Exercise (part 2 update)

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So I’d been doing my exercise routine for over a year now. I’ve been feeling much better, tighter, more toned. My weight loss seems to have stabilized but I’m not gaining anymore so a win! I’m still pretty overweight but I’m so much better than I was! My clothes fit better, I look better, I feel better in every way.

If you bend one way repeatedly, you need to bend in the opposite way, repeatedly.

If you bend one way repeatedly, you need to bend in the opposite way, repeatedly.

Naturally something had to give and in my case, it was two things. As I started to write a lot more, the time management became more of a problem. I have to sleep enough. If I don’t get enough sleep, I become psychotic and suicidal. Not a good situation at all. Besides, getting enough good sleep, night after night, helps you control your weight and not just because you can’t eat when you’re asleep.

I’ve already cut back on my housekeeping, gardening, community activities and from-scratch cooking. I do very little surfing online, I don’t shop for recreation, and I don’t watch TV. It’s a boring life, I know, but it suits me. So I wanted to exercise more intensely than I had been doing, to burn more calories in less time.

This led directly to the second thing that happened to me: I injured myself. I’d been doing my sit-ups faithfully (not that they ever gave me anything even remotely approaching rock-hard abs) and I had worked up to 70 of them. I’d been doing 70 sit-ups a day for months. I didn’t really want to do more of them so I started doing them a little faster.

It started with tremendous pain in my right hip. It was painful to walk, painful to move, painful to sleep. Then I started getting a nerve tingle, like my right leg was asleep from hip to toes. I stopped doing, mostly, the sit-ups and various other exercises that I had been doing just fine cause they hurt. Certain yoga poses, I couldn’t do any more. They hurt.

After some weeks of not getting better on my own, I dragged myself to the doctor. The doctor suggested the possibility of sciatica and bursitis and I asked for physical therapy. I needed to keep exercising and I wanted to know how to do it safely and with less pain.

Physical therapy can work wonders. A good therapist and your own dedication and hard work can rebuild your body. Bill had physical therapy years ago for a frozen shoulder and it saved him from surgery. Dear Daughter got physical therapy when she broke her leg at age six. In her case, she would have made a full recovery anyway, due to the magical resilience of youth, but the exercises she got didn’t hurt.

The physical therapist looked me over, listened to my symptoms, and decided the doctor was wrong. I did not have bursitis in my hip or sciatica. Although the pain was in my right hip and leg, she felt I had injured a disc in my spine. I got a series of back exercises that worked wonders.

The physical therapist also told me that I had probably done the injury to my spine by doing sit-ups. She told me to never do them. I never will again, because it hurts too much. Apparently, I should have been doing something else that doesn’t involve flexing the spine as much, such as crunches.

The therapist also told me one of the important rules of exercise, — one that I had never heard of before. If you bend one way repeatedly, you need to bend in the opposite way, repeatedly. If you do a bend-forward motion for some exercise, you need to alternate it with a bend-backward motion. If you move your arms in forward circles, you need to move them in backward circles, too.

I did two things wrong with my sit-ups. I was doing them too fast, bouncing I guess. More importantly, if I had done them in sets of ten, and followed each set of ten with a set of ten press-ups (which she insists that I do for my spine), I probably wouldn’t be having an issue today. Ten sit-ups followed by ten press-ups. Repeat until you get to 70. My spine would have been flexed both ways, and I wouldn’t have injured myself.

Getting injured meant that I had to do less exercise. I’m much more careful about what I’m doing and if it hurts, I stop. I modified my routine so I don’t hurt my spine. The irritating thing about this is that I didn’t work out that strenuously to begin with! I was never a gym rat. Any hardcore exerciser would sneer at my routine of baby steps and light workouts. Still, it was serious enough to cause injury.

Now that I’m doing less exercise, my weight is now creeping back up. That doesn’t help at all. Any doctor will tell you, if you have joint pain, to lose weight! Your joints don’t care about fat acceptance. They only care about the weight put on them. Better fitness means that the muscles surrounding those joints are stronger which helps quite a bit, but it still helps to weigh less.

So what should you do? You should still exercise! Slow, gentle, and gradual, and if what you’re doing really hurts, stop and do something else. I still believe that you have to do strength exercises, flexibility exercises, and aerobic exercises. The tricky part is doing enough to improve your health without injuring yourself. But if you do nothing, you still lose. Your health will decline even faster.

After much travail, improvements, and declines in my hip and leg pain, I got an MRI. The MRI confirmed what the physical therapist said months ago. I have a herniated disc in my spine below my waist. I’m sure the doctor knows the number of the disc, but I don’t. My next recourse is more, gentle exercise, which will take more of my precious time; trying harder with my diet to keep the weight off (and good luck with that!), regular use of over-the-counter pain meds to ease the muscle inflammation, and, eventually, an epidural to make the pain stop. That hasn’t happened as of this writing.

I like ibuprofen. It works really well. Too bad I can’t take it at night because, one of the side effects for a small percentage of the population is insomnia. I belong to that population. That means aspirin at night, which I don’t like because aspirin makes my tinnitus worse! Acetaminophen (Tylenol) does relieve pain, but unlike the other two, does nothing to reduce the inflammation.

While we’re on the subject of ibuprofen, make sure you take it with some food, even a glass of milk. The doctor told me that it can be hard on the stomach. A little food makes this problem go away. Does this make it harder to lose weight? Of course it does.

Aargghg.

I want, very much so, to avoid back surgery. Back surgery gives you three doors you can go through. For some people it works really well, for other people you get no benefits, and for still more people, you’d have been better off with gentle exercise and pain meds and skipping the surgery altogether. Unfortunately, you can’t tell which of those three doors you will get, until after you’ve had the surgery.

How can I avoid back surgery? Gentle exercise, stretches, pain meds, and weight loss.

So we persevere. I’m working at my exercise every day. Almost every day, I should say. Sometimes now, it just hurts too damn much. The back exercises have to be done daily or I hurt worse. I’ve heavily modified my routine so I don’t make the injury worse and of course that means I’m burning far less calories. It also takes far, far longer to burn the amount of calories that I had been burning previous to the injury. It hurts more to walk. That makes my weight creep up more.

So persevere! Don’t push too hard, back off it hurts, and if you have a physical therapist or personal trainer available to you, find out what you can do to make your exercise routine safer.

You still have to exercise! You still have to exercise! The results of not exercising are still worse. Go down and people watch in the aisles of Wal-Mart for a few hours and you’ll see what I mean. You still have to exercise. Just do it a little smarter than I did.

Next week: A Tale of Two Coats