Yesterday I was lucky enough to start off my day in my favorite way. I slept in, prepared and ate breakfast with my wife and children, and then went for a mountain bike ride with a good friend of mine.
I love starting the day off with a ride through the woods. It gets my blood flowing. It wakes me up. It gets those feel good hormones (like adrenalin and endorphins) flowing which will keep me feeling good for the rest of the day.
Throughout the ride my friend and I were talking about how the choices we make eventually become our lifestyle. Many components of daily life all feed into how we feel during the day, and how we feel in general.
My friend and I have a mutual friend, we’ll call him Fred, who does not take care of himself. Fred was the topic of our conversation because he had just come into my office with a severe low back flair up. This was the worst flair up that Fred has ever had. The flair was due to his lifestyle of not taking care of himself, and abusing his body over the years.
Fred is a construction worker. Construction workers abuse their bodies horribly. That abuse has a way of building up over time. It accumulates and causes the muscles to get tighter and tighter until they tear on a microscopic level and become injured. That is what comprises a sprain, strain, tear, or muscle pull.
The main cause of most of our pain and injuries is not from what we do on the weekends, but what we do at our jobs, repetitively, over and over again day after day. These repetitive motions slowly cause the muscles that control those motions to tighten up over time. Usually the person isn’t even aware of the tightness building up. They may notice it occasionally, but most people write it off to old age or wear and tear.
When a muscle is tightening up and getting more irritated, it will not go through it’s full range of motion. It will restrict movement and reduce balance. It will reduce your control of that muscle.
This process makes it very easy to injure yourself. When the muscles are tight and irritated, they are primed to become injured. They can rip very easily when in this state. This can cause a minor slip and fall to become a major back injury.
Studies have shown that the leading cause of traumatic spinal injury in those over age 65 is from falling. It used to be from car accidents. The leading cause of falling in those over age 65 is a lack of hip mobility.
This is why your entire lifestyle affects how you feel. The tightness of your hips will cause you to fall more frequently. The tighter a muscle is, the less control you will have over it. A tight muscle will restrict balance and motion.
What you eat, drink, how you sleep, exercise, how you use your body, all goes in to determine how you feel on a day to day basis. Our health is a result of many factors.
Let’s take a look at my friend Fred again. Fred, like most construction workers, is in constant pain from using and abusing his body for years on the job. But Fred’s lifestyle contributes to his overall pain and makes him more susceptible to injuring himself.
When Fred wakes up in the morning, he drinks coffee on an empty stomach. He doesn’t eat breakfast until his mid morning break at work. He eats a light lunch. Then comes home and overeats at dinner, which usually consists of some type of red meat and starch. If there are vegetables, they are drowned in butter. He then drinks 6 to 9 beers to kill his pain, and falls asleep on the couch. Only to wake up 5 to 6 hours later and start the entire cycle over again.
He does not exercise because he feels that his work keeps him in shape. My perspective is that you have to keep yourself in shape to work. Physical jobs beat the crap out of your body over time. You have to keep yourself in shape to deal with the rigors of a physically demanding job. If you do not keep yourself in shape, then it will only be a matter of time before your body breaks down.
I have been hearing this concept more and more. In many professions, the goal is to get out and move onto something else before your body gives out.
Cooking is extremely tough on your body. Many chefs try to get out of the kitchen before they are in their 50’s, and before their bodies give out. Many construction workers try to get out of construction and onto a maintenance or foreman job before their bodies give out.
If you have a physically demanding job, if you don’t take care of yourself, then it is only a matter of time before that repetitive, or cumulative trauma catches up with you. If you take care of yourself, if you can exercise and eat right consistently, then you will get more productive years out of your body. If you don’t exercise and eat right, it is only a matter of time before an injury sidelines you and prevents you from working.
If you have a physical job, chances are that you will not get paid if you are not at work. That is just 1 direct way that our overall health can affect our finances.
Let’s go back to my friend Fred. His entire lifestyle affects how he feels. Drinking more than 2 alcoholic drinks at night will dehydrate him. He sleeps on a couch with no support which will make him more likely to wake up stiff and sore. He drinks coffee on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, which further dehydrates him. He commonly eats big meals with lots of starches, high in saturated fats, and low in vegetables.
All of this dehydration and bad food contributes to increased inflammation throughout his body. This increased inflammation will make Fred much more likely to get injured. It will also make Fred much more susceptible to be in chronic pain. It will also make it harder for him to heal.
This is a negative feedback cycle. The less Fred exercises and the worse he eats, makes him more likely to be inflamed. The more inflamed Fred is, the more tired he is so he has to drink more coffee to compensate for the lack of energy. This is because Fred’s body has to use energy to get rid of his chronic inflammation. The more Fred abuses his body, The more pain Fred is in. The more pain Fred is in, the more Fred drinks. The more Fred drinks, the more tired he becomes. The more tired Fred is, the less likely he will be to exercise, eat right and take care of himself.
All of this makes Fred more likely to be in pain and to get easily injured. It is a buildup of many small irritants.
Just as it takes many small irritants to cause pain and injury, it takes many small benefits to make a big difference in your body.
If Fred can stop drinking coffee on an empty stomach every morning, that will help to decrease some inflammation in his body. If Fred can start exercising then he will have more energy and have less of a need for coffee.
But Fred needs to start out easy. Fred hasn’t exercised in years. He has to start back at exercise very easy, using 5 pound dumbbells, if that heavy.
If Fred can change around his eating habits, then Fred can further reduce the chronic inflammation throughout his body that makes his susceptible to injuring himself. But just like exercise, Fred has to ease his way into changing around his eating habits. He has to slowly reduce the amount of starches, butter, and red meat that he eats. He can reduce it from eating it 4 times a week to 2 times a week.
Remember, with health it doesn’t have to be black and white. It isn’t all or nothing. If you are exercising mildly, low impact and low intensity, then you aren’t going to look like a professional athlete, but you will feel better, have more energy, have less pain, and be more active. Exercise doesn’t have to be go hard or go home. The older you get, the more you want to stay away from that concept. The harder you exercise, the more likely you will be to injure yourself. So go easy on your body.
In the same vain, reducing the bad for you foods is very effective. Rather than eating fast food 4 times a week, reduce it to twice a week. Fast food 2 times a week isn’t good for you, but it is better for you than eating fast food 4 times a week.
Just like walking 20 minutes 4 days a week may not seem like much, but if you aren’t doing anything, then walking 20 minutes 4 days a week will seem like a lot. Mild exercising will provide many health benefits.
Studies show that the main metabolic changes to your body occur during the first 20 minutes of an aerobic workout. After that you are just burning calories.
Fred doesn’t have to change everything around with his lifestyle, but he does need to work in low key exercising and he needs to watch what he eats.
Fred does not need to spend an hour a day, 5 days a week pumping heavy iron in a gym. All Fred needs to do is some light weight lifting 2 to 3 days a week, taking maybe 20 minutes each time. It doesn’t take much to stimulate the muscles and to keep them healthy, it just takes consistency. Remember, Fred is not trying to be a professional athlete, so he shouldn’t exercise like one.
Fred doesn’t need to give up all red meat, give up all butter, or give up all alcohol. He just needs to reduce it. He needs to not eat these foods all of the time. Once a week a meal high in butter, red meat and starches if fine. But if eaten more than that, then it will contribute to health problems.
Leading a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to rule your life. You don’t have to spend every second of the day devoted to healthy living. You can still eat the foods that you want to, you just can’t eat them every day.
Be smart about getting into shape and leading a healthy lifestyle. Make it as easy on yourself as possible. That is what Pain Free Lifestyle does for you, it makes it easy and realistic to fit exercise and healthy eating into your lifestyle. This is the Pain Free Way.