Again with the standard disclaimer – this is personal advice based on personal experiences, not to be construed as medical advice, consult your doctor first, etc, etc. Please use common sense.
The passing of my friend’s mom has definitely motivated me more. It’s not just about living to see retirement though, it’s about quality of life. My own mother has several health problems and she is still not 65 yet (thankfully, that day comes very soon).
She can walk, but not for very long at a time without pain. She gets tired easily. She has enough energy and ability to do most basic things (walk up and down stairs, carry a baby, cook delicious food!) but she suffers for it later on. She has diabetes, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, etc.
She is overweight, but she has also lost a lot of weight. She has finally started watching her blood sugar and taking her medicine, but it’s too late. Her eyes are now bad from the diabetes and she has trouble seeing at night.
I don’t want to be like that.
Whatever age I reach, I want my quality of life to be good for as long as it can be. And when my quality of life dropped, I started hitting my limits.
As I previously mentioned, I’ve been dealing with knee pain for over a year now, primarily when going up and down the stairs. As time went on, it became more persistent. I could even incite pain by simply sitting in a chair and lifting my leg until it was straight. This simple extension would cause pain.
I was tired of it. I began reading and doing research on various types of knee pain to make an attempt at self-diagnosis.
My knees didn’t typically hurt when I walked normal, but they did hurt any time they were bearing weight while bent (or having to bear weight from beneath, as with the leg extension motion). It didn’t hurt on the inside of my knee, but it hurt more on the outside. They’d also been hurting while I was dealing with sciatica (that was fun) so I was doing a lot of research at that time, as well.
***TMI WARNING AHEAD***
One thing that was very interesting to me is what I discovered while attempting one of many ways to get rid of my sciatica (not knowing precisely what was causing it at the time). I have a relative who took massage therapy and I called her one day, in intense pain, and asked her if she would be able to try to help.
She had me come over and I told her where it felt like the pain was stemming from, where my lower back met my hips. She was massaging that area, but also determined that my glutes were horribly tight. Yes, my glutes.
She started doing deep tissue therapy on my left gluteal muscle, which hurt so bad! When she finished, I didn’t feel particularly better (unsurprising, considering that was only one of many problems within my body at the time). However, when I began descending the 3 flights of stairs from her apartment, I noticed that my knee didn’t hurt.
I wondered how on earth did her digging her knuckles into one side of my behind help my knee on the other side?!
***END OF TMI***
Of course, that led to more research and I slowly began to better understand how our muscles are connected, and more so, how they connect with our joints. Have you ever heard of your illiotibial (IT) band? I certainly hadn’t. It even has its own syndrome. Apparently one of the causes can be weak hip muscles. IT band syndrome wasn’t my problem, but seriously, I didn’t know it existed.
Eventually, I found a few different conditions that had symptoms resembling my own. As I continued my research, two potential causes kept popping up:
- Weak quadriceps.
- Being overweight.
OK, the weight thing I get. If you have an injured, weak, anything-but-great joint, the more weight on your body means the more pressure on the joint. That, of course, means more stress to the joint and more pain overall.
But learning about weak quads being a possible problem, was a new and fascinating lesson on how the body actually works. You can’t just have a problem in one spot and the rest of the body functions normally. It works from the ground up. If you have a weak x, parts y & z will try to compensate to maintain your balance and function. However, parts y and z weren’t intended to perform that function, so they are strained and it can throw other parts off in an internal, domino effect.
If you were home sick from work, and an employee from another department jumped in to cover you, they might be able to get by, but they would be overly strained. They wouldn’t do a very good job, because that’s not what they were meant or trained to be doing. When they couldn’t perform your job well, other people might have to step in and help. Soon, everyone is feeling the extra stress and performing at less than 100% of their ability since they have to continue to do their own job but now they also have to do some of your job as well.
Evidently, our bodies are the same way. Hence why people classically throw their back out by lifting heavy objects from their back instead of their legs. Our arms and legs are designed to take the brunt of the weight while our core engages to keep our spine stable. When people try to lift with their back, it puts extreme stress on a part not meant to take it and BAM! Pain ensues.
That meant that the first step in healing my knees was to strengthen my other muscles. Quads, core, whatever. I had to strengthen something from my foundation on up.
I know there are countless exercises you can do at home – with little or no equipment – that are designed for toning, strengthening, stretching, etc. But when you are fat, it changes things. Being fat, I am incapable of some exercises (until I’m less fat) or I am able to do them but not long enough to feel a real impact. Tire out, sure. But I could tire out prior to getting any benefit.
I don’t have a huge space at home to work out, let alone to host machinery like a treadmill or elliptical. But the gym does, and after searching around for a bit, I was able to find one within a reasonable distance from my house and they are super cost effective, with perks! Tanning (though I don’t use that), showers, lockers, sauna, a cardio theater, and TVs at each cardio machine!
So that’s how I started. I began going to the gym 3 times a week (starting the day I joined). That may not sound like a lot, but I go for 1-1.5 hours each time. I’d been feeling pretty crappy, beyond just knee pain, and I wanted to do something to get in shape. Yes, there’s walking, but I know how I operate. I’ve walked before, and I tire of it quickly unless I have somewhere to go. Walk to the store and back? Sure. Walk to catch a bus? OK. Walk around the block a few times for the heck of it? Eh, what’s next?
If you are thinking, “Well, you may not enjoy it but you need to do it anyway!” then you are right. But that is why I go to the gym 3 times a week. It is more important for me, starting out, to do something that I can and will continue doing and can experience results from.
Also, walking was not the ideal method to start out on for me. I can walk, and I can walk but with a goal of strengthening my quads to reduce/eliminate knee pain, but walking was going to be a slower process. I am in shape enough to do a little more than just walk, so I wanted to do that.
The gym also gave me clear boundaries and options – I think of it as “a job”. Not “work”, but as a job. If I couldn’t legitimately call in sick to my job, I can’t “call in sick” to the gym either. If I don’t really feel up to it, I can go and bike, walk, do more reps on a lighter weight. It doesn’t matter.
Granted, you don’t have to join a gym to get in shape. There are plenty of workouts all over YouTube (a recent favorite: XFitDaily, though a lot of their stuff is NOT for beginners) and elsewhere and any sort of activity is generally good.
If you are reading this and you are very out of shape, if even walking is difficult (and not due to pain, like sciatica was for me), then just focus on trying to walk. If you can walk but not for very long, start with 5 solid minutes a day. If you have to start out by taking a 5 minute stroll, that’s OK. Take a 5 minute stroll every day for a week. The next week take a 10 minute stroll. The next week, take the same stroll at a slightly faster pace, and so on.
If you can’t walk, do water aerobics. Punch the air for as long as you can hold out. Then, break for a few minutes and do it again. Do anything at all to get some activity.
Unless you a doctor is telling you otherwise, you don’t have to rush yourself. I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes that people make and why they end up regressing and putting it all back on. I’ve made the same mistake many times! People think of weight loss as “eating healthy and exercising”, and yes, both those things are involved.
At the same time, if you are eating McDonald’s today then it probably won’t kill you if you eat McDonald’s again tomorrow.
My goal isn’t to “diet and exercise”, it’s to change my habits and lifestyle – gradual changes. Changes that I can stick with. Changes that affect my day to day and aren’t so difficult or extreme that I get tired of it and give in.
Piece of advice number 2:
You don’t have to change everything at once.
So, that was my beginning:
- 3 days a week at the gym for 1-1.5 hrs at a time
- No dietary changes whatsoever
That was how I started. And that’s exactly what it is – a start.