Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oh, those aching muscles!

I was surprised when I awoke one morning this week to find that my legs ached.
     How could this be? I had already walked more than a thousand kilometres this year, building my leg muscles as I train for a 42-K marathon walk in September and a 120-K, four-day hike in October.
     It was not a killer pain. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would guess number 5. Bad enough for an old geezer. And let’s be honest, we guys have a lower pain threshold than the gals. The real tough people of this world are not the rugged John Wayne type but the female type.
     But why any pain? My legs no longer ached after a 10- or 20-K walk, unless I pressed my speed as hard as I could. Like a dimwit, the answer came to me in a flash. The day before I spent a couple of hours kneeling on my hands and knees, pulling weeds. It wasn’t my walking muscles that ached, but my bending muscles.
     Different muscles for different jobs. That suggest we need different exercises. We need aerobic exercises to keep our vital cardio vascular system healthy, but we also need stretch and strength exercises. That’s what pulling weeds told me. We need those exercises especially as we get older and our muscles weaken and stiffen. We need neck exercises, for example, so we can look behind us when we back up the car.
     Twice a week is often enough for stretch and strength exercises, Sue Evans, physiotherapist at Ross Memorial Hospital’s rehab centre, advises me. I’ve been failing to do it even that often. I do a few pushups every day (unless I forget) and occasionally (more frequently in winter) workout on my stationary bicycle, peddling with my feet and swinging the handlebars with my arms. If I can watch part or all of a baseball game, I may do that for two or three hours. But with my long training walks and a full slate of activities and work, there never is enough time for everything. Never ever. If there were, life would be boring.
     When I do stretch and strength exercises, I follow a 40-minute video workout, “Heart Beat: Healthy Heart Program,” produced by Providence Health Care, St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver. It can be as easy or vigorous as you want to make it. You lift hand weights. If you’re just starting strength and stretch exercises, you might start with two-pound weights. If you’re already in the he-man class, you might use 10-pound weights. I use seven-pound weights.
     You might be able to buy the Heart Beat video on DVD or tape at the rehab centre at your nearby hospital. I bought my copy two years ago directly from St. Paul’s hospital, where I was told that they wouldn’t ship it and I would have to come to Vancouver to buy it. Since we already planned a drive to Vancouver, it worked out.
     “Exercise can beat arthritis” is another easy video workout that we have. A blurb on the back of the package claims, “It is also ideal for older adults.” That’s us.
     If you can’t find either, there are a ton of other DVD exercises to choose from. When I Googled “DVD exercise workouts,” I got 14,200,000 hits; when I narrowed it down to “DVD exercise workouts reviews,” I got only 6,190,000 hits. Getting information on the web, as someone has already said, is like getting a drink of water from a fire hydrant.
     As it turned out, my leg pain didn’t hurt—at least, didn’t hurt my fitness nor my training. I didn’t exercise that day. It was a good day to work behind the computer. And the next day, the pain was nearly all gone.
     Perhaps the pain was a good thing. Dr. Gabe Mirkin, former marathon runner and author of The Healthy Heart Miracle and nine other fitness and diet books, says this about muscle pain:
     “Training for sports is done by taking a hard workout and then having sore muscles on the next day. Then you take easy workouts or you take off until the muscle soreness disappears. You improve by taking hard workouts and your muscles grow and heal while you recover on your easy days.” See Mirkin’s e-zine. Mirkin also warns that you risk injury if you exercise hard while your muscles are still sore.
     So the advice of the experts is this: do both aerobic and stretch and strength exercises, exercise vigorously—and take it easy.


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