Chronic pain · Fibromyalgia

Thinking differently about exercise

Can’t dance? There’s always ‘dancer pose’ (Photography by Natalie Field)

As I got into bed last night my mind wandered to the mornings to do list and straight away I became excited. Body balance tomorrow! Woohoo!

Hang on a minute, body balance is exercise. I’m excited about exercising? Don’t I have a healthy disdain for exercise? Hasn’t exercise has always been a chore? Something I know I should do, but something I most certainly do not want to give up my spare time for.

I tried to think of the last time I was excited about exercising. Have I ever been excited about exercising?

Actually yes, when I was younger I exercised constantly. Swimming, netball, dance. Bloody hell, I was exercising daily. Why have I never thought of those activities as exercise?

And then it hit me. I enjoyed those activities. I didn’t spend 14 years of my life dancing because it was exercise. I did it because I enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I continued dancing way past the recommendations of my physio and my parents. Hell, I completed my last ballet exam with my kneecaps taped in place! It was only when dancing became so painful that the idea of going to class started to feel like a chore that I stopped.

And there it is ladies and gentleman. The problem with exercise and chronic pain – the pain. When you have chronic pain everything hurts. Doing nothing hurts. Moving hurts. Exercise requires movement. Why would I volunteer to do something that is only going to increase my pain?

Well, as it turns out, in the long run, exercise (regular, moderate movement) will actually help manage chronic pain. It’s an idea that is hard to wrap your head around to begin with. We’ve been taught that pain is a single that something is wrong and we need to stop. Sprain your ankle? Stop, rest, and heal. Twist your knee? Stop, rest, and heal.

As it turns out, the stop and heal theory is correct for acute pain like a sprained ankle or a twisted knee, but stopping altogether actually does more harm for those with chronic pain. You see, with chronic pain there’s no injury to ‘heal’. The original injury has already healed as much as it’s going to, your body now requires constant, moderate movement (along with a number of other strategies) to keep it going. Yes, the starting is hard. But once you do, the benefits are there.

Okay, that all sounds well, exercise will help manage my pain. Well, tell that to my body at 5.30 pm on a Thursday night following a long day chasing after a 1 year old. It’s winter. The idea of changing out of a warm, fleecy track suit into Lycra and heading out into the dark, cold night is just not doing it for me. As much as I hate to admit it, the knowledge that, if I continue to head out into the cold I will eventually see a reduction in my pain levels is just not enough to get me moving. There is no end to the reasons I can come up with to justify staying home. It’s only one class, it’s not going to make that much of a difference. I’m tired, it’s been a long week, I should really rest. I’m still going to be in pain, it isn’t going to eliminate it altogether, what’s the point? I’m a little sorer than usual, I should probably rest….

So what was different last night as I lay in my warm bed contemplating today’s plans? What is different this morning as I sit in my very warm pyjamas still excited about the idea of changing into activewear and heading out to body balance? The difference is just that, body balance. I enjoy body balance.

I’m not a ‘gym’ girl. I’ve tried it before and I just cannot keep up the treadmill/weights routine. Sure I might be able to manage it up for a few months but even the knowledge that weekly gym fees are being sucked out of my bank account just isn’t enough to keep me going back to something I don’t enjoy.

While I’d love nothing more than to go back into the dance studio realistically I know my dancing days are behind me. My body just ain’t what she used to be! But that doesn’t mean I can’t find a form of exercise that I enjoy. Exercise doesn’t have to be pounding on a treadmill or lifting weights in the gym. Exercise comes in so many different forms and can actually be something you enjoy. With body balance exercise is no longer a chore, it’s something that is good for my body, something I choose to do, it’s something fun.

2 thoughts on “Thinking differently about exercise

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