Let’s get physical
“I will always have pain. But I exercise as much as I can, and I find that makes a huge difference.” – Jennifer Grey
Note: OK – we know X for exercise is a stretch, but we needed something for poor old X! It’s always the odd one out in A-Z lists. And you just can’t say enough about the importance of exercise for managing pain, musculoskeletal conditions and health in general.
Exercise and being active might seem like the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain. Curling up on the couch or your bed sounds so much better. Right?
Well not really. While in the short term it might make you feel better to sit and just take it easy, not exercising regularly and being inactive can cause many health issues.
Exercise is essential for your overall good health and wellbeing. It helps keep your muscles, bones and joints strong so that you can keep moving. It reduces your risk of developing other conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and some forms of cancer. It boosts your mood, benefits your mental health, aids weight control and improves sleep.
If you aren’t sold on exercise by now, think about this: when you exercise your body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into your bloodstream. They’re sometimes called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they boost your mood and make you feel good. They also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system.
So exercise can help you feel better, reduce your risk of many health issues and can help you manage your pain.
For exercise to be most effective it needs to be regular and should include the following:
- flexibility exercises – stretching and range of movement exercises help maintain or improve the flexibility of your joints and nearby muscles and will help keep you moving properly and ease joint stiffness
- strengthening exercises – build muscle strength, provide stability to your joints and improve your ability to perform daily tasks
- cardiovascular or aerobic exercises – exercise that gets you moving and increases your heart rate will help improve the health of your heart and lungs (cardiovascular system) and can also help with endurance, weight control and prevention of other health problems (e.g. diabetes).
Many types of exercise and activities can help with flexibility, strength and cardiovascular health at the same time including:
- swimming or water exercise classes
- tai chi, yoga, pilates
- chair exercises
- low-impact aerobics
- strength training
- Read our more detailed information on exercise and exercise for bone health.
- Talk with your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist for information and advice before starting an exercise program.
- Start slowly and gradually increase the amount of exercise you do.
- Set yourself goals – they’ll help keep you focused and motivated.
- Remember that time may have passed since you last had an exercise routine, so set goals that are appropriate for the new you, not the old you! Be SMART with your goal setting.
- Choose exercises and activities that you enjoy.
- Be active on most, preferably all, days of the week.
- Be consistent and exercise regularly.
- Exercise with friends, in a group or a team environment – this will make it more enjoyable and will also help motivate you.
- Warm up and cool down properly before and after exercising.
- Know the difference between the muscle pain you feel after exercise, and the pain you may feel as a result of overdoing it. When starting a new exercise program, it’s natural to feel some muscle aches and pains. Your body is adjusting and adapting to new movement and activity. If the pain feels intense or unusual, talk with your doctor or exercise professional. You might be overdoing it.Wear comfortable, appropriate clothes and footwear when exercising.
- Write down all of the possible barriers, challenges or excuses that you can think of that may get in the way of your exercising. Then come up with possible solutions. For example:
- Problem – It’s raining, so I can’t do my usual walk. Solution – Go to the shopping centre and do your walk inside.
- Problem – I want to try tai chi but there are no classes near me. Solution – Borrow a tai chi DVD from your library.
- Try something new. It’s easy to get into an exercise rut. Check out new exercise classes and DVDs to keep things fresh and fun.
- Balance rest and exercise – sometimes it can be difficult to exercise due to pain. An inflamed, hot or painful joint needs rest, but too little exercise can cause muscle weakness, pain and stiffness. It’s important to find the right balance of rest and exercise. If you’re not sure what the right balance is for you, talk with your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist for some advice.
- Check out Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines
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