The pain in my knee was so bad I had to stop walking. I have no idea what caused it, but I felt it with every step I took, so I stopped. This has happened before…this random knee pain. It appears without warning and usually I can walk it off in less than a minute.
This occurs maybe two or three times a year. Because it happens so infrequently and it goes away so quickly, I’ve never been concerned enough to get it checked out.
But, the last time it happened was different. The pain was so severe I couldn’t walk it off and I had to sit down. It also didn’t go away after a minute. This time I got concerned and started to ask myself questions.
“What if it never goes away?
“What if this is a real problem?”
“What if I can’t walk for a while?”
I can’t imagine even a day without walking. It’s more than exercise. It’s how I process life. I think better. I’m calmer. I’m more creative when I’m walking. I was also upset that my chain of days reaching 20,000 steps a day was in danger.
Five years ago Ava suffered a knee injury that kept her from running for months. She was on crutches for six weeks and doing physical therapy for another couple months after that. I saw, firsthand, how difficult it is to not be able to do something you love.
I recently got to spend an afternoon with O.J. Brigance. He was an NFL player on several teams, including the Baltimore Ravens. More than 10 years ago, O.J. was diagnosed with A.L.S. That’s a terrible disease that takes away the ability to do anything physically, except blink and smile.
Even though O.J. had retired from playing when he got the disease, he was still an active man. Today, O.J. is in a wheelchair inspiring everyone he meets. His joy is full and so is his smile. O.J. works for the Ravens in their front office. Along with his wife Chanda, he also runs The Brigance Brigade Foundation, a non-profit that helps other A.L.S. patients and their families.
Spending time with O.J. was a powerful reminder that life is not all about health and fitness. Joy and fulfillment are possible even when physical fitness is not.
As Ava was recovering from her knee injury, there was no guarantee she would be able to run again. She had to begin wrapping her emotions around that possibility. What made that even more challenging is that running is how Ava processes life.
I desperately wanted to fix her problem, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even offer the assurance it would all be OK once she had recovered since that other possibility was hanging out there. As I watched Ava face this challenge I thought through how I would handle it if one day I couldn’t do the fitness activities I love.
That day may come through circumstances out of my control. I pray that I can handle it even half as well as O.J. Brigance. What an inspiration he is to so many people.
Ava’s injury was the result of running. That’s the reality of pushing yourself physically. It doesn’t matter whether your thing is running, CrossFit, swimming, biking, yoga, or walking. The possibility of injury is real for each. Of course, intensity ramps up that possibility, but if you’re moving in some manner injury is always lurking around the corner.
One of my goals every time I do any kind of fitness activity is not just to push myself a bit, but also to finish injury free so I can do it again tomorrow. Harvard Health recently published a list of ten ways to prevent exercise injuries. It’s a good list that you can check out HERE. I’m going to highlight five of these that have become a big part of my fitness journey and have really helped me avoid an injury sideline.
SEE THE DOCTOR (part 1)
I’m not a doctor, nor do I even want to appear like I have any medical expertise. That’s why you should always check with your doctor before starting any fitness program…even walking. As you move forward you’ll increase both distance and intensity. It’s important to know whether your body can handle that and to what extent.
I get an annual physical to make sure I’m not pushing too hard and also to measure my fitness progress. The results continue to be encouraging.
Of course, doctors aren’t just a good idea for injury prevention, they can help with illness prevention too. That physical also allows for the early detection of certain diseases which could lead to a much easier treatment and recovery. I get an annual flu shot because I’d rather not lay in bed for a week feeling like I got hit by a dump truck.
GET THE RIGHT GEAR
One of the great things about walking for fitness is how inexpensive it is. You don’t need a gym membership or expensive equipment. You don’t even need a Fitbit. But, I learned the hard way you do need good shoes.
A few years ago, in the middle of summer, my feet started hurting. It was really bad in the morning as I got out of bed. I could barely walk. Eventually, the pain would lessen enough so I could move without looking decades older, but the pain never went away. In fact, throughout the day there would be flare ups that would stop me in my tracks.
I had plantar fasciitis which is an inflammation of the tissue that connects your heel with your toes. It can be a bear to treat and often lasts for months, if not years. Mine lasted months. I’m convinced it would have lasted longer if I didn’t change my shoe wearing habits.
I like to go barefoot a lot during the summer. That was a contributing factor. So were the shoes I wear to work. After some quick research about plantar fasciitis I transitioned from a bare feet loving hippy to Mr. Rogers.
I stopped going barefoot at home and I bought an extra pair of good athletic shoes and took them to work. Since more than half my workday happens with almost no one else in the building, I change out of my dressier shoes when I get to work and wear those athletic shoes for a few hours before everyone else arrives. It’s my daily Mr. Rogers moment.
Wearing the right footwear can make all the difference between happy feet and sore or painful feet.
One of the biggest reasons most people give up on fitness is because they start way too big. They want the fitness transformation as soon as possible. Of course, our bodies don’t respond that way and when it feels like there are no results it becomes discouraging and we give up.
But, starting too big is also a way to get hurt…even when you’re walking. It’s far better emotionally and physically to start small and think long.
I practice the philosophy of gradual increases. I believe my fitness momentum needs to be nurtured carefully. Fitness needs intensity, but not so much at any one time that it causes injury. I did not go from 4,000 steps to 20,000 in one day. It took years of gradual increases.
I know I’m not the only one who would rarely choose water if given a choice. Yet, the research indicates there is no better beverage for our health. Drinking enough water helps prevent injuries, boosts our immune system, and is essential for healing when we are hurt.
Yet, most of us would rather drink anything other than water. My wife is an athlete who also knows a thing or two about good nutrition. She’s doing a metabolism reset that has her on a very specific eating plan. We recently took our granddaughter out for lunch. It also happened to be a low carb day for Ava. Water would have been the perfect beverage, but my wife isn’t a fan so she ordered a Diet Coke. I laughed.
Why does water annoy us so much?
This might be the part of my fitness transformation I’m most proud of. I used to be just like Ava. I never drank water. Now, it’s a regular part of my day. And, just like starting a fitness activity I started slowly. There was no way I could go from zero glasses of water to six in one day.
Instead I gradually, and very slowly, made the transition. I started with adding one glass of water in the morning while we are doing our radio show. Eventually, that became two and then three. A couple years ago I added a cup of water on my drive into work. Then I added a cup of water at lunch, and my last addition was another cup of water mid-afternoon.
KNOW WHEN TO STOP
When I felt that pain in my knee I immediately stopped walking. I’m not sure I could have continued even if I wanted to, but my first goal was not to make it worse. Anytime I feel pain when I’m doing some sort of fitness activity I stop.
I know too many people who “pushed through the pain” and hurt themselves even more. What often follows is months of inactivity as they recover.
I also do some strength training several times a week. Resistance training is an important part of fitness and I enjoy the activity. But, I’ve also been very careful whenever I feel unusual pain. I’ll stop immediately and transition to a different exercise when that happens.
When Ava’s knee started hurting she tried running a few more times, but it wasn’t getting better so she stopped. It’s a good thing she did. She had no idea how close she was to a permanent injury that not only would have stopped her from running, but even walking.
SEE THE DOCTOR (part 2)
Thankfully, I’ve never had to visit the doctor for a fitness related injury. That knee issue hasn’t warranted a visit yet, but may if it returns and doesn’t go away.
I have to confess I try and avoid going to the doctor. My grandfather HATED going to the doctor and he almost reached his 99th birthday. His first night in the hospital happened when he was 97. I’ve always got that bouncing around my brain.
But, there are times when the doctor is exactly the person you need to prevent something worse happening. After a few weeks of that knee pain, Ava finally saw a sports injury specialist who recommended an MRI. That revealed a bone in her knee was deteriorating.
There was a chance it would not heal, but Ava had to not put ANY pressure on her knee for 6-8 weeks. It was hard, but Ava was determined and she didn’t flinch. She learned how to get around using crutches, she stopped driving her car which was a stick shift requiring both feet. She used a stool in the shower that allowed her to sit.
Four months later, Ava was given the all clear for regular activity and she hasn’t had a problem since. It’s a good thing she didn’t power through the pain.
BE LIKE HARRY
For many decades walking was the fitness activity of choice for Harry Truman. Every morning he would head out for a brisk two mile walk, even while he was president. He continued well after he retired. Mr. Truman had a regular route around his town that he walked every day.
As he got older his walks got shorter and little slower, but he kept going until he was physically unable to do so. Harry Truman lived until he was 88 years old.
I want to be like Harry. I want to keep walking for fitness until I can’t walk anymore. Until that happens, I don’t want to be sidelined by an injury or illness if I can help it.
If you’re ready to make exercise a part of your lifestyle, but have been concerned about the impact on your body I highly recommend walking. How you start makes all the difference between whether it sticks or not.
The 30 Day Fitness Challenge will guide you through setting the perfect Fitbit goal for you. Perfect means, not too big to fail, but not too small to be meaningless. The perfect Fitbit goal is one that pushes you a couple days a week.
The 30 Day Fitness Challenge also includes a contract you can make with yourself and a daily Win Tracker to chart your progress.
If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. This is the Fitbit I use to track my 20,000 steps a day. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.
(By the way…if you use the link above to buy a Fitbit Inspire HR this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)
Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking as a fitness activity. It’s sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions to Win at Fitness.
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