Thursday, June 13, 2013

Exercise Questions

OK, all you health nut types among the Picnickers, some questions about exercise:

1) a colleague of mine, who also spends a lot of time working hunched over his computer, sitting on his duff, suggested doing little short bursts of exercise interspersed throughout the working day, so we don't turn into blobs of goo. Blobs of goo with stiff, inflexible muscles and permanently shortened spines. Any idea if there is merit in the suggestion? A break to do ten crunches and ten push ups? If you don't really break a sweat, is it still doing anything for you?

2) If you've been pretty sedentary for a while and start exercising, of course, even the little bits you're going to start out with are going to make you at least a bit stiff and sore at the start. What is a sign that you're doing too much or over straining muscles?

3) and how long should you wait before doing it again? Should you wait until all the stiffness has gone, or only a bit? Like, do a full workup the next day and just ignore all the pain, or wait a day or what? Can you do your little bits and bursts while you're on your down day or do you have to just be a blob for a day.

I've noticed that I'm doing a lot better pretty fast with the teeny weeny exercise regimen. I was dismayed but totally unsurprised when I finally stood on the scale and discovered that I'd gone up 10 kilos since about the same time last year, shortly after the surgery. I knew full well that I had only myself to blame, so didn't do any of the dumbass stuff like railing at God/the universe. While I was lying about on the sofa all winter, not going to Rome to the studio, being kind of miserable and not really seeing anyone, and drinking quite a lot of prosecco, (...ahem... like every day...) it really wasn't too hard to figure out what the outcome was going to be.

The chemo and surgery really did take quite a lot out of me, and I lost a bunch of weight just by being unhealthy and not eating. The two years (!!) it took me to recover were spent nearly entirely on my back, in the wheelchair and later unable to do anything very physical for a long time. Then by last autumn when I should have been starting to get active again, the sedentary habit had sunk into my brain, and the days got short, I had no classes to go to and an internet connection at home and ... well... that's the story. All that weight that I lost during recovery, right the heck back on, plus a little two or three pound bonus. Sigh.

So, when Andrea got back to Italy and I had an excuse to leave the house every day with classes going again, I started by first walking a lot, then riding my bike around Rome, for about 1/2 an hour to 45 mins a day. It felt so good, I kept doing it and shortly felt better enough to sign up for Pilates classes a few weeks ago, here in S. Mar where there's a nice shiny new gym. I explained to the very kindly instructor that I was trying to get back in shape after all that stuff, and he's been very helpful.

After All That, and many years of being more or less inactive, I'm all out of alignment, all cramped up and inflexible, all flabby and un-toned and the guy really seems to know how to tailor the programme to suit what you need. We do our muscle exercises, and our long stretches, then he comes along and kind of diagnoses you. He picks up your feet and squeezes you and stretches you and picks you up by your ankles and sort of shakes you back into shape. This is three times a week and I'm already starting to feel the good effects. Along with doing the exercises at home and doing my little situps and crunches and stretches and pushups and some stuff with the resistance band, I'm better. Yay! Still fat, but less flabby and way less stiff.

I was also getting slackadaisical about the diet, letting sugars and carbs creep back in, at least when I went out to eat with friends. But the biggest change is that I'm not indulging in 1) any sugar at. all. (stopped taking honey in anything) and not buying wine to have at home. With Gardone coming up, we'll have to see how that will pan out when I'm surrounded by all my cool Traddie Gardone friends and we're all whooping it up and talking Traddie shop into the wee hours every night for two weeks. Gardone was where it all started going south last year, so we'll see.

But on the whole, I feel a lot better just for doing these wee bits of exercise. I can feel years and years of stiffness and flabbyness starting to seep away, very slowly. And slow is better, I think. I've read many times that sudden shifts of weight or body tone really only result in your body kind of backlashing against the shock. Which probably played a part in the weight gain after surgery. Slow and steady wins the race, and teaches your body the new normal.

So, can't recommend Pilates strongly enough. It was, after all, designed to help athletes and dancers recover from injuries, so if your "injury" is just being out of shape, it's going to do you wonders.



Anonymous said...

People that I know who are trying to get in shape alternate exercise activities: ie swim one day, spinning class the next day.

My strategy: Not many carbs and daily moderate walking, take steps instead of escalator - I can keep my weight but not lose, If I want to lose weight and tone: No carbs and more vigorous exercise. Flab is a losing battle now that I passed &#@? years.


~Katherine~ said...

I am not a health nut, and I have not had the surgeries you've had, so take this with a grain of salt:

1) I'm not sure if this has physical benefits, but back when I had a desk job I know it had at least psychological benefits. At the very least, it can't possibly hurt you in a quest for better strength and overall fitness. I find that when I take breaks like that I am much sharper mentally after I take the break and do ten pushups or twenty crunches.

2 and 3) When you have worked out for a while, you'll be able to tell the difference between mild or even more than mild stiffness/soreness from the previous day's workout and "oh, OW, that hurts/just feels wrong, I need to let that area rest for a day or two." I think the key is to differentiate between actual pain and soreness, if that makes any sense? Pain=bad, sore=good.

I do circuit training, where I alternate between strength, cardio and abs in rapid succession. Usually, I'm a little bit stiff and sore in the morning, but I feel fine after I work out because all those muscles have gotten re-stretched and flexed and moved. Once, however, I used a different video and different technique which was, in retrospect, a very bad technique as it practically guaranteed an injury. I tore a muscle and couldn't move my shoulder for a couple of days without absolute agony. I knew that that was definitely bad, so I didn't move it as much as possible for the first few days, stretched it lightly (but no weights) for the next few, and went to lighter-than-usual weights after that to build it back up.

Your having such a good instructor will also help with all this; he'd probably be glad to help you figure out "good pain" (which isn't really pain in the sense that I think of it, it's stiffness and soreness) from "bad pain"; if he's half as good as he sounds, he doesn't want his students getting hurt!

Anonymous said...

I'm always dubious about the recommendation of getting up in the middle of the day as you slug along and do 20 jumping jacks. All those stress hormones being released can't be healthy, sure how does the brain know that you're doing it to tone up or a bear is coming after your hide?

I find using transport as exercise is the best way to shape up. Walk, cycle and swim. Stretching makes you lean and supple. Have you tried Callanetics? She was a ballet dancer and her videos work. I have the original videos, she knew best. You need patience though, it's for the long haul and can seem boring, it takes a lot of concentration. Lift weights too, that is important for women and our bone density.