Move It or Lose It

exercise bike imageOn my 61st birthday, I faced a choice: spend the rest of my life in pain with declining mobility, take pain meds and/or have surgery, or exercise regularly. Two summers ago, I fell in my yard and broke my ankle. That was followed by weeks of pain as I gradually moved from crutches to a walker to a cane. I was late starting physical therapy, but once I did, the muscles in my leg and thigh got stronger and stronger until I was able to walk without a limp. In just a few months I was able to get back on my treadmill and walk with no pain at all.

I learned the exercise routine my therapist put me on—which included thigh curls and riding a recumbent bike—and moved from the PT center to a local gym. There I continued working out as I had been taught by my therapist and after a while, I started swimming laps in the salt water pool as well. I loved the routine of hitting the gym three days a week, working up a sweat, and jumping in the water. No matter how tired or sore I felt going in, I always left feeling energized and strong.

Then, as has happened to many people, my workload was cut. I skipped renewing my gym membership as part of my expense reduction plan, and just lifted weights and walked on my treadmill at home. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t walk on the treadmill without my knee above the ankle that had broken getting sore. I tried walking for shorter periods and at a slower pace, but the soreness became pain. Soon there was pain even when I didn’t get on the treadmill. The pain was so much that I thought about taking ibuprofen, but I don’t like to take pills (except vitamins and other supplements). I thought about the people I knew who had started with taking over-the-counter pain pills, graduated to prescriptions, and eventually ended up having surgery. I didn’t want to spend my sixth decade on that trajectory, so I used an ice pack, massage, and sports tape instead.

Those remedies helped some, but they weren’t going to be enough. I knew the physical therapy and exercise I did had strengthened my leg so it could support my ankle. In just a few months without them, my muscle strength was slipping away. If I did nothing, the pain might get to where I would once again be walking with a limp. If I started taking ibuprofen for it, how long might that do any good? Since my goal is to remain as mobile and pain free as possible for as long as I can, I decided I had to get back to doing the kind of exercises that would keep my legs strong and my joints pain free. Pay the gym now or pay the surgeon later.

Some things are too valuable to give up, even when income shrinks. My health and well-being are too important to compromise. Whatever it takes, I’m going to keep this body moving for as long as I can to extend my quality of life.

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