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Pain and heart trouble are tangled together. “Silent” heart disease may first show up as unexplained aches and pains that people never mention to their doctors. Pain often accompanies you once you have a diagnosis. In a study called, “Pain and Heart Failure: Unrecognized and Untreated,” published in the Sept, 2009 European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, researchers concluded that a majority of heart failure patients experience pain.

People who exercise become more tolerant of pain

They are among the millions of people who use prescription painkillers. Opioids can lead to breathing problems. In all the sad news of American deaths from prescription opioids, we tend to focus on overdoses. But in the first few months of treatment, more deaths are caused by heart and respiratory failure, according to a study published in JAMA in June, 2016.

Never ignore pain. Treat it, in every way you must —which means staying loyal to exercise.

Exercise is a Pain-Killer

I can’t argue that exercise alone will enable you to handle a serious pain. However, I do know that over time, people who exercise become more tolerant of pain.

A group of Australian scientists put this observation to the test, publishing their findings in August, 2014 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. They gave volunteers standard tests of pain tolerance before and after six weeks of cycling for thirty minutes, at 75 percent of maximal oxygen consumption, three times a week. The volunteers not only became more fit, but their pain tolerance dropped dramatically.

Exercise really does toughen you up. I knew an avid swimmer who passed a kidney stone—the closest men get to childbirth!—while swimming and didn’t even notice. He said later he just thought it was a “cramp.”

The trouble is that pain tends to send us mortals to the couch. Let’s say you have peripheral vascular disease that causes pain in your legs. The tendency is to avoid any twinges. But exercise will help you more than the standard surgery (see Ornish Living article, How to Get a Leg Up on Peripheral Artery Disease). If you have painful arthritis, exercise helps lubricate your joints and reduce the discomfort. Exercise will also help you manage your weight and take some of the burden off your hips and knees.

Forget “No Pain, No Gain”

Please understand me: I am not saying you should exercise through a sharp stab (the swimmer should have stopped to check out his cramp). The old idea that a workout had to be painful to be effective is wrong. Any sharp shooting or stabbing pain during exercise means you need to stop and evaluate the cause.

In an intense workout, lactic acid builds up in your muscles and causes a “burn” for a few seconds. Athletes, young and old, love the burn! Exercise hard enough, and you’ll learn to recognize that feeling and distinguish it from problem pain. You also don’t need to feel a burn to “gain” from exercise.

After a workout, you can be absolutely exhausted and your muscles may be a bit sore, if you did more than usual. But that soreness should last for two days at most. Three days of soreness means you overdid it.

As we age, it takes longer to heal from injuries. Some people push themselves at each workout and use pills to manage sore muscles or swelling in an untreated injury. That kind of ambition leads straight to a fall—eventually the macho exercisers are so injured they have to stop altogether for weeks or months.

Manage Stress

Pain is also tangled up with mood—it’s harder to be cheery when you’re in pain but being uplifted or even just distracted will make pain more bearable. Ornish Lifestyle Medicine prescribes stress management–tools to relax and find joy and acceptance of challenges. During a meditation or yoga session, you will practice noticing all your physical reactions with detachment. Calm self-awareness will help you minimize pain.

What can you do to manage your pain and get more exercise?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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