By DAVE BOEYINK, guest columnist
One member of the men’s core class at the Brown County Family Y always exercises in heavy black boots. I didn’t know why until last week.
“I got blown up in Vietnam and told I wouldn’t be able to walk again,” he said.
While the most dramatic example, he is not the only person in the class exercising despite histories of injuries or illness. Here are a few other examples:
High blood pressure
Carpal tunnel syndrome
And that’s only a sampling of class members. My medical history adds cancer (twice) and a chronic Achilles injury to the list.
None of us use these problems as an excuse not to exercise. In fact, medical issues are often the reason we need to exercise. The class member with diabetes made that argument: “My doc said that dealing with my diabetes was like a three-legged stool made up of 1. meds, 2. a healthy diet and 3. exercise. Without all three, the stool tips over.”
I had asthma as a child. And asthmatics like me often develop large lung cavities as we struggle to breathe. Unfortunately, we can also lose flexibility in our lung muscles, preventing us from fully expelling the air.
Years ago, my doctor warned me: “Keep exercising. That will help keep those lungs flexible.” If I didn’t, he said, I would be more vulnerable to dying of pneumonia as I aged.
So I’m at the Y in men’s core on Monday and Wednesday, exercising with the guys. That reference to dying did the trick.
Not everyone in our class does every exercise. When an exercise puts too much stress on a knee or a shoulder, that exercise is modified or replaced. “No one told me I shouldn’t do what I’m doing,” one member said. “I’ll do it if I can, even if I need to slow down.”
That’s how I deal with my bum Achilles. It’s hard to run without injuring my heel or calf. So I walk.
DeAnne Weaver, a personal trainer at the Family Y, cautions that you should follow the recommendations of your doctor before beginning to exercise. Serious medical problems may require periods of rest.
But here’s the point: it’s not always wise to use medical problems as an excuse not to exercise. Sometimes, carefully planned exercise is the key to recovering from the injury.
“I had a torn tendon in my bicep,” one member wrote. “It took six months to recover with therapy, then work with a personal trainer. Now I’m in the men’s core class. That arm is as strong as the other one.”
The choice is not always between rigorous exercise and sitting in front of the TV. With the agreement of your doctor and/or your therapist/trainer, you can find the level of exercise that will improve your health without risking further injury.
Our group may be typical of the rest of Brown County. It is estimated that half of all American adults have at least one chronic disease including diabetes, heart disease, COPD and cancer.
Weaver believes that with serious diagnoses like these, people may think rest is the best regimen. “In fact, a chronic disease is a very powerful reason to exercise,” she writes. “Not only can exercise slow the progression of many conditions, it can also lessen the symptoms.”
For example, for someone battling osteoarthritis, regular exercise will strengthen muscles that support the joints, relieving pain and maintaining mobility, Weaver said.
Sometimes, we jokingly call our exercise group “Hard Core.” We aren’t hard-core in the sense of extreme exercise. No X-Games for us.
But we are hard-core in refusing to use injuries or illness as an excuse not to exercise whenever we are able. You can, too.
The Y has a variety of classes for men and women. You can also work with a personal trainer. Or you can do it on your own.
So don’t give up on exercise. The quality of your life depends on it. Just ask the man with the black boots who is still walking.
Dave Boeyink is a retired IU journalism professor. When not fighting battles against weight (winning) and aging (losing), he enjoys walking his husky, Kaizer, in Brown County’s woods. He can be reached through the newspaper at firstname.lastname@example.org.