When you're aching and fatigued, lacing up gym shoes is the last thing you want to do. However, it may be exactly what you need. Exercise offers a number of benefits to chronic pain sufferers, including reduced pain and increased mobility so you can make the most of life.
An active lifestyle is smart no matter your story. Exercise doesn't just keep you trim; according to John Hopkins Center for Health Equity, exercise increases energy, improves mood and mental health, and helps you sleep at night. Exercise also prevents many chronic diseases and reduces the effects of chronic illnesses already present. Pain isn't excluded: In a report by NPR, it was found that “a low-tech approach focused on lifestyle changes can be more effective” than opioid therapies for reducing pain. It's an enticing option as prescriptions for opioid painkillers become harder to get and long-term use is rife with side effects.
Of course, working out when you're in pain isn't easy. For chronic pain sufferers, reaping the benefits of an exercise regimen means walking the fine line between helping your condition and making it worse. If you've been following the outdated advice of resting and taking it easy, you'll need to start with light exercise to get your body accustomed to moving again.
Light exercise might involve daily walks around the neighborhood and stretching throughout the day. While it might not seem like much, even simple exercises like these loosen tight muscles, lubricate joints, and boost circulation. At this point, focus on developing a consistent exercise habit rather than worrying about the vigor of your routine.
While light exercise is an excellent starting point, it's important not to stop there. High-intensity exercise is not only important for health, it also reaps the many benefits of physical activity in a fraction of the time. If you're worried you can't keep up intense exercise for an extended period, know that short intervals of high-intensity exercise followed by periods of rest are considered more effective than long stretches of moderate-intensity exercise. This type of exercise is known as HIIT. If you have a heart condition, talk with your doctor before incorporating high-intensity exercise into your fitness regimen.
Another challenge facing chronic pain sufferers is access to gym facilities. Cost can be a major obstacle, especially if chronic pain leaves you unable to work. Even when cost isn't a factor, there's the issue of getting to a gym when you're feeling well enough to work out and casting aside insecurities about exercising in public.
If you're not ready or able to exercise at a gym, you're hardly without options. While gym machines make working out easy, high-end equipment isn't necessary for a quality workout. In fact, countless machines at your disposal can make it more difficult to stay focused.
Consider building a home gym instead. If you have a garage, guest bedroom, or an unused space, you can set up a simple home gym. A home gym lets you work out whenever you're feeling up for it, without spending time and energy traveling to a gym. Over the long term, a home gym also offers savings over a gym membership. However, it does require start-up investment. To create a home gym, you'll need to buy equipment. A yoga mat, balance ball, resistance equipment, and free weights offer a low-cost starting point, but if you want more varied and challenging workouts, you may choose to add a treadmill, exercise bike, step machine, or other specialty machines.
Exercise may not give you a life without pain. However, it can reduce your symptoms, lift your mood, and even increase your pain tolerance. The result is a life less burdened by pain, where you can let your passions dictate your days instead of aches and exhaustion driving your decisions. If you're not incorporating exercise into your pain management plan, it's time to start.
- Jackie Waters, Hyper Tidy