Let’s talk about . . . use-it-or-lose-it when it comes to our fitness.
The principle of use-it-or-lose-it is pretty self-explanatory. It describes what happens to our strength, aerobic fitness, flexibility and mobility when we stop . . . working at it. You already know that regular movement has many benefits for our bodies (building new muscle tissue, for example, or making our hearts work more efficiently, etc.). But when we stop moving regularly (the “using it” part), our fitness takes a big step backward – and fast (the “losing it” part). (In the fitness training world, use-it-or-lose-it is known as “deconditioning.”)
There are SO MANY reasons for “deconditioning” to happen in our fitness lives. Maybe we have a hard time getting out for regular walks when the weather is cold. (Or hot.) Maybe it’s the holidays. Or a vacation. Or a busy time at work. Maybe we have access to an elevator, so we quit using the stairs. Maybe we have arthritis or a creaky joint or an injury, so we hold back for awhile . . . but then maybe that “holding back” becomes a new “normal” for us. Maybe we tell ourselves we’ll work harder . . . later. Lots of reasons. Many, many reasons!
But once you . . . lose-it, it becomes much more challenging to . . . use-it again.
I know this all too well. When I was younger (and way before my rheumatoid arthritis had reared its head), I messed up my knee playing tennis, and then I made it worse by skiing (or it could have been the other way around, who knows). It bothered me now and then, but it didn’t slow me down much . . . until I got older and my arthritis DID rear its head and I started having occasional nasty bouts with swelling and discomfort in my knee. I learned to live with the discomfort, and I babied it when I needed to, but I could still do pretty much whatever I wanted if I was careful.
Y’know what I didn’t want to do, though? Squats. Or lunges. So I didn’t. I convinced myself that . . . I was forever finished with any kind of deep knee bends or bent-leg lunges, and I stopped doing them altogether.
But as the years rolled by, I could tell that my right leg (the one with the bad knee) was getting weaker. The other joints and tendons in that leg had to work a lot harder to keep me moving in the ways I wanted to move . . . and I ended up overloading them. I got tendinitis in my ankle. I had foot problems. And big toe problems. I had shin problems. And none of these were related to my rheumatoid arthritis!
Yep. It was a use-it-or-lose-it situation, and . . . I had lost it.
Over the next several years, I went through physical therapy (before the pandemic, and then again just recently), and I worked with a personal trainer (also before the pandemic) so I could safely learn to fully use my knee again. It’s taken a lot of work, but I’m slowly building up the strength in my right leg, and I have the kind of mobility in my knee that I never imagined having again.
That’s my bad knee! Bending! Deeply! Trust me, I never imagined that I’d be able to do this again . . . But I can! (And it makes me smile every day when I do it.) It’s not that my knee “got better.” Nope. It was me . . . working hard to learn to use-it again (under the guidance and supervision of my physical therapists and personal trainer).
So my challenge for you this month . . .
Identify some type of movement you used to do or have in your life . . . one that you’d like to “get back” to doing or having in your life. And then figure out the next step you need to do . . . to make that happen.
This might be really simple for you. Like . . . you know your legs feel weaker, and you feel yourself struggling when you go up and down the stairs; maybe you even avoid using the stairs altogether. If that’s the case, think about . . . why that is; what’s behind your avoiding the stairs? Is it pain? Do you get out of breath? Or is it just quicker and easier to use an elevator? Once you figure out the “why” . . . you’ll be able to think about the next step you need to take.
This challenge is important. Because once you “lose” a movement, it’s really hard to get it back. And – especially as we get older – “losing” a movement is a slippery slope to “losing” other things (like our ability to get around on our own). Take it from me . . . if you don’t “use it,” you will “lose it.”
I’d love to know what movement you’ve “lost” that you’d like to “use” again. And if you can’t figure out how to make that happen, let me know. Maybe we can figure it out together!
See what happens!
(Disclaimer . . . I have zero medical or fitness training. I’m just a nagging cheerleader. If you have pain or a physical injury, please see and work with medically trained professionals to properly assess and address your issue. And don’t be afraid of physical therapy! The goal of physical therapy . . . is getting you back to moving again.)
2023 Monthly Fitness Challenges
Looking for Monthly Fitness Challenges from 2021-2022? I’ve moved them! Now you can find them in the Field Notes section of the blog (just click on Field Notes in the top menu) and look for Monthly Fitness Challenges 2021-2022.