When you’re living with the effects of chronic pain it can be difficult if not impossible to see how physical activity can keep you healthy. Pain affects your ability to move naturally and can cause depression and anxiety that stops you in your tracks when you do decide to try something new. However, the benefits of exercise can’t be overstated. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re considering a change to the way you get your body moving.
Mind, body, and spirit
Pain affects every part of a person. It isn’t just physical. Depression, for example, is an extremely common side effect of chronic pain and it can make life more difficult than the pain symptoms themselves. The physical sensation of pain affects your body but all of the implications and emotional components of the pain affects your mind.
There is another third component to a healthy life, and that is our spirit. Many medical blogs and doctors don’t speak much about the spiritual aspects of our complete lives because it is often confused with controversial religious topics. However, taking care of your spirit doesn’t have to be about a specific religion or religion at all.
The mind, body, and spirit benefits of exercise are tangible. Runners often talk about the “runner’s high,” a euphoric feeling that they get when they participate in a 5K or a marathon. It is a release of endorphins that induce happiness and wellbeing. This physical response helps to feed our mental and emotional needs.
It can add years to your life
A study from the University of Zurich in Switzerland determined that, along with eating lots of fruit and limiting alcohol, an active lifestyle was one of the keys to living longer. Chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and respiratory disorders are on the rise throughout the developed world. Of course they were not surprised to find a correlation between a poor diet, smoking, excess drinking, and other unhealthy behaviors. However, individuals who maintain a healthy lifestyle, specifically including exercise, live longer than those who do not.
It can combat pain
Other information suggests that the benefits of exercise may include an ability to combat pain better than conventional medications. A program known as the Mind-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) was developed for use by people dealing with the effects of chronic pain in order to curb long-term dependence on medications and potential addiction issues. Participants were taught to use mindfulness meditation practice to help them avoid the use of addictive medications such as opioids. Being able to control pain using meditation techniques can allow patients to engage in more physical activity which can, in turn, reduce pain responses in the body. It becomes an incredible cycle that can improve mental, emotional, and physical health.
It can boost your overall happiness
Did you know that happiness can be one of the benefits of exercise? Exercise releases endorphins that create feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Exercise can actually be prescribed to combat the effects of depression and anxiety. Just 30 minutes a few times a week, or every day if you’re motivated, can be enough to increase your overall happiness. It will also begin to help you improve your self-confidence.
It can beef up your brain
Sure, there are physical and emotional benefits of exercise but it can also help stimulate your mind. Michigan State University published a study that demonstrated how a lack of exercise can cause memory issues. There are degenerative conditions that cause mental capacity decline, but exercise can also increase the right chemicals that promote healthy brain cells. It also increases something called brain-derived proteins which promote decision-making skills, learning ability, and higher thought.
Benefits of exercise with chronic pain
This all sounds great but we know what you’re thinking. If you are already experiencing pain, which can make some motions difficult, how can you begin to use exercise to fix the problem? Of course, the right solution for you will be very individualized. Someone with osteoarthritis affecting their hip and knee joints will have different needs from a person who has fibromyalgia. The first thing we recommend is talking to a professional or your doctor to see what can be done to make exercise easier for your specific situation.
Here are some more general ideas to get you started:
- Start small: You don’t have to run a marathon right out of the gate. Start by walking around your block. Increase the distance and speed as you become more comfortable with the activity.
- Know your limits: Yes, you will likely experience some increased pain when you begin a new exercise program but it is also important to know how much is enough. Don’t push yourself too hard.
- Bring a friend: People who exercise with a friend or in groups are far more likely to stick with the routine. It provides accountability, someone to lean on, and makes it more fun.
If you start slow and work with ways to increase your fitness routine over time you will begin to notice that the pain will decrease and you will have more tools at your disposal to better handle your condition. Pain management is a long-term strategy and there are many ways to get yourself to a healthier place for your mind, body, and spirit.
What do you feel would be the most important benefits of exercise in your life?
Image by Steven Depolo via Flickr