2 Powerful Questions – What can I do? What will I do?

AquajoggingAs you know, I tore my medial meniscus back in July, but everything seemed to be going well for the last two months. The pain resolved and the clicking became infrequent. I was happy, and feeling pretty good about my recovery, right up until last Saturday when it all came back – pain, swelling, clicking and popping. Bummer.

I’m not really sure why it got worse. I had gradually increased my duration on the rowing machine to 20 minutes, and that didn’t appear to cause trouble. I’d even begun to use the stairs a little at work without any problems. One suspect is yard work. Every weekend calls for yard work at my house, and I transplanted several of my tiny amaryllis seedlings into the ground, which involved kneeling and squatting. Maybe that did it. I hope not, because it was such minimal “exercise.”

Naturally, (at least for me) my mind went negative. If it got worse “by itself,” I’ll never get better. I’m going to need surgery. I can’t row anymore. I can’t exercise. I’ll lose all my gains and become weak and deconditioned. Perhaps you do this as well. In a day or two I recovered from the “awfulizing” telling myself – Okay, just settle down. Maybe you will need surgery, maybe not. Wait and see. Arthroscopic surgery isn’t that bad, many of your friends have had it and done fine. Accept your limits.

I was still frustrated, because I enjoy exercising but “couldn’t.” Well actually, I could. I just couldn’t do the exercises that I wanted to do – running, rowing, squatting, etc. What about water aerobics or aqua jogging? I could probably do that, but my first thought was, Aqua jogging is for old ladies! [Yes – sexist, ageist and arrogant – I know.] After mentally wrestling with the situation a bit, I got over myself – I need to focus on what I can do. I can do aqua jogging. Now, what will I do?

You can probably guess the rest. I’ve been aqua jogging a couple of times and enjoyed it. It can be a good workout, and being in the pool at sunrise is nice too. So, until the pool gets too cold, it’s aqua jogging and upper body strength training for me. We’ll see how it goes. I really don’t want knee surgery, but maybe I’d be better off if I have it earlier rather than later. I’m going to make another appointment with the orthopedic surgeon and talk with her about it. More will be revealed.

Clearly, I’m not perfect at managing my thoughts, emotions and behavior. Maybe you’re not either. If you’re like me, recognize your own negativity, and by recognizing it, free yourself. Ask the two powerful questions:
     What can I do?
     What will I do?
Then, do it! Let me know if I can help.

Come on in, the water’s fine.

The new workout gear

The new workout gear

Surprise Blessings and Learning from My Knee Injury

DSCN8545I’m trying to take life easier since I hurt my knee and, gradually, the knee seems to be getting better as I do less and rest more. It still hurts a little, and does click and pop, but not with every step. Obviously I haven’t been running at all, and I’ve been trying to limit my walking. Otherwise, my Monday/Thursday resistance workouts (mainly upper body) are going fine, and the knees seem to be tolerating an easy 15 minutes of rowing on the other days. So far, so good. I see the orthopedic surgeon next Friday.

Rest is important, and last Saturday and Sunday I slept in, arising over an hour later than usual. I woke up early, but rather than getting up I rolled over and went back to sleep. When my wife commented on this rare occurrence happening twice in the same weekend, I replied that I must have just needed the rest. Then she said, “But you have always told me the reason that you get up early is that when you wake up, your back hurts, and you can’t get comfortable enough to go back to sleep,” and the light bulb came on in my head. Eureka! She’s right; my back isn’t hurting in the mornings lately! A week later, this is still holding – my chronic low back pain is much relieved since I have not been running.

I am surprised and pleased, but also trying to make sense of it. Some history is in order: Fifteen years ago I was sedentary, out of shape, 180 pounds, and had fairly significant “mechanical” lower back pain. Changing my lifestyle, I began to eat better, run and lift weights, eventually becoming fit and trim at about 160 pounds. My back pain got much better but didn’t completely resolve. Over the last several years it has worsened somewhat, and I’ve tolerated it as part of “getting older.” The pain typically bothers me after continuously sitting, standing, or lying in bed for too long, hence the weekend early rising. Now it’s only been a few weeks, and I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but it appears that somewhere along the way, the running began to exacerbate my back pain.

Beyond my back, for the last several years I’ve also been bothered by pain at the base of my neck, which I’ve attributed to likely early degenerative arthritis. Typically this pain develops after prolonged reading with my neck flexed forward, and I do a lot of reading. However, I’ve noticed that sometimes I develop this same pain at the end of my runs, usually around mile four (of five) or so. Guess what? My resting neck pain also seems improved in the last two weeks. Very interesting.

It’s nice to feel better, but I feel a little embarrassed for not thinking about this possible connection before now. And I call myself “holistic!” Well, I am holistic, but no one can know everything and it’s hard to have an objective view of your own health. I’ve never liked going to doctors, but clearly being my own doctor isn’t the best option. We will see what the real doctor has to say on Friday.

Adjusting to Circumstances

Like a lot of people, I enjoy having a morning routine. For me it’s early to bed, early to rise, two newspapers with coffee, out the door for a workout, a jump in the pool, breakfast, and finally, get cleaned up and off to work. Three different workouts, each twice a week, give the week a nice rhythm in addition to the consistency of the overall pattern. Consistency has been a key to my workout regimen, and also, as I’ve written about before, I think very helpful to prevent injury. But it couldn’t last.

Three weeks ago I developed right knee pain after one of my runs. Bummer. The run was fine – same pace and same mileage as I’ve done for over a year – no apparent event – just pain later. After a couple weeks off, the pain is almost gone, but I can’t fully flex my knee and it’s popping and clicking with nearly every step. Sounds like a meniscus injury to me.

My knee probably wasn’t totally normal beforehand. I’ve always had knee pain with squats (within recent memory anyway). So I don’t squat. Two years ago I had a similar episode of knee pain and swelling after an uneventful run. That time it resolved over six weeks without any residual popping or clicking. This time I don’t think I should just start running again. Another bummer.

It’s frustrating to have my routine disrupted. It was working so well for me. Perhaps it’s a little bit worrisome too. What if I “fall off the wagon” exercise-wise? A few weeks’ rest turns into a few months’ or a few years’ layoff, and – “Presto!” – I’m a couch potato again. It happens. Not to mention that I’m a recovering type A personality, and patience is not one of my strengths.

A worse thought is that maybe I’ve got some significant underlying degenerative joint disease and running might not be the best exercise for me long term. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but that one’s kind of depressing. I love running!  Normally, I avoid physicians, but it’s probably time to see an orthopedic surgeon for expert diagnosis and advice.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to adjust to circumstances. The most important shift is mental. Taking my own advice, I’m trying to be in “Acceptance” mode and focus on taking action. Talking it out with my wife and friends has helped ease the frustration. My focus needs to be, what can I do now? How can I keep a helpful routine going?

I tried ten minutes of easy work (limiting my range of motion) on the rowing machine this morning, and that seemed to be okay. So I’m going to try another ten minutes tomorrow. And a 20-minute bicycle ride went reasonable well last Sunday. So I’ve got some options. Options are good.

The other issue that came to mind was my diet. I should probably be very careful with my eating this month. My caloric needs are sure to go down absent the mileage, and I don’t want to pick up a few pounds of pro-inflammatory fat while injured. Time to eat clean. That’s making it a little easier to resist temptation right now. So far, so good. Time will tell.

Thanks for listening to my tale of woe. I’ll let you know how it goes. Hopefully all’s well on your end, but maybe not. Perhaps you are also adjusting to circumstances. Injuries happen. My good friend broke her arm earlier this week and had surgery today. No more kayaking or paddle boarding for her for a while.

That’s how it is. Nothing lasts forever. Stuff happens. When it happens to you, keeping your composure, working through your feelings, and taking positive action are the keys to getting back on track. Maybe it’s your health, maybe it’s your job, maybe it’s something BIG – doesn’t matter, focus on adjusting to circumstances. Keep your head in the game, think it through, talk with your friends, pray, find professional assistance, and take positive action.

Let me know if I can help.

Resisting the Call of Laziness

file7621243117077If you’re like me, there’s always something else you could or “should” be doing. Perhaps it’s chores or tasks around the home. I try to get my entire honey do list accomplished on the weekends, but it never seems to happen. Sooner or later I’m done for the day without being done with the jobs. But by and large, I’m pretty industrious, and if you looked at what I accomplish between Friday and Monday, you probably wouldn’t call me lazy. What I realized yesterday, was that my laziness was in putting the tasks off until the weekend in the first place.

Last night after dinner, as I was taking the trash out, I caught sight of a spare fence board in the garage. My mind jumped to the two fence boards that needed replacing the back yard, a repair left undone before Sunday night. Hmm… I’ll get to it next weekend. No. Wait. Why not fix the fence now? Good thought! Twenty minutes later, the fence was good to go. Then I realized that if I did just one of the needed jobs each evening, I would probably easily complete my list each weekend. What prevents me from doing so? Laziness.

Even as I write this tonight, there are a couple of burned out light bulbs in the kitchen and bath that need changing. They’ve been out for a couple of days. Yes they’re both in enclosed fixtures, which is a little more work than just unscrewing the old bulb and inserting the new, but really they’re both very small jobs. I know I’ve wasted at least several hours in surfing the net or other mindless activities since they’ve needed changing. I could have easily changed them by now, but haven’t.   Laziness again. (With my newfound insight, I intend to change them right after this post is up.)

This is pretty minor stuff, but it’s made me think about how easy it is to give in to comfort and ease, and I don’t want laziness to derail me in anything more important than light bulbs. For example, this morning I ran my usual five miles. I’ve been doing five miles twice a week for 18 months now, but it’s getting pretty hot and humid in Florida now and today I felt like quitting. Laziness was calling, Cut the run short. Just do two miles, three at the most. After all it’s hot. That’s still a good run. Honestly, I thought about it, even though I knew I was perfectly capable of completing the entire course. So, I talked back to myself, Look you know you can do this. You’ve been doing it twice a week. Sure it’s hot but it’s not deadly. If you quit it’s just because you want to, not because you have to. Do you really want to? No, I didn’t want to. I wanted to finish. A little more self-talk, You can do it! Just keep at it! and a quick prayer, God help me do what I want to do. Help me finish, and I was over the period of temptation and completed the run.

Despite my fitness, despite 12 years of very regular vigorous exercise, I still experience this “call of laziness” pretty often during my workouts. There’s always this little voice around that says, less is okay. You don’t have to do so much. Quit now. Sometimes I do give in and cut the run short or skip the last couple of reps, and when I do, I always feel bad about it. Mostly, I talk and pray through my temptation like I did this morning, and that seems to work pretty well.

There may be other fixes. Today it occurred to me that perhaps I should change my running route so as not to be a double loop that brings me back close to home at the halfway mark. Then once I was halfway, I’d have to complete the other half. In my view, a structural solution to temptation is always preferable than continuing to rely on one’s power of resistance.

Regarding this issue, I don’t think I’m too different than most people. Laziness calls us all. The question is do we give in or do we resist? We know God helps us in our weakness, but many still can’t seem to overcome their laziness. I think the keys to victory here are:

  1. acknowledging our human weakness/laziness/sin,
  2. knowing what we really want,
  3. asking for his help, and
  4. persisting.

When laziness called me this morning, it was the sin in me that wanted to quit. The “real me” wanted to finish. With God’s help I did, and I plan to keep doing so!

What does the “real you” want to do?

______________________________

Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks.
Eccl 10:18

Finding Time, Having Time or Making Time?

“I want to work out, but I just can’t find the time to exercise.” How often have you heard that or something similar? Perhaps you’ve said it yourself. Another version might be, “I don’t have the time to exercise.” These expressions can be true in a sense, but, more often, they’re ways we use to excuse ourselves from making a needed change.

It’s not just our personal lives. People are telling me something similar at work, where I am charged with managing many issues that cross department and business unit boundaries. Bringing individuals together and getting them to focus beyond their narrow interests isn’t easy.   Pretty often I hear something like, “Pete, this issue is very important to me, but I can’t spare the time right now.” Or maybe, “Let’s set up a meeting” but no convenient time can ever be found in their schedules.

There’s an internal discordance in these situations and the way they’re described; I want to – but I can’t, It’s important – but I can’t. And certain passivity is also implied. It’s not that “I choose not to,” but rather that “I can’t,” that is, I am prevented from taking action by an external constraint. There just is no way I can do that because there is no time.

Yesterday, I got this, “I care deeply, but can’t help, no time” message from a coworker about something – something I consider very important – and it’s bothering me. I’m tired of it, and I don’t think I can just ignore this phenomenon any more. What is the truth?

So I’m going to start (as nicely as I am able) to call people out on this, myself included. (see this post and this post ) If you say it’s important, but can’t find the time, perhaps, as Joe Wilson indecorously put it, “You lie!” and it’s really not an important issue to you. Have you considered that you may be deceiving yourself? People do, and pretty commonly. Or, maybe you’re just looking for a good excuse to use in public

Truly, time is not the problem. Many people who can’t find the time to exercise watch a lot of TV; Americans watch about 3 to 5 hours a day on average. Work isn’t “all work” either. Any honest business leader will admit that a lot of time is wasted by managers and staff each week. Not necessarily on purpose, but that’s my point – are we using our time intentionally?

It’s time to be intentional, personally and professionally. Is it important? Do you want to? If the answer is no, be honest and say so. I can handle hearing, “Pete your problem just isn’t that important.” At least then I’ll know where you stand on the matter, and I can move ahead without waiting for help that isn’t coming.

If the answer is yes, end the passivity. Don’t try to find the time. Don’t look to see if you have the time. Instead, choose to make the time.

I Don’t Want “Confused” Muscles – Give Me Smart Muscles

The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more I appreciate a keep-it-simple approach to life. But “keep it simple” is not a message you will get from most of the media on most topics, including health and wellness. We seem to want to make everything complicated, including exercise routines.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the principle of “muscle confusion” which is the idea that, because muscles adapt to stress, for optimal results you should constantly vary your exercise routine. Proponents of this philosophy recommend adding new exercises and dropping old ones, or changing the resistance level and number of sets or repetitions performed, every 4-12 weeks or so. A whole industry seems to have developed to sell complex fitness routines and the specialty advice “needed” to be fit. I’m not buying it. Here’s why.

My aims are modest. I’m not looking to be a CrossFit instructor or an underwear model. I’m just trying to be reasonably fit and strong with the goals of feeling well, being able to enjoy an active lifestyle, and avoiding illness. If my muscles “fully adapt” to my workouts and my fitness “plateaus,” that’s fine with me. I don’t need continuous increases in strength, flexibility or endurance to achieve those goals.

Also, I value the simplicity and predictability of my exercise routines. My workouts are physically and mentally challenging, as they should be, and the knowledge that I’ve done this many times before is reassuring. I can do it again today, is a powerful thought. The force of habit helps me here as I wrote about in the  “Smart Feet” example. In trying something completely new, I lose that power.

Lastly, nothing is without risk and introducing new exercises or new versions of old ones increases the chance for injuries. I’m not getting any younger and I don’t bounce back from injury so easily. I have mild degenerative arthritis in my neck and some of my other joints are not quite 100% either. In the last couple of years, I’ve hurt my knee after modestly increasing my running distance and injured my neck after introducing two new upper body resistance exercises. Both injuries compromised my overall ability to exercise for months. The knee is still not completely better. Why risk injury from something new if I can achieve my goals with the current regimen that my body is tolerating?

So I stick with my basic routine, working out six days a week – resistance training (mostly bodyweight exercises) on Mondays and Thursdays; running on Tuesdays and Fridays; rowing on Wednesdays and Sundays. It simply works for me.

That’s not to say that I never change anything. Variety can be desirable, and from time to time I do make changes. Perhaps I get a little bored with the routine, or become interested in a new exercise. Then I may make a thoughtful and careful change in my routine, but I reject changing my workout just for change’s sake. It’s not necessary and potentially harmful.

I don’t want confused muscles. I want smart muscles, muscles that know exactly what they’re doing, and muscles that are capable of doing it time and time again. So far so good.

Smart Feet – The Power of Habit

It’s still summer down here in Florida, hot and humid. Generally I don’t mind hot and humid, but it does make my morning workouts much harder, and by now I’m tired of it and ready for fall. On yesterday’s run the weather nearly beat me.

A little background is in order. I run twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. For the last nine months, I’ve been doing a 5-mile loop through the neighborhood and a local walking trail. Typically I don’t vary the route and am well accommodated to the distance. And no headphones for me. I like to enjoy looking at the scenery, thinking and sometimes praying as I run.

Yesterday was different. At about 77° just before sunrise, it wasn’t too hot, but if the humidity wasn’t 100%, then it was close. Cars were dripping with dew and the streets and sidewalks were wet. The air felt heavy. So did I. Slow from the start, by the 4-mile mark my legs were much more tired than usual and I felt like quitting. The mental battle had begun. So I decided to take a new turn on the way home to pique my interest and keep my mind off my body.

Just a few seconds later at the next corner, I didn’t make the new turn as planned, but rather continued on my usual route. Maybe I was distracted by something; I don’t know. I realized my mistake right away but without any frustration. In fact, the first thought to come to mind was, My feet know what to do, which made me laugh. I’ve got smart feet!

Immediately my mental struggle was won, and the physical tiredness didn’t seem so bad. I continued thinking, It’s not just my feet. My legs know what to do; my heart knows what to do; my lungs know what to do. I’m just going to trust my body. It’s done this before, plenty of times. And that’s what I did, even finishing the last 100 yards with a sprint (of sorts – I’m not very fast).

Anyway, I don’t know if I should draw any big conclusions from the experience, but it was nice to beat the heat and finish strong. And it was nice to think that I have made this twice weekly run a firm habit, so firm that maybe the less I think, the better I’ll do.

But I’m still looking forward to cooler weather. Only another month to go!