As a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach, NASM Personal Trainer, and Certified Nutritionist, I live and breathe healthy lifestyle. I eat the nutritious Mediterranean Diet, work out daily, and have the visceral fat level of a Kenyan marathoner. Sounds like I’m the picture of health, right? I thought so too, but, as it turns out, not so much.
At the ripe old age of 62, I blithely assumed that I was still walking around in a 20 year old’s body. In an effort to take primo care of my health, I’ve religiously worked out my entire adult life, even while putting in 12 hour workdays as a corporate litigator. In order to accommodate my aging body, I gave up my first love, running, many years ago. Then I sold my beloved road bike at a garage sale to avoid subjecting my husband to a call from the local PD reporting that a distracted driver had sent me to my maker. About 15 years ago I moved my workouts to the gym, which I presumed would be a safe haven from injury.
My body and I were getting along just fine until a few months ago when it decided it was done with my relentless routines and gave me my comeuppance. It demanded, in unmistakable terms, that I give it a breather and downtime to perform necessary repairs.
The kicker was when I made the foolhardy decision that I should “man up” and lift heavier in a vain attempt to pump up my seemingly diminished muscles. This ill-fated resolve was fueled by a disappointing In-Body muscle strength analysis, as well as by my observation that several 20-somethings were hefting quite a bit more weight than I.
I was proud of the fact that some time ago, I’d mastered the art of the squat bar, balancing a heavy weight on my shoulders without falling over. So I assumed I could get away with upping the challenge by adding just a bit more weight. My gradual ramp up seemed to come off without repercussions. That just emboldened me to up the ante.
In retrospect, I’ll admit that I’d chosen to ignore some back discomfort triggered by the squat bar exercises. Then one day, without warning, my body declared “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” I was about to pay big time for my pig-headed age-denying decision.
The payback started with low back pain but quickly progressed to an excruciating sciatica-type screaming nerve pain in my quad. Six weeks later, I’m still in the throes of agony. Thankfully I can sit and sleep. However, standing and walking are doable only for very short time periods. The insistent pain has forced me to sit on the floor while attempting to do mundane tasks like grocery shopping. When I attempt to walk further than a pathetic 3/10ths of a mile, I scope out nearby benches, fire hydrants, and pony walls for momentary relief. I’ve gone into full-blown panic in the checkout line, fearing that I won’t be able to remain upright long enough to pay.
My general approach to aging’s insults is to struggle through them on my own without running to physicians or downing meds. But this pain is all-consuming. So far, I’ve taken OTC and prescription drugs, consulted a physical therapist, been evaluated by a neuromuscular therapist, endured painful deep tissue massage and Rolfing sessions, been treated by my family doctor, adjusted by a chiropractor, and had my joints pulled through their range of motion by an Active Release Therapy practitioner. I’ve turned into a gym-faker, a derisive term I use to describe the slackers who show up and only work their jaw muscle or thumbs. To date, the pain continues unabated.
Rather than continuing to wallow in my self-generated misery, I’ve decided to share some insights I’ve gained about the aging body and living on planet pain.
1. A young body is a forgiving vessel. An older body needs TLC.
2. Your body will tolerate repetitive motion without obvious injury for a long time, but then it will rebel without warning.
3. Chronic pain causes any otherwise sane person to lash out in all directions for pain relief solutions, including the full range of traditional and wacko alternative treatments. Even opioids and surgery start to sound worthy of consideration. You’ll do whatever it takes to get your life back.
4. It’s not enough to “listen to your body.” You have to proactively anticipate its breaking point and change your ways.
5. Habit is good. But, a good habit taken to the extreme is bad.
6. Chronic pain is debilitating, depressing, exhausting, prevents rational thinking and affects all body systems.
7. “Fake it til you make it,” is best way to get through social interactions. When asked how you are, answer “I’m fine. How are you?” Save your crying for your husband who agreed to put up with you come hell or high water.
8. Appreciate the “little things in life,” like being able to stand up and walk.
As routine oriented and stubborn as I am, I finally got the message that I need to change my ways as I will do anything to avoid a return trip to planet pain. I’ve instituted a Sunday ban on the gym, my scheduled rest day. I’m going to force myself to fall in love with yoga or Pilates to lengthen my contracted muscles and may even devote more than two minutes a day to stretching my aging body. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?