By Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT
Your clock hits 5 a.m. and the alarm goes off. “Ugh”, you think, as your hand slams down on the snooze button. “Just five more minutes,” you say to yourself. Five minutes later that darned alarm goes off again, indicating it’s time to get yourself out of bed and head to the gym for your early morning workout.
As you drag yourself away from the depths of sleep, you realize it is raining outside. “Who wants to go out in the rain,” you ask yourself? “I went yesterday morning…that’s a good start…I’m so tired…I’ll sleep in this morning, and then I’ll go tomorrow. Yep, after a little extra sleep this morning, I’ll be ready to go again tomorrow.” Your hand resets the alarm for an hour later, and you drift comfortably back to sleep. But tomorrow comes and goes, without another trip to the gym. Days and then weeks go by, and the alarm never again gets set to 5 a.m.
Sound familiar? I’ve been there. In fact, I feel comfortable saying that most of us have been there. From iPhones to traffic jams, to Facebook and kids (soccer practice, piano lessons, debate team, girl scouts, football, you name it), our world keeps getting busier, and filled with more distractions. Finding time for ourselves, and choosing to spend that time exercising is becoming harder, but when more than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese, incorporating exercise into your daily life is more important than ever.1
To those of you who have not fallen into this trap and workout regularly and eat healthy, I say, “Kudos! Keep up the good work!”. To those of you who are just starting to exercise regularly or are still at the promise of tomorrow phase, I feel you. But it’s time to remind yourself that not only does regular exercise help maintain a healthy weight and a healthy heart, but it’s essential to being a better practitioner as well.
Massage therapy is a physically demanding job, especially on our hands and wrists. According to an article published in Arthritis Care & Research, exercise can protect against carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries (RSIs).2 The article discusses a study in which participants who engaged in moderate exercise (such as half-hour walks) three or four times a week showed a 16 percent reduction in risk of developing an RSI. The study demonstrates that regular exercise helps restore overall stability to the musculoskeletal system. As practitioners in a field where carpal tunnel and RSIs are a real possibility, it is encouraging to hear that exercising regularly can help prevent these conditions.
We also spend a lot of our time in forward flexion while pushing and pulling body parts. Strengthening the core muscles (abdominals, back, and glutes) is important to help us maintain proper positioning while working on clients. Strength training, Yoga and Pilates are excellent options for keeping our core muscles strong. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) both recommend strength training twice per week. In addition, a stretching routine or tai chi are nice compliments to a core body workout and will help release some of the stress and tension that can build up in our backs and hamstrings from bending over massage tables. While all of the exercises mentioned here can be done at a fitness center, they also can be done at home or in a hotel with the help of a book, DVD, or a smart phone app.
Maybe you are lucky enough to work with clients outside on a tropical beach, but I believe most of us spend our working hours in a room that is rather dark and small. Why not make the most of your time and combine the need for fresh air with a daily exercise program? Biking, walking, jogging, hiking, basketball and tennis are excellent options for outdoor exercise. Finding an exercise partner, as well as joining a local biking, running, walking, or tennis club, can help motivate you to start one of these sports. If you take up biking, make sure you adjust your seat and handlebars so you are as upright as possible, in order to minimize the strain on your wrists, back, and sit bones (ischial tuberosity).
The key to maintaining a daily exercise program is to create a program that works for you. Choose sports and exercises that you can realistically create time for and also enjoy. One severe injury could put you out of work for a month or longer, so choose exercises that are appropriate for your body type and age. For instance, my exercise of choice might be downhill skiing, however, as a member of the AARP, I realize that may not be the wisest of choices since I am not ready to retire any time soon. Cross country skiing or hiking, on the other hand, might be a wiser choice.
For those of you preparing to start a new exercise program tomorrow, take some time today to take note of what physical activities you enjoy, and try to incorporate the outdoors into them at least once per week. Call your friends or colleagues and ask them to join you if you prefer to exercise with others, or use this as an opportunity for some alone time, if that is what you need. Mark on your calendar when you will work out so you have a visual reminder of your plans every day. You can even ask a friend or family member to call you every week and have you report on your progress if you need someone to hold you accountable to your workouts. I wish you the best of luck in your new endeavors, and as always, don’t forget to breathe.
- Ogden C, Carroll M, Kit B, et al. “Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States.” Journal of American Medicine, 26 Feb 2014;311(8):806-14.
- Ratzlaff CR, Gillies JH, Koehoorn MW. “Work-related repetitive strain injury and leisure-time physical activity.” Arthritis Care & Research, 15 April 2007;57(3):495–500.