[ Note: my personal workout journeys should be considered anecdotal. They should, in no way or form, be considered diagnostic or therapeutic for everyone. They are educational only. Consequently, anyone contemplating a personal exercise program should consult a specialist in general health beforehand. That is a no-brainer. ]
I am getting close to my old routine.
I used to run 5 miles at least 3 -4 times a week. I used to pace between 10-11 minutes finishing my 5 miles between 50 to 55 minutes.
Not anymore. I am turning into my 60s and the last thing I want is to subject myself into extreme workouts like I was in my 20s. There are new parameters for me to adhere to as far as working out is concerned. In my youth, all I thought about was speeding, beating personal records and of those around me. Yeah, youth is the competitive period of life.
Today is different for me. Little improvements in my performance based on what my body can handle give me extreme joy. I don’t care if everybody overtakes me, (in running for example) I am happy as I can be at my own little pace, watching Nature around me, listening to birds and whispers of tree canopies. Exercise for me is simple - MOVE. That is all there is. So long as I get out of bed, or out of chair, or out of the house, that is exercise for me already.
Household and backyard chores are good enough.
But then, there are extra bonuses. Only last December ‘22 to January ‘23 I was agonizing over knee and back pains, made worse by a vacation full of moving around with a backpack checking from one cheap hotel to another. I used public transport to save money and Lord did I suffer. You see, I was initially confident that Manila was easy to navigate with all its public available transportation. In college, I could sprint to catch a bus or jeepney. If there were no more seats, that’d be alright because I could stand the entire length of my trip. Not until my last vacation. I was like an old debilitated man carefully climbing up and down stairs to reach the platforms of public trains. I felt sharp pains in my back whenever I walked a mile or two carrying my bag like a homeless hobo. I could not climb jeepneys and tricycles because of a painful right knee. I swore I would never take another vacation in the city without a personal car.
I had the choice of accepting my fate, ruled by a belief that 60 is the new … 60. I tried so hard to believe that 60 is the new 40 but I couldn’t. Everytime I step down a step and the pain hits, I feel like I'm 101 years old. Already.
But, wait a minute. I am a Physical Therapist and am I not supposed to be the licensed Professional to treat these types of agonies and limitations and turtle slowness? I took stock of what happened: I fell on my face while running in Palm Beach during the pandemic. I landed on my right knee. It healed. This led to years of inactivity as far as running was concerned. I was afraid of gyms and potential crowds. Meanwhile the patients I was treating were getting bigger while my muscles remained the same.
Soon I felt the impact of inactivity. My knee started complaining. Everytime I lifted a patient or bent my knees to attend to my gardening, my back also complained. All these symptoms got worse when I traveled to Manila. I hoped to walk and run as much as I could in the city where I used to live. I did much less than I planned for. I attributed all these issues to old age. I ran many long distances in my heyday, maybe I was paying the consequences now. I have added years to my age and shrinkage to my muscles - my co-workers became fed up hearing my saga of toeing the line of aging.
Meanwhile I encourage my patients to fight off the impact of aging by maintaining a solid active state. MOVE. Cardio 3x a week. Strengthening 2x a week. 10000k of steps per day. Avoid stress. Good sleep. Good nutrition. We all know the game plan having been bombarded constantly by reminders from all social media and commercials and google. Even friends and families and yes, health care workers like me.
Yet I feel like the oncologist suffering from cancer, the cardiologist having a massive heart attack, the neurologist suffering a stroke. Health care professionals are people too. Some are even worse - the smoker telling people not to smoke, the obese telling people how to lose weight, the hyperglycemic telling people how to lower blood sugar. We have been there.
I took a stock of my state and determined a few things. The pandemic in a way, deconditioned me. The fun of exercise and workouts were taken away by the ‘plague’. Upon my return to the US, I vowed to treat myself as if I were my own patient.
It was gradual and very carefully planned. I refrained from the outdoors for a bit and returned to the gym to use all its available machines. Walking on the treadmill was important, leg machines and bikes and ellipticals. It was a crawl.
Little by little, the walking got faster, the time for ellipticals increased as the pain subsided. I fixed my bed to reduce pressures on my back. I visited the parks on occasion to test my abilities in the real world. Soon, I was getting closer and closer to my pre-pandemic levels as I am regaining the old highs of walking -> jogging and hopefully back to running. But I am imposing a few caveats to my exercise fun:
I pay close attention to a few things.
- My pattern running. I am a ball of foot strike when hitting the ground. No heel strikes causing knee pain.(this is probably unique with my own legs)
- I allot at least the first mile to a combo of slow and fast walks, followed by very short stride jogs (as warm up).
- I avoid any changes in terrain or if I encounter one I slow it down. There are road bumps formed by tree roots emerging out the ground, small ups and downs. I am keenly looking out to avoid them.
- I pay attention to my heart rate. I am aware that the max heart rate for me is 160. I keep my heart rate within the 80 to 60 percent of that.
- I wear comfortable running.jogging clothes.
- I listen to my body’s feedback outside of my Apple watch. My breathing, my level of fatigue, pains (any sharp pain is dangerously close to an injury, generalized pain is most likely due to muscle overwork).
When in the gym, I try to move away from others to play my own game, rhythm and pace. Working with many can push one’s competitive edge and that can be dangerous. I limit my strengthening to maybe 2-3 times per week. I mostly focus, for now at least, on my leg muscles since my first and only love in MOVE principle is walking and running, they give me highs and they keep me close to Nature. I tell my patients to exercise in full ROMs and all those eccentric concentric isometric differences. Pushing a little extra effort here and there especially when restoring the muscle after injury or surgery. They don’t apply to me though. I do my happy merry workouts without making faces. I avoid any valsalva maneuver. Or holding one’s breath too long because the effort is too heavy. Valsalva, though effective for other problems, can lead to low BP, which can be dangerous for some. At the same time, I don’t want prolonged persistent high heart rates to prevent tachycardia or worse, palpitations. I often emphasize, at least to myself given my age, that rest is just as important as the stress itself.
Then, I rest.