Pain sucks. Living with chronic pain sucks more. Being dead with pain isn’t so bad. But if you’re reading this you probably aren’t dead. So why don’t we talk about the best form of natural pain relief that exists, exercise!
Life wears you down. It’s sobering, but true. Each day we march closer and closer to our inevitable death.
Write that down and put it on a motivational poster that you hang somewhere in your house. Sometimes we all need a reminder of this because taken in the right context it can motivate us all to make that march as meaningful as possible.
You probably don’t want to spend most of your life in pain. There’s a whole industry built around helping people find pain relief for muscles, bones, joints, brains, and everything in between. In response to our modern reliance on medications, natural pain relief has become a huge topic.
Let me tell you, there’s no better natural pain relief than exercise and fitness. We all have the ability to become more efficient machines.
Sure there are hurdles. Pain itself is a hurdle. Time can also act as an elephant in your path. Family obligations, work, commuting, cooking, cleaning, and just trying to find a few seconds to kick your feet up and not think about anything can seem to get in the way of good habit building.
But I’m here to tell you that the extra effort is worth it, because the pain that you avoid by staying fit and healthy saves you so much time in the long run. Natural pain relief is simple, but it isn’t easy. Not to worry, I’m going to show you how it is done. Let’s get in to it.
How Life Causes Chronic Pain and Kicks You in the Face
When you’re born you’re this tiny little larva of mush and joy and poop… lots and lots of poop that your parents inherit the privilege of cleaning up. You are fresh, new, and untarnished by the harshness of the world.
As soon as you begin walking, your body begins to experience physical stress. The simple force of gravity will cause your skeleton to begin to bear weight and experience wear and tear.
So, let me repeat that in case you missed it. Just being alive and walking around is already wearing out your body. Then you grow older and start doing crazy stuff like carrying heavy bags of groceries, moving 97.5-inch TVs, or ramping off of a steep hill on your dirt bike with no respect for how fast you will slam into the ground.
The physical world will beat you down, but so will your own physiology. As we age, we wear out naturally from within as well. The disks in our spine dehydrate and become less effective. Our metabolisms become less efficient in using nutrients. Our bodies store fat more easily. Muscles naturally lose strength. Our hormones go out of whack.
I’m expecting my first child soon and I’ve heard through the grape vine that those things wear you out too. I’ll report back on this later.
All of this culminates in stress and pain and more stress.
How Many of Us are in Pain?
The NIH reports that as many as 50% of older adults (65 and up) report chronic pain. That number starts off lower, but not as low as you might think. One study showed that about 30% adults between 25 and 34 report some type of chronic pain. That number really starts to jump when you hit your mid 40s. More so, 1 in 20 people aged 25-44 report recurring pain that interferes with work and/or daily life. What’s worse is that number jumps to a little more than 1 in 10 when in the 45-64 age category.
That’s a lot of pain.
What’s interesting is that this is not just an old person’s problem. People are experiencing pain at younger and younger ages.
I don’t think I need to explain too much why this sucks. Have you ever been in pain before? Was it fun? No. Having chronic pain is like that, but all the time. If you experience chronic pain that you’re having to live with then your life sucks more than it did before you had that chronic pain, right?
How is Exercise a Natural Pain Relief Method?
Let me count the ways! Pain relief through exercise is very possible. It has so many benefits to your health it’s ridiculous. I’ve started referring to exercise as a “treat-all” activity. In other words, you can utilize some form of exercise to treat just about anything that is going wrong with your body. Its not a “cure-all”, mind you, but it does help counteract a lot of bad stuff. Here are some examples:
Rebalance and Strengthen Muscles
Obviously, exercise strengthens your muscles. This is important in being able to lift boxes without hurting yourself, move over obstacles effectively, and push a wheelbarrow full of maple syrup over a cliff.
But did you know that exercising properly can also help rebalance and provide pain relief for muscles too? A lot of chronic pain is caused by one muscle in one area of your body being too strong and it’s opposing muscle being too weak.
An easy example would be your frontal hip muscles (your quads) and your inner abdominal muscles. Many of us have inner abdominals that are too weak and quad muscles that are too strong. This torques your pelvis and spine in weird ways and is a major contributor to low back pain. Exercising to strengthen the inner abdominals will help even this out and act as a natural pain relief method for muscles.
When you exercise you release hormones designed to help you overcome the stress, you’re subjecting yourself to. Among these are dopamine, serotonin, cortisol testosterone, and estrogen.
When we fail to physically stress ourselves, these beneficial hormones can decrease in production. The thing is, these hormones are important for more than just exercise. They are needed for other things like sleep, psychological health, and, yes, appropriate pain perception and regulation of healing.
Exercising will help to bring your various hormone levels in to balance and help fix many aspects of your health.
One major cause of chronic pain is not having the physical stamina to endure activities of your daily life. For example, if you’re constantly lifting and moving energetic little rug rats around at your rug rat-watching business, your back and legs might get really tired.
When you’re tired, you kind of suck at moving in a way that doesn’t over-stress your body. Improving your physical stamina will help you to deal with those stresses more appropriately.
Appetite for Better Food
I ate something yesterday called a Monster Burger. It was a ½ pound greasy burger with two types of cheese, bacon, and mayonnaise. After the deliciousness of this monstrosity wore off, I could literally feel the fat and grease coursing through my veins.
Something I’ve found from personal experience is that exercise amps up your need for high quality foods. Your body goes from being a 1995 Geo to a Lamborghini and so your need for higher quality fuel also goes up.
In other words, you’ll be more inspired to eat fresh vegetables instead of fresh donuts when you’ve achieved a certain level of fitness.
Moving more also helps keep your joints lubricated and functioning well. As we age we dry up like an old piece of beef jerky in the Sahara Desert. This causes our joints to dehydrate and creates more joint pain as we try to move.
When you exercise, you gradually reverse this process and your joints can become more lubricated than they were, thus reducing pain. Therefore, exercise can be an excellent method for pain relief for joints.
I Have Chronic Pain, I Can’t Move!
“I’m in pain which makes me not want to move much, but you’re saying I should move more. What the hell is up with that?”
Life is often counterintuitive. Want to make a big change? Start with the smallest change you can do effectively. Similarly, moving more within what you are capable of doing will help you to overcome your pain.
You ever seen a chair yoga class for old people? It looks really boring, but you know why they are doing that? The people who take chair yoga usually can’t move very much, often due to age.
This activity is what they CAN do. Interestingly, people who take chair yoga are 100% more active than someone who sits on their ass all day and does nothing.
The same principle applies to all of us. Start by doing what you can do. What you’ll likely find is that you’ll gradually be able to do more and more and more as time goes on.
Actionable Advice: Start Natural Pain Relief through Exercise
Step 1: Take Stock and Seek Advice
Your situation is unique. Your type of pain and therefore need for exercise will be dependent on what you have going on. If you want to have a good plan in place, you need to know what’s going on with you.
It may be helpful to seek the advice of a doctor or fitness professional to help you understand how exercise can best address your pain points.
Step 2: Start a Habit
If I had a nickel for every time I used the word “habit” on this blog, I’d have at least half of a Starbucks coffee by now. I say it a lot because it is true. Your habits define what you do in your life. Habits also start out slow and gradual and build over time.
If you want to be successful in fitness, start first by learning to show up regularly. Even if you’re just doing 10-minutes of light activity a day, at least make it a habit before working your way up.
Step 3: Focus on Strength, Endurance, and Cardio
I picked strength, endurance, and cardio because I’ve found building these aspects of fitness have the biggest effect on pain relief, especially for muscles and joints.
Strength will help you to overcome muscle imbalances and weaknesses that create pain points.
Endurance will give your muscles the stamina needed to deal with day to day challenges that last for hours at a time.
Cardio will help you function like a well-oiled machine by helping your heart and lungs to work at their best.
Therefore, in general, a good recipe is to dedicate about a third of your fitness life to lifting challenging amounts of weight, a third to lifting lighter weights as many times as you can, and a third to doing no weight continuous exercise that gets your heart rate up.
This can, of course, be adjusted to fit your body type and personal goals. It can also be adjusted to whatever your environment is. Finding fitness you like is important, which I’ve discussed how to do in a previous post.
Step 4: Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
Stretching will help to keep your muscles from tightening up and getting knots as you learn to use your body in challenging ways.
Just a brief stretching routine after exercise or at the end of the day can help keep your muscles in good shape.
Step 5: Professional Help (Optional)
Here’s my shameless plug. I’m all about using this website to promote that fitness is very simple and can be maintained with little more than one’s own discipline and personal habits. However, at first it can seem like a minefield of pitfalls and potential injuries.
It takes a little know-how to make an effective fitness habit stick. If you find that you need help getting started, consider finding some professional help. We offer online personal training services that are geared towards helping you not just move, but learn what it takes to maintain a lifelong fitness lifestyle.
- Life begins kicking you in the face as soon as you learn to walk
- A lot of people suffer from chronic pain as a result of this, generally starting in your late 20s and growing exponentially through the rest of your life
- Being fit with help reducing overall pain by rebalancing and strengthening muscles, balancing hormone levels, increasing stamina, increasing appetite for good foods, and improving joint health
- To get started, take stock of where you’re at, get a habit started, improve your fitness, don’t forget to stretch, and seek some professional help if you need it
- The best natural pain relief is exercise by far