Sunday, 9 February 2014

Benchmarks


I'm injured. Again. This time it's my right knee which has never been a problem before. It's not an old injury flaring up. It's a new injury in a new place that I now have to ad to my growing list of things to watch out for. Last summer it was my left low back. The winter before that it was my left knee. Both of these have given me trouble before. But this time it's my right knee. And the time before that it was my right low back. New injuries in new locations with no real identifiable cause.

Injuries can be immensely frustrating. They're painful and can stop you not just from doing sports but from performing the most basic of activities. Like loading the dishwasher. Climbing stairs. Putting on your underpants.

I admit that as time wears on it feels like I'm getting injured more often. Possibly because I'm older? Or maybe I forget war wounds from years past. But every time I have a problem there is always some person quick to suggest that I'm doing too much or exercising the wrong way. "You can't do boot camp and shovel snow and expect not to hurt...one of them has to go". Or "exercising in cold weather can't be good for you - the lungs just aren't able to warm air that cold." Or my favourite "Maybe you should stop running. I heard about a guy once who had a heart attack and died in a marathon. See? It can't be good for you!"


Just for the record I frequently do boot camp and shovel snow and don't hurt. Our respiratory system is lined with cilia, small hair like projections that warm air of any temperature as it passes into the lungs. More people have died from heart attacks while watching the marathon than those actually running it.


The truth is I'm asking more of my body these days than ever before. Exercise for me is liberating. It's one hour a day where I don't have to talk to anyone. I can be fully 'in my body' and just be me. I can turn up the music or listen to the sounds of nature. I can work out alone, tap the energy of my Thrive class, share a Sunday run with my guy, or hang with DingoDave in the park. Regardless of the details - it's a little slice of freedom. Mediation. Therapy. If you exercise then you know what I'm talking about. So exercise I do. Running, walking, skiing, cycling, and doing pilates and Thrive class every week.


So the injuries are because I am challenging my body and also because I am ageing. But here's the thing. My job as a Nurse Practitioner allows me to know about all the aches and pains that people have. And guess what? People who don't exercise get a lot of injuries. Only they don't get injured from sports. They get injured from bending over, sitting for too long, or.....doing nothing. Being sedentary is a dangerous game. With little muscle tone, no core strength, and perhaps extra body weight joints and muscles are in pain and if injured recovery is hard to achieve.


I'll take my chances with Pilates thanks. Exercise will always be part of my life and should, in some form, be part of everyone's weekly routine. So how then to cope with injuries?

I could sit around feeling sorry for myself counting the "benchmarks" on my butt from being out of action for what feels like an eternity? Or I could see it as an opportunity to reflect on my training plan and see how I measure up to my own benchmarks and those set by others around me?


I choose option number two. Not because I'm a fabulous athlete. Not because I plan on winning any competitions or even competing. I choose option number two because it works. Every time.


Reflection affords me the time to measure my achievements. To check in on my progress on things that matter to me. To do an environmental scan and see what other people are doing for their health and fitness and how that compares to what I'm doing.


Time out reminds me to engage in the "thinking" side of sport. I can read up on nutrition, sports physiology, coaching and psychology or learn what's new and hot in the sports world. I can meditate on where I'd like to go with things and imagine what I might do in my future.


Bench time allows me to adjust my game plan. Maybe I will try a new activity. Maybe I will do something differently with my nutrition. Or maybe I will change my workout schedule to suit my slightly older but wiser body.


But the other great thing about a physically enforced sports sabbatical is that I am granted the time and mental space to remember why I do it at all. Time off reminds me why I put on four layers of clothing over my entire body to run hills and sprints in -25 degree weather. Why I haul myself out of bed at 5:30 am to go to my year-round outdoor Thrive class. Why I skip the birthday cake at the office and quietly eat my chia seeds, walnuts, and leafy greens by the pound.  


I do it because when I don't I miss it. I miss my Thrive class and that amazing feeling I get towards the end of the workout when I know I'm keeping up with some very fit people and I'm going to finish the class and feel proud that I did. I miss feeling like I'm a running rock star for that 50 metre sprint from the bench to the birch tree.  I miss the calm that washes over me five minutes into a Pilates class. I miss that big smile on my face when I ski into Ferris Park as the morning sunlight starts to shine over acres of untouched snow.


So the next time you're sidelined by an injury see it as a gift from the universe. Here are some suggestions to help you reflect and renew until you're game ready again.


1. Learn proper rehabilitation and how to reduce your risk of future injuries. This means tapping some expert advice from physiotherapists, registered massage therapists, and other health care providers who specialize in sports and active bodies. This does not mean taking advice from your boyfriend, your high school pal on Facebook, or the guy in the office who hasn't exercised since 1982 and is still wearing a track suit from that era.

2. Look at your nutrition. What works for Joe and Jane Public may not be working for you. You need to fuel the machine. Nutritional needs are ever changing and are very specific to your age, gender, body type and to the activities that you are currently engaged in. Nutritional science is constantly evolving. Consult books, classes, or reputable on-line sources to see how you might improve your food.

3. Change up your workout schedule. You might want to rearrange the schedule or add rest days. You may want to change out some activities. Or maybe you want to try something new. Look around see what's available to you and what grabs your attention.

4. Review your goals or your 1-3-5 year plan. If you haven't done this you might be surprised. Goal-oriented behaviour can be extremely productive. It's helpful if the goals you choose are both personal and realistic. Regardless of what you choose, having something to work towards can be very motivating and very rewarding when you achieve it. Think outside the box - goals don't have to be performance based. They can be about having fun, feeling more energetic, or trying new things.

5. Tune in to motivation. For some people this means mediation and sports imaging. Visualizing what you want to achieve. For me it's not quite that deep. I'm motivated by watching other people enjoy sport and succeed. Yep - I'm all about Chariots of Fire. Cheesy right? But for me there's nothing like watching the team run in the water along the beach. Or the Flying Scotsman in the last 20 metres when he closes his eyes, raises his heart up to the heavens, and sails across the finish line in front of everyone else. And all to the best sound track ever.

This injury? The universe has once again taken care of me. It's the Olympics. What could be more inspiring than watching some of the best athletes in the world challenge themselves physically and mentally more than they thought could be possible. Thanks universe....I'm listening. And Thrive class? Look out. I just watched Canada win a gold and silver in women's moguls,  a bronze in men's snowboarding, and a silver in team figure skating. And the athletes who didn't medal? Amazing, fit, articulate, and graceful. I'm totally stoked and ready for action.


Thanks for reading Getting Healthy with NP Sam. Comments welcome - please click the pencil icon below. 

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