It sounds trite, but there is definitely truth to the advice, “listen to your body.”
As you may know from previous blog posts, I had surgery just about four weeks ago. Before the surgery, I was told to plan on 10-14 days of doing nothing, that I would probably begin to feel like myself after 3 weeks…but wait to work out until 4 weeks. I have seen others who have had the same surgery talk about a timeline that extends out to 6 months and beyond.
I saw my surgeon on Wednesday who cleared me to do whatever activities I felt I was able to do. In other words, I have not restrictions, but I should listen to my body…which, by the way, has been saying “take a nap,” a LOT lately. I have been slowly ramping up the activity and exercise, and even started teaching my fitness classes for older adults again last week. I am paying careful attention to what feels right and what does not. At first, I felt lots of twinges from the main incision site, but those have dissipated almost completely. My digestive system is almost back to normal, but I am still mindful (as always) of what I eat and when I eat it. I am particularly cognizant of my energy levels and my sense of balance.
There is, of course, a flip side to this. There are a lot of times when we feel like our bodies are telling us to have that slice of cheesecake or to just stay in bed rather than exercise. There is a fuzzy line between “pushing yourself” and “overdoing it.” We know that what does not challenge us will not change us, and at the same time there is a risk of overtraining. That fuzzy line will be in a different place for everyone.
I am pleased with my progress post-surgery. I am feeling better and stronger nearly every day. The key moving forward will be to really listen to my body; right now it is still complaining a little bit, but if I follow a path of moderation I am certain it will be humming–and even singing–soon enough!
Surgery was just over three weeks ago. I have one more week of non-weight-bearing, and three more weeks wearing the boot.
This means that next week I can get back to training others at the JCC. Last night I taught a small group class, but could not participate–it was a weird feeling.
Since I began my fitness journey I have had a few surgeries: Bunionectomy, double-hernia correction, emergency appendectomy (this past January) and now the surgery on my foot.
What I have learned from my past experiences:
Listen to your doctor…but also listen to your body. Doctors set guidelines for how we should “ease” back into our fitness routine, but that does not work for everyone. I have seen people have the same surgery performed by the same doctor for the same condition; one was back to work in 2 days, the other was out for 3 weeks. We all respond differently; some have surgery that is 100% successful, while others experience less success. So while a doctor may tell us that we should be able to do something (run, lift weights, etc.) we must listen to our body too. If we feel that we are nowhere near the progress we and/or the doctor expected, we must be sure to communicate with him/her.
Go slow. I do not expect to be running long distances for a while (even a mile). I will start with walking on the track, then little by little adding a couple of laps on the track (1/12 of a mile) each time. When I had my hernia surgery, I had completed a half-marathon 10 days earlier; I was in tip-top shape. I tried to hop back into running with both feet and it was big mistake. I actually pushed myself too hard and too quickly, setting me back further and causing greater pain. It was about a year until I felt full recovered. This does not mean that we shouldn’t push ourselves (see point 1), but caution is our ally.
Try to have some goals and a plan about how to get there. This is true with any kind of fitness plan, but all the more so after an enforced break. Before heading back to the gym, have a plan of how frequently and for what duration it makes sense to be doing which exercises (what weight, how many reps, how many sets, cardio or resistance). Putting it on paper gives perspective; does it look like too much, or not enough?
Don’t get impatient or give up hope. I remember after my hernia surgery thinking that I was washed up and would never recover. The reality is that I did my best work after that surgery; easily beat my half-marathon time, ran obstacle course races, won to 5ks, and became a personal trainer. Keeping a positive outlook and knowing that we are on a journey (that isn’t necessarily linear) helps our sense of progress.
Do some research. I’ve been poking around the internet and found several good articles on recovery after surgery. They all contain several common themes. Best of all, they help to set appropriate expectations. The more we set appropriate expectations, the less likely we are to be disappointed. The less we are disappointed, the more positive we are. The more positive we are, the more progress we make.
I will keep you posted on my recovery with insights I develop through the process. Let’s see how the 5 points above really play out.