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Getting Through an Injury or Illness

Having the right attitude makes all the difference

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Updated December 16, 2010

It's inevitable. If you exercise on a consistent basis, life will almost always interfere in one way or another and, often, the interference comes in the form of an injury or a sudden illness. It happens to the best of us and can be frustrating as we get further and further away from our good habits. We start to worry that we'll never get better, never get back to exercise. We worry that we'll gain weight, lose all the gains we've made. If you have the right attitude, you can face your injuries and illnesses without fear.

Dealing with Injuries

There are any number of common injuries that happen to exercisers. Sometimes it's simply a strained muscle, something that will heal rather quickly. Other times it's more serious--a sprain, a broken bone or a torn ligament. Once you get your injury checked out by a doctor, you have to start the process of healing. Often, the hardest part of that process is allowing your body the time it needs to mend.

Whatever your injury, now is not the time to panic. You will heal and you will get back to your workouts. These tips can help you through the tough parts:

  • Be patient. If you've pulled or strained something, your body needs time and energy to heal that injury.
  • Never work through the pain.
  • Follow your doctor's orders. Ask him or her what exercises you can do and ask about a referral to a physical therapist if that's appropriate for your injury.
  • Find alternatives. If you've injured your lower body, stick with upper body exercises. If you workout at a gym, see if they have an upper body ergometer. Swim in the pool, if you have one available to keep up your endurance.
  • Change your focus. If you can't do your normal routine, now is a great time to try something you would usually avoid under normal circumstances. Bellydancing anyone?
  • Stay busy. If you can't do any activity at all, the last thing you want is time to sit around and be miserable. Think of your recovery time as a time to catch up on life--reading books, spending time with the family, writing the great american novel, etc.
  • Remind yourself that this is a temporary thing. This is only a short blip in your life that will be over before you know it.
  • If you're worried about gaining weight, adjust your diet. If you're not getting as much activity as before, keep track of your calories and cut some wherever you can to minimize the damage. You might gain a few pounds but just remind yourself that, in the end, this forced rest is making you healthier in the long run.

Dealing with Illnesses

Getting sick, like getting injured, can derail anyone's exercise program. It's often hard to know whether you should keep exercising when you're sick or if you're making things worse. The general rule of thumb when it comes to illnesses is: don't exercise if you have a fever, an upper respiratory illness or the flu. If you have a cold or other light illness, use these tips to decide whether to workout or not:

  • Follow your doctor's orders.
  • Listen to your body. If you have a cold, try a light workout. If you start to feel crappy, that's a great time to stop and rest.
  • Try relaxing activities. If you're sick, the last thing you want is a killer workout. Now is a good time to soothe yourself with some stretching or yoga exercises.
  • Stay away from the gym if you're contagious. No one else wants what you have.
  • If you do workout, make sure you're hydrated. Avoid working out in extreme temperatures if you can so you don't get worse and FEEL worse.
  • Allow time for recovery. Sometimes cold symptoms can linger for a while, especially that nagging cough. Take it easy with the cardio workouts so you don't make it worse and give yourself time to get better.
  • Remind yourself that your body is fighting an illness. It needs all the energy it can muster for that, so don't take too much away just to get in a workout. In the long run, it's your health that's important...not missing a few workouts.

It isn't easy staying patient and optimistic when you're forced out of your routine through no fault of your own. Keep your spirits up! Find some support and be creative about finding ways to stay active. Most of all, put your health first. When you start to feel better, don't jump into your old routine--ease into things and let your body get used to exercise again. Trust your body to tell you what it needs and you'll be back to your routine in no time.

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