I just spent the last week helping my dad through a really gnarly back surgery. It was tough. After a four hour surgery the docs had removed a bulging disc, two bone spurs and fused two vertebrae. The surgeon warned my dad that it was a major operation and to expect a long, hard road to recovery. But having never suffering from a major injury (remarkably considering his choice of activities) before this process really threw my dad for a loop. Many of you have met my dad and have had the chance to know him. He’s 72 years old and a total fire cracker. He exercises every day and still rides any of his 6 or so motorcycles through the back country of Nevada on a regular basis. Here he is on our dual sporting trip in Death Valley two years ago….
He’s strong. He’s fit. He’s capable. So watching him struggle has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s just not the dad I know. But as I spent countless hours in the hospital last week I started to think about fitness and health and the real reason you should exercise and eat well throughout your lifetime. It’s not about looking good in a size 8 pair of jeans or dazzling peers at your 30th high school reunion. It’s so you can be prepared for times like these…surgery, illness and the other stressors life is bound to throw at you. Check out this powerful YouTube video about exactly this..
Here are just a few ways I’ve seen fitness help my dad:
1. Strength – There are three rules post-back surgery: no bending, no lifting and no twisting. And they
really mean none of those things. You can’t even reach your arm out to pick up anything. They want you to keep your elbows close to your body. Getting out of bed is torturous. No bending or twisting at the waist means he must barrel roll his entire body as one unit to the edge of the bed then use primarily his arms to scoot himself forward and then up to a walker to stand. The upper body and core strength needed when your back and lower body is incapacitated is apparent. My dad said,” Thank goodness I’ve been doing a lot of strength work on my triceps!”
2. Stamina – Your lungs take a beating from general anasthesia and take days to return to their fully functioning capacity. Patients are given a breathing tube to frequently use, called BIG WORD an incentive spirometer, that forces them to inhale deeply and work on getting their lungs fill completely and function properly. Walking just a few feet takes astounding amounts of energy and your entire system is on overload. The better your stamina, the stronger your heart and lungs, the better able you are to handle all of these stressors and recover more quickly.
3. Mental fortitude – Coming out of anesthesia is no joke. It effects every system of the body. The pain from certain surgeries is almost unbearable and the entire process is frustrating, especially for people who are accustomed to doing physical activities and challenging tasks with little problem. That’s where the mental fortitude comes in. Because the situation sucks! And there is a fear of the pain associated with simply performing activities of daily living. Training the mind is just like training the body, and practice helps instill a warrior mindset to get through difficult situations. Pushing yourself beyond your limits (safely of course) regularly in your fitness classes will help develop that warrior spirit.
4. Yoga – What I noticed watching the patients in the hospital is the importance of breathing. It’s something we do so naturally in our everyday lives, and unless you are involved in a regular mind body practice that focuses on breath work you may never be in tune with your own inhales and exhales. But shallow breathing causes all sorts of health issues after surgery and the initial movements are so painful that having a strong breathing practice is crucial to working through that pain. As I watched patients struggle I kept thinking,”They need a yoga practitioner coming in here daily teaching people how to breathe!” It’s those slow, measured exhales that help you move fluidly, help the muscles relax and help you achieve the movement you need to achieve.
We all hope that we never have to experience long-term hospital stays or severe injuries (if you’re an athlete even those injuries you may sustain while doing your sport), and gratefully this is my family’s first experience with hospitals. But when you travel along your fitness journey and there are times when you wonder,”Why am I doing this?” Or when you feel frustrated because you aren’t seeing results, remember that the hard work you do today is really setting you up for the hard times in the future. So you can recover more quickly and get back to doing the things you really enjoy doing, like this….
Now go out and find some adventure!