The Key to Staying Healthy That Takes No Physical Effort

I was talking with my wife Ellen the other night about her day. She’s a Realtor and has certain phrases that are unique to her industry. She was describing a client’s condo that was up for sale and said it needed to be updated. It was suffering from “deferred maintenance”. The condo needed some basic repairs, the yard was overgrown, and the exterior needed painting. I asked her why this happened and she said that the condo was rented and was not a primary residence. Rental units seem to have a lot of “deferred maintenance”. The occupants don’t care as much about the property as the owner and tend to not take care of it.

When Ellen said “deferred maintenance”, it triggered a series of thoughts. How many clients have I seen who are suffering with some ache or pain or ended up in surgery because of deferred maintenance? How many are renting their body instead of owning it? How many, if they just would pay attention to the little things along the way, would still have a very attractive, sturdy house at the age of 65, 70, 75?

I believe the reason that people suffer from deferred maintenance is not so much that they don’t care about themselves. It’s because of denial. It’s easier to deny the problem than it is to face it. We keep telling ourselves “it’s nothing; it will go away” and then in a blink of an eye, ten years go by and you still have that deep, dull ache in your back or maybe your knee is still stiff, sore and swollen.

Denial is a very common way of coping with a physical problem. It is probably one the very best cloaking devices we have. Frank Shorter, former world-class marathon runner and Olympic Champion once said,

“What I’ve learned is that you really have to tune into your ‘denial mechanism’ quickly if you want to stay active. In other words, everybody gets to a point where they start to overdo it and break down or get hurt. And almost everybody denies it when it first hits. Staying healthy is a question of how quickly you can get beyond the denial and deal with the reality.”

I’m not suggesting you run to the ER for a hangnail. We all have various aches and pains that seem to come and go. But, here are my suggestions to help you work your way out of denial by facing reality:

  1. Persistent symptoms of aching, soreness, stiffness and tightness are not normal. If you find yourself feeling these things over a period of 3 or more weeks, there’s a good chance that the symptoms will not just go away.
  2. Pay attention to what you can and cannot do. Did your knee hurt when you ran last week and now it also hurts to walk? Or maybe your back was stiff in the morning and now you notice it during the day bend over to tie your shoes or pick something up. When you find that the intensity and frequency of these aches and pain goes up, it generally means that your body’s physical abilities are dropping.
  3. Have you gained weight? One of the issues accompanying musculoskeletal injuries is weight gain secondary to pain and reduced activity. Because you hurt, you can’t exercise as you once did and, in some cases, you might eat or drink differently to combat the stress. The end result is weight gain.
  4. Listen to what others say to you. Do your friends, family or colleagues tell you, for example, that you limp while you walk? Or, do they ask you why you keep rubbing your neck or shoulder? Other people often notice things that we may either ignore or have done for so long, we consider it to be normal.
  5. Do you exercise (run, walk, cycle, swim, lift weights, play a sport) even though you hurt during or after the activity? Minor musculoskeletal injuries resolve quickly. If you hurt when you run or walk, for example, or hurt for several days after playing a sport, like soccer, you likely have graduated from the minor injury leagues.

If you find yourself in this list, you may have some deferred maintenance that needs your attention. Remember what Frank Shorter said, “Staying healthy is a question of how quickly you can get beyond the denial and deal with the reality.” Are you ready to deal with reality and take care of your deferred maintenance (sometimes you just need some help and guidance)?


Doug Kelsey, PT, PhD  writes about “active aging” –  how to overcome aches & pains, get strong, flexible, agile and stay as healthy and fit as possible over your lifetime. If you enjoyed this article, join his free newsletter.

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