At Pain Doctor, we know that exercise is a key component to a holistic approach to pain management and general health. Just this January, another study was published that noted that lack of exercise itself may be responsible for twice as many early deaths as obesity. That’s a huge thing to consider. It’s why we devoted the entire month of January to delving into the specific topics, areas of research, and sources of inspiration that can help you incorporate exercise into your daily routine.

Starting 2015 off right

Many deride New Year’s resolutions, but we believe they can be a helpful tool when used strategically. It’s not enough to simply make a resolution–to achieve it, you’ll need to retrain your brain. As we noted in our January post “Our Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions“:

“It turns out that starting (and maintaining) healthy habits is both simple and complex. Our brain is hardwired to reward us with the release of dopamine in anticipation of something pleasurable (like a cookie), and it can be trained to release that same dopamine when we start a healthy habit. The ability of the brain to change its neural circuitry in response to learning something is called neuroplasticity, and this neuroplasticity is crucial when forming new habits.”

Because of this challenge, we encouraged everyone in January to focus on ten small, achievable resolutions that lead towards the path of overall health. These were:

  1. Stick to a schedule
  2. Adopt one healthy habit a month
  3. Add just ten more minutes of exercise every day
  4. Rid yourself of one bad habit a month
  5. Speak to a friend every day
  6. Show gratitude every day
  7. Practice daily self-care
  8. Give back every week
  9. Stay positive if you slip up
  10. Find your mantra

You’ll notice that none of these are “Lose # pounds.” Overall health is achieved through actionable goals that you can put into practice today. And to start that, we start with the mind and how we treat ourselves and others (see resolutions 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9).

We wanted to start with the mind this month because it’s important to avoid the post-holiday blues that many people experience. The colder weather and end of holiday celebrations can trigger depression and other symptoms in many. In January, we encouraged you to take up a gratitude practice to boost your mood. A gratitude practice has been shown to boost mood by 25%, improve health, and foster a more positive outlook. 

Once your gratitude practice is in place, we discussed the many ways that exercise can improve mood, decrease pain symptoms, and reduce stress. We noted that:

“Whatever it takes, commit to exercise as you would commit to taking a daily multivitamin. The benefits are life changing, literally, and the improvements to mood and levels of optimism (up) and stress (down) are nearly instantaneous.”

Incorporating exercise into your life this January 

Once you have the mind primed, expand outwards to find new ways to make exercise a vital and important part of your life. To do this, we focused on:

  • Starting with the home: January marks Get Organized Month, a time to clear the clutter and mark your calendars for exercise and prep your clean eating shopping lists
  • Exercising at work: Workplace wellness programs are a great way to encourage fitness among office workers; join your company’s program or help them start their own
  • Getting out into your city: Finally, the community you live in can positively or negatively affect your ability to exercise–if it’s a negative experience, we suggested ways to change that

After journeying from the personal to the community-wide level, we discussed many ways that you can start or improve your current exercise regimen. The easiest way to increase the amount that you exercise is simply to make it fun. Cross-training is an easy way to create varied workouts that keep your brain and body active.

Some of our favorite cross-training combos include:

  • Yoga and running
  • Swimming and weight training
  • High intensity interval training and tai chi
  • Rowing and biking

Make a point to find the exercises that you love to do first and then build a fitness routine around that. If you hate running, but love lifting weights, by all means stick with the weights! We also know many people groan when they even hear a mention of a sit-up, so we also discussed some alternative abs workouts that you can practice to strengthen your core. Some, like stand-up paddle boarding and rowing, are definitely more fun than a sit-up or plank.

Overcoming challenges to exercise

For pain patients, exercise can be tricky. It’s been proven to be beneficial for so many chronic pain conditions, but doing it incorrectly can result in more pain. Knee pain, in particular, is a difficult condition to handle when increasing your exercise. However, there are ways to exercise correctly with knee pain. We noted in our post that:

“Low impact exercise that includes regular strength training and flexibility can help treat knee pain and prevent future injury. Common low impact exercise includes swimming, yoga, and walking. There are specific exercises that can be done either freestanding or with the support of a chair. These exercises address not only knee pain but also pain in the leg and hip, all of which can be related.”

Challenges for exercise also often arise from our current habits. We believe that quitting one of those–smoking–is the greatest single thing you can do for your health. We know it’s not easy though, so this January we discussed multiple, research-proven ways to help you quit smoking.

Another habit that affects us all is our desire to find easier ways to workout and eat better. Sometimes, we can be duped by fitness fads like one-minute workouts or cabbage diets that promise results for little effort on our parts. These can result in unhealthy habits or obsessions that hinder our fitness goals. As always, we counsel an idea of health that focuses on frequent moderate exercise and a diet full of fruits and veggies. We even lined up some of our favorite workout snack combos in January’s Eat This, Not That feature to help you get started.

Did you incorporate more exercise into your life this January? What were your greatest achievements? 

Image by Magdalena Roeseler via Flickr


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