Tips to Live By

Nothing Will Stop Me From Exercising — Not Even Two Foot Surgeries

June 29, 2023

By Stefanie Asin

Not in a million years did I think I'd ever use that lone arm cycle at the gym. Surely, using that horribly tedious and embarrassing contraption — something I associated with older women or folks on crutches — would mean the end of my well-earned gym cred.

Now I am one of those people ... er, both of them. And now I rely on it for my mental and physical health.

Let me explain.

Two recent foot surgeries forced me to search for new ways to get a sweaty, calorie-burning workout. Injuries initially may feel like they involve grieving a loss, but they don't stop active people's desire to exercise. They just force us to be flexible.

Before the surgeries, I'd ride my bike to the gym, use the treadmill or stationary bike for an hour, lift some weights, then ride my bike back home. Now I try new things — like the arm cycle — in efforts to get my cardio fix. For instance, I started doing upper body weights six days a week instead of two. That still feels like a workout, and it's jacked up my 59-year-old metabolism enough to keep my weight stable.

The readiness to adapt illustrates a simple truth for many of us: We cannot just give up exercise, as it is our therapy and our way to keep the same pair of jeans for decades.

Dr. Alysia Robichau, a Houston Methodist sports medicine physician and former elite college gymnast, reinforces the idea that injuries shouldn't prevent you from exercising. For a foot injury, for example, she advises biking or the elliptical machine. If those are too painful, try swimming or weightlifting instead, she says.

"Some people need to exercise to reduce mental health concerns and some need to reduce medical concerns like diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia," Dr. Robichau says. "Some people exercise to reduce risk factors for both."

She says that swimming, biking and elliptical are non-pounding type exercises that can provide a lot of health benefit without aggravating the back and legs. Low intensity leg weights are often still used for mental benefit if they don't aggravate the pain. Upper body weights and cardio are always a good option for muscle maintenance.

Dr. Robichau says it is important to pick something. Maintaining your interest in exercise is important when you are injured. "Change to what is a positive exercise and encourages fitness and health but also lowers stress and improves mental health," she says.

She acknowledges that adjusting can be hard, but suggests talking about it with your doctor, who can help modify your activities and make sure you don't overdo it. Also, listen to your doctor about taking proper precautions, such as ice or a brace.

So don't despair. If you are injured, you can find things to do to stay active. Venturing outside my usual routine turned out better than I expected, a valuable lesson to learn before the next injury. Maybe next time I'll try water aerobics.

Oh, and in case you are curious, the arm cycle burns 9-13 calories a minute and tones your arms at the same time. Not a bad deal.

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Categories: Tips to Live By