By Dr. Levi Harrison
Staying fit can be a challenge for many people even when they are well and injury free. To maintain our fitness levels it is imperative that we are committed and consistent in our exercise regimens. In my book, The Art of Fitness: A Journey to Self Enhancement, I dedicated two chapters to commitment and consistency because this is of integral importance for everyone who embraces fitness as a lifestyle.
Here are 7 easy-to-do specific tips to assist you in maintaining an elevated level of fitness when you are injured.
#1. Prioritize your cardiovascular fitness. A healthy heart is a happy heart. Continue to do cardio when injured. Consult with your doctor to hear what he or she may propose about keeping fit when injured. There recommendations should be specifically tailored for your rehab program. Maintain your heart health when rehabbing an injury.
This may seem like an impossibility if you have an ankle sprain or tibia (leg) stress fracture but it is not. Consider using the handlebar rowing machine, whereby you are upright with no stress on the injured extremity or joint. Other cardio exercises which are non-weight bearing for the lower extremity would be swimming which is a phenomenal way to give your joints a break and to maintain flexibility, endurance, and strength.
If you have an upper extremity injury, such has tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) or a boxer’s fracture (5th metacarpal fracture), it is now essential to focus on the lower extremities to train your heart. You can consider using the recumbent bike or walking speed laps in the pool. These activities avoid direct stress on the area which is under rehab. Also, if you have been placed in a cast, avoid getting it wet and minimize activities with excessive vibrational stress to the fractured limb which may cause the fracture (broken bone) to move.
Heart health should be maintained even when recovering from an accident, or from overuse such as a form of tendonitis.
#2. Maintain your flexibility
When you have an injured area which is swollen and tender due to a sprain or strain, depending on the severity of the injury gentle stretching along with ice on the area should decrease the inflammation in the area. Get the OK from your designated health care professional. Continue to stretch alone daily or take a seated stretching class while you are recovering. Stretching is excellent for the joints, ligaments and tendons. Remember to continue to stretch the uninjured side of your body also. Remember to consult with your doctor about the contraindicated stretches for the impaired limb.
#3. Be mindful of your diet
What you are eating during an injury will correlate in part to the expeditiousness of your recovery. Your fast recovery will get you back to a paced and graduated exercise program.
I am not an advocate of strict diets; however, I am a supporter of “mindful eating”. This means you should be eating with balance and moderation, as per usual. This is especially important when you are recovering from an injury. If you continue to consume the same amount of calories or more during you rehab program with less aerobic/ cardio training, you will most likely gain weight. Weight gain is an unwanted side effect that I see in many of my patients who simply eat more and forsake any aerobic conditioning during their rehab programs. Minimize any alcohol or sugary soda use while your body is healing to optimize your healing potential. Continue to eat fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains, and omega-3 producing fish, lean meats and some dairy. Tailor your rehab diet in a manner to avoid any foods which you may have an allergy or sensitivity.
#4. Continue to do weight bearing exercises
Lifting weight can be a tricky proposition during an injury. Just remember if the upper body is injured, then work the lower body. I recommend using the machines. For example if you have a wrist fracture or rotator cuff injury of the shoulder, you can do seated squats, hamstring curls, leg extensions or calf raises from different machines. These exercises place no stress on the upper body and you simply have to place the pin at the desired weight, without lifting any free weights. If you have a knee or hip injury, consider using the machines for upper body conditioning such as biceps curls, triceps push-downs or bench press (flat, inclined, or declined). The sky is the limit for diversifying your workout with the machines, even when injured. Remember weight bearing activities can stave off the effects of osteoporosis also.
#5. Talk with your health care team
It is critical that you are compliant and listen to your health care rehab team. I do not recommend simply treating your self after the health care professionals lay out a comprehensive rehab protocol. Compliance is critical to a speedy recovery. I do suggest discussing any alternative treatments that you may want to utilize with them before you simply do it on your own. This may cause greater injury and delay your recovery. Consider getting a 2nd opinion also.
The body recovers better from injury with out stress. The stress producing hormones can effect our sleep patterns and rapidity of healing. Sleep is an essential component of healing the body. Continue to drink 6-8 cups of water daily to eliminate toxins and waste. Water and rest do a body good!
Meditation is a great way to enrich your fitness lifestyle. I recommend daily meditation for 15 -20 minutes to decrease stress, promote healing and to visualize a healed, happy magnificent body and life. A fit mind helps to create a healthy and strong body. Sit quietly. Visualize your self fully recovered from your injury or accident. See your body healed and active again. Mediation is a fantastic way to improve your mindset about healing and creating an awesome body.
Consult with your health care team before using the aforementioned tips.
Keep on exercising! Exercise is life!