The fitness industry is worth more money then anyone is willing to count. It has spread it's reach into medical offices, schools and social media. While the messages it sends has sparked many to sign up for the gym and strive to get into better shape, it also has muddled what people should be doing to be healthy. This isn't a post about body image or self esteem because I'm not qualified to talk about that. What I am qualified to talk about is injury prevention. So I want to tackle a few subjects with that thought in mind in order to get us moving towards a more happy, healthy life.
Birthdays, New Year’s resolutions, first visits to the personal trainer, even initial evaluations at your physical therapy office all ask you to set some goals for yourself over some measurement of time. Many people make some educated reaches into thin air and declare goals that they want to achieve:
“I want to run 1000 miles in 2019”
“I want to gain 10 lbs by the end of the year”
“I want to lose 30 lbs this year”
“I want to finish the Murph in under 40 min”
“I want to run a sub 1:40:00 half marathon”
All of these goals seem great and will definitely lead to improved fitness, but that’s not what this article is talking about. These are not HEALTH goals.
Most people are setting these goals because they saw some standard that told them they needed to be something or be able to do something. They start to push their bodies beyond it's capabilities and eventually start having to work through injury after injury. The problem is that they are using the same mindset that made them uncomfortable with their bodies in the first place to set new goals. They continue to use external cues to develop their physical fitness rather than internal cues to improve their overall health.
Internal cues come from listening to what your body wants. Tuning into how your body is really responding to the type of exercise you are doing. Internal cues allow you to set a baseline for yourself to understand where your body is in the present and it's current capabilities. Once the baseline is set, health goals should be phrased in respect to the work you want to do, NOT THE RESULT.
“I want to maintain my shoulder mobility so I don’t get hurt in Crossfit this year”
“I want to improve my leg strength so I can run 4x a week and run a strong race in Oct.”
“I want to cut (ANY CRAP FOOD) out of my diet so it doesn’t interfere with my health anymore”
Let your mind and body show you what it can do when your goals are set based on maintenance and internal cues. Let them achieve a state of health that they define rather than some marketing agency or product pusher.
Adult Sports and Longevity
Participating in sports is a great way to stay in shape, meet new people, and revisit that spirit of competition you might not have had since youth sports. All of which can be very healthy for both the body and mind. And while a sense of community is absolutely important there a few things that can quickly turn participating in adult sports into an unhealthy and destructive activity.
Pros work their tails off for most of the year then take a few months off to let their bodies rest. The demands of sports are usually more then our bodies can handle, especially for a prolonged period of time. Most amateur leagues give you a week or two between seasons then start right up. That means you work your body down for a few months, take a week off, then repeat the cycle... for years. Some people sign up for several leagues that way they don't have to take any time off. This repetitive trauma adds up over time until one day your body breaks down. For some it's a muscle strain, for others, it's more serious like an achilles or ACL tear. That's a year of rehab before you're back at it.
Maybe it's not a sport. Maybe it's a new high intensity circuit training that you found. A work out you love so much you never take time off. This becomes your new sport and there is no off season. No recovery time. Microtrauma (microscopic injuries to the muscles) begin to accumulate and results in a larger injury (like a debilitating low back pain) that you can't shake off. Instead you keep trying to work through it... for years.
Listening to your body and understanding that the reason why it's reacting slower and less powerfully is not because you're getting old. It's not because everyone else is younger. It's because the trauma has been accumulating and you haven't done anything to relieve it. So what can you do?
Start with active recovery (as opposed to passive recovery where you sit on your butt and wait for things to get better). Cycle, cryotherapy, stretch. Yoga, body work, compression sleeves, anything that gets you to participate in the healing and recovery of your body. Implement it throughout the season, but more importantly take time away from your sport or workouts to focus solely on recovery. Yes you might slide back a step or two, but that's better then losing a whole year because of some terrible injury.
Finally, when was the last time you did any strength training? Yes, sports are taxing on the muscles and you leave very sore, but that's maybe 2 hours of effort a week. That's not enough to maintain muscle mass. Especially if you sit at a desk for the majority of the day, then sit in your car in traffic, then sit on the couch and Netflix the other 6 nights of the week. Your muscle mass will slowly dwindle as time passes and your ability to absorb forces with your muscles will decrease. This then transfer unwanted forces to tendons, bone, and ligaments. Now you're injured and out of the game again. Get back to strength training for the sake of longevity.
Effects of Dietary Choices on Recovery
I saved this one for last because it’s a touchy subject for many people, talking about diet can be as tough as talking about religion and politics. And just like religion and politics there are many sides and view points that people hold dear. With all respect to the impact of dietary choices on environmentalism and humanitarianism, I’m going to focus on Health, Performance, and Injury Prevention.
I'm not here to tell you to go Keto, Vegan, or carnivore. Too external still. Let’s back up the discussion all together. What is your diet right now? If you’re eating the typical American diet then any change would help. Don’t subscribe to any of the gospels previously stated. Pay attention to every meal you eat and how it makes you feel. Food is our body's primary source for gathering energy, but is your meal putting you to sleep and ruining your day. Are you actually in a bad mood now? Even though your craving was satisfied.
Lets start with a post workout meal. Most people read labels and listen to ads that tell them what the "perfect post workout meal" is for them. They never stopped to consider what their bodies want. I used to run 10 miles on Saturday and be out of commission for 3-4 days before I could run again due to soreness. I decided to make a few changes to my post run meal (nothing else) and it immediately got me to running 10 miles on Saturday and another 10 miles on Sunday. I never had to take time off during the week due to soreness. It took time and effort to figure out what my body wants, but you can see how much it paid off. My mileage grew because of it and my joints and muscles were healthier because I was giving them the building blocks they needed for recovery and hypertrophy.
The difference is listening to your body and making necessary changes to improve how you feel. Diet can decrease your recovery time if you do it properly. Macro and Micro-nutrients other then protein are required for this and they are best when they come from REAL FOOD. But don't listen to me about what your body needs. Don't listen to anyone. Listen to how your body responds to the food you give it and compare it to other foods. Make incremental changes (maybe one ingredient at a time) until you find what works best for you. Remember: You wouldn’t put discount gas in a formula one car and expect optimal performance, so make sure you find high quality, nutrient rich foods to power YOUR internal engine. AND ALWAYS talk to a medical provider on whether changes are safe at the moment. Especially, if you have been diagnosed with anything that may be effected by dietary changes.
If you haven’t picked up on the theme yet, here it is: True physical health is dependent on one’s ability to listen to how activity and dietary choices affects how your body feels. As well as implementing the necessary recovery and dietary strategies to minimize effects of repetitive stress.
There is so much more to talk about each one of these subjects and I’m sure each one could be their own post (and might be in the future). If you are looking for better ways to set goals, start active recovery, and figure out how to listen to your body, then contact me. Message me on social media, send me an Email, text, or phone call. Let’s set something up to get you better in tune with your body and mind in order to continue your progress towards health.
Dr. Leo Valenzuela PT, DPT
Los Leones Physical Therapy