing yourself!
- Little bits count!
Start exercising in short segments, maybe even three to five minutes, and very gradually add time. When I was first recovering from chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, I had to rest after walking up a flight of steps. Exercising for me at that time was walking slowly around my yard. Today, I climb mountains, hike, dance, lift weights and lead a vibrantly active life.
- Trust what you notice.
You’re the one who lives in your body. You’re the only one who can notice what’s going on inside your body. When you notice how you feel and trust what you notice, you become your own best teacher. Which activities and types of exercise make you feel better and which make you feel worse? What are the voices inside your head saying about exercising? Which voices are helpful and which ones are not?
Let your awareness and your trust of yourself guide you toward your best exercise.
Move with your breath flowing freely in and out. No need to push your breath — just soften around it and let it flow all through your body.
Breathe through your nostrils, not your mouth, whenever possible. This calms your mind and prevents strain on the body.
Let your breath remind you when you’re doing too much. When you begin gasping and feel out of breath, slow down a bit so that you can work within your breathing capacity. As you gain stamina and lung capacity you will be able to exercise more and more vigorously while breathing easily and without strain. Enjoy, on each exhale, a letting-go-breath. Release tension, strain and discomfort as you breathe out.
- Warm your muscles.
Warm muscles exercise more happily than cold muscles. Exercise in a comfortably warm room. Wear layers so you can adjust your body temperature. Use a heating pad on sore muscles before or while stretching them. Stretch gently in a warm bath or shower.
- Work within your range of motion.
Gradually this will extend and you will do more with ease. If you force muscles beyond their range of motion, they’ll contract in self-protection.
- Practice relaxation-in-action.
Notice muscles that are unnecessarily tight and let them relax. How easy can you let each action be? Cats are fabulous movement teachers. Watch a cat move and imagine your own body, sleek relaxed, supple and powerful, moving with no extra tension exerted.
- Be cautious with repetitive movements.
… especially when there’s weight or pressure on your joints. Strength training is valuable, but to avoid the inflammation from repetitive movements, start with small weights, few repetitions and work up gradually. Free weights and stretchy exercise bands are often safer to use than weight machines when you are dealing with pain.
- Have fun!
Find a way of moving that is fun to you. Use the buddy system and regularly walk with friends, meet friends at the pool, sign up for a class with a friend or make new friends in a class. How can you let exercising be more fun for you?
Remember: Your body is made to move! So get moving, but do it gently and kindly. You will feel better with intelligent exercise.