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When Your Body Speaks, Do You Listen?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
7/5/2011 2:00 PM   :  35 comments   :  11,986 Views

I've always been someone who pushes myself, whether during a workout, setting goals or finishing a daily to-do list.  Sometimes that's a good quality to have because I'm able to accomplish a lot of things (like running marathons or balancing work with the demands of raising young children.)  Sometimes, it's not such a great quality to possess, because I tend to ignore the signs from my body that it's time to slow down.  I've been doing a lot of ignoring lately, and I'm starting to realize that it could do more harm than good.

When starting a new fitness program, it's easy to feel motivated and want to jump in with both feet.  Why start with just 15 minutes of walking when 30 or 45 seem so much better?  Why take a day or two of rest each week when you think you could probably push yourself to exercise every day?  That might sound like a good idea at first, but decisions like these often lead to physical and mental burnout.  It's no fun feeling tired and sore all the time, so exercise becomes something you dread instead of something you look forward to doing.  What happened?  You went from being totally motivated to unmotivated in such a short period of time.  Maybe if you would have started slower and listened to your body when it was telling you it was too much, you would have had more success establishing a lasting, healthy habit.

Perhaps you're someone like me who has been exercising regularly for a while.  We all have those times when workouts aren't going quite as smoothly as they had been, or you just aren't seeing the progress you once were.  Do you ever consider scaling back on your workouts for a few weeks, or even taking a week or two of rest (meaning active recovery, not just sitting on the couch for days on end)?  People who listen closely to what their bodies are telling them often find that these periods of rest leave them prepared to come back stronger and working harder than ever.  Too bad I've not been a good listener.

Over the past few months, my workouts and daily routine have become increasingly difficult because I'm not giving my body the rest time that it needs.  I am well-aware of what's going on, but for some reason, I struggle with doing what I know I need to do.  I'm someone who likes to check off a long list of items I've completed at the end of the day.  The more I've done, the more accomplished I feel- regardless of whether or not it's taking a toll on me in the long-run.  I'm not trying to make it sound like my health is in danger, so I hope it doesn't seem like that.  I know that I'm in good health, but there are just those little cues here and there that I need to start paying more attention to on a daily basis.  I know it will leave me better off in the long run.

Are you someone who listens when your body tells you it's time to slow down?  Or do you try to push through it and just hope things get better?             


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Comments

  • 35
    I'm the one who just pushes through and hopes things get better. I'm the one trying to touch the hot stove by trying different angles hoping I'll find one angle of approaching it that I WON'T get burned, instead of doing the smart thing and turning the burner OFF and waiting for it to cool down, THEN touch it!! - 3/29/2012   9:27:53 AM
  • 34
    Since I have fibromyalgia, I learned very quickly to listen to my body. I take at least one day a week to rest, usually Sunday. When it's hot like this, I have to take breaks also. - 7/15/2011   5:02:50 PM
  • 33
    Listening to my body say "slow down, rest now, or stop" as opposed to hearing my mind scream, "STOP, JUST STOP...." This is the task.
    Pushing past convention and stretching a limit is very good, necessary actually, to any gain in fitness and strength. Pain is the key. If it is pain, we all need to find the cause, and not proceed. If it is discomfort, the discomfort of stretching a tired or contracted muscle, or if it is the mind issuing a decree of defeat, do not listen , but persist and push through.
    - 7/9/2011   6:55:51 PM
  • 32
    I am going through this right now. I know that my body needs to recover. I can feel it in every muscle and joint and mentally I am just not there. I know active recovery works as I did practice this a while ago but right now I am afraid if I do not push myself I will stop althogether. Thanks for the reminder - 7/7/2011   12:07:20 PM
  • 31
    I dont remember writing an article for SP....but this is definitely about me...hmmmm - 7/7/2011   6:30:45 AM
  • 30
    Hmmm. My knees have been starting to bother me lately, not when i'm joggin gbut after. They get stiff and I feel pain just above and below the knee cap. I know I should be doing something differently, and have cut back me jogging to 3x a week, but maybe I should just be trying some other activity? Slipped and fell on my writst today, too so my wieghts are going to be hindered - can't really even move the wrist tonight. - 7/7/2011   2:40:31 AM
  • CYPATAYLOR2
    29
    I do now. In early May, I ran a 5K even though my foot was hurting. While I was running my foot didn't bother me much. But once I got done I almost could not walk. After a week when the swelling would not go down and my foot still hurting I went to a doctor who did an x-ray showing that I had a stress fracture in a small bone in my foot. I was unable to run or walk for almost two months. However, I could go bicycling. It has been two and a half weeks sense I started running again. I am taking it very slow and listening to my body. I do not want to go through that again. - 7/6/2011   10:56:22 PM
  • VANANDEL
    28
    I try to schedule a recovery day every week. I didn't use to do that, but I've found it really DOES help. I might take a walk that day, but I try not to do anything "cardio". One side benefit is the time it gives me to do other things because I'm like you, I LOVE to work out. During this time of year, it's easy for me to burn over 10K calories because I enjoy long bike rides, and my favorite ride has a long, 16-mile climb. I'll often schedule lunch with a friend on my recovery day or go to the place where I do volunteer work. I know my body appreciates the time off. - 7/6/2011   10:44:52 PM
  • 27
    I do listen to my body, and when it says time to stop, I stop. I have joint pain, so I know when it's time to stop. - 7/6/2011   10:43:54 PM
  • 26
    Being a Libra, I listen to my body. I always see both sides of ever issue. - 7/6/2011   8:01:29 PM
  • RUNESHADOW
    25
    I've generally push through but am learning belatedly to listen to my body. For my arthritis, I still do basic physical therapy stuff on occasional "off" days, because otherwise my knee just locks up tight. It is really a struggle for me to cut back, because I want so much to walk faster and further -- than my body is currently capable of handling.

    Had a painful lesson when I walked briskly "just" 20 minutes to our local fireworks site, then 20 minutes back, plus walked around the grounds most of the waiting time, because I was afraid if I sat on the ground I would be unable to get up. My friends backed out at the last minute. I use a cane with a seat, so I did sit for short periods, but I hardly got any sleep Monday night and Tuesday was dreadful. It wasn't just the walking, but the heat, the uneven ground, the scraped pavement on side streets, and the steep hill. Oh well, live and learn. It is really hard for me to accept my limitations. This blog was very timely. Thank you. - 7/6/2011   6:37:11 PM
  • 24
    I do the same thing, and then, because I have severe back issues, I end up in so much pain, that my drs end up making me stop doing anything.

    Just coming out of a very acute phase of pain because one day in March, we had a nice day, and I decided to clean the enclosed front porch. Well, that felt so good that I cleaned the rest of the house. Then the next day I spent the day going up and down stairs doing laundry.

    Needless to say, I have been suffering from it ever since. My mom always says, "too soon old, too late smart".

    Have been doctoring with my Chiropractor, my GP, and my Massage Therapist.

    Today I am hoping that we have finally fixed the problem for now, but if I am not pretty good by next week, I will have to have an MRI and then go to pain management.

    All because I felt good and enthusiastic in March.

    I think that finally, after this period of pain, and inactivity, I really have learned what NOT to do. Now have to find out what I can do, a little at a time.

    One day at a time

    Bonnie - 7/6/2011   6:36:14 PM
  • EPATTEN79
    23
    I'm starting to become someone who listens to my body. When I'm sore or tired or sick I rest. I've learned that trying to work through it just makes things worse. - 7/6/2011   4:44:33 PM
  • 22
    I listen to the body talking; but we don't speak the same language. - 7/6/2011   12:37:58 PM
  • 21
    When I was doing a lot of weight lifting, getting proper rest was a lesson that I learned well. I could definitely see the consequences of not giving my muscles the time to repair.

    Now, I'm doing more running, but I try to remember the lessons about the importance of rest. I think I do an okay job of listening to my body if no other reason than when I feel stronger it motivates me to keep going. - 7/6/2011   12:36:26 PM
  • 20
    I too am a checklist person, that is one of the reasons i need challenges. The weird thing is I cannot take one day off, when it comes to exercise. Because of chronic deseases, I stiffen up and by the time the next exercise activity is scheduled I can barely move.
    I have also been having cravings lately, for steak, lean hamburger. My doc said give in, listen to your body. Get your exercise and steak, But Do cardio 7 days a week, make sure you are outside everyday for vitamin D. Do whole body strength 3x a week within the limitations I set. The other days do less stressful strength, wrist curls, bicep curls, calf rocking with chair. shoulder shrugs etc. These will not overwork what you are developing but will keep you moving without pain. Break up exercise Morn and evening 1/2 and 1/2, they will also help with the flexibility and balance which you need.
    Go eat a good steak and even a milk shake once in a while, it is good for you.
    My other doctor concurred, so who am I to argue.
    So now I am under doc's orders to listen to my body. - 7/6/2011   12:16:14 PM
  • 19
    I listen sometimes, and other times not. When it comes to exercise, I try to listen carefully (I don't want to get injured and sidelined for weeks or months), but when it comes to doing chores or getting work done at the office, I tend to push through and usually end up way overtired or physically burnt out. I need to work on this. Thanks for the reminder! - 7/6/2011   11:18:52 AM
  • 18
    I'm also a Type A person and so it's not always easy for me to slow down. This article is right on point though, rest really can be the key. While it was hard on me mentally, I had to slow down on my workouts last week because I had strained my back (probably a combination of stress, straining myself with exercise, and lack of sleep). So, I took 2 full days off, one of which I actually rested, as in laying down and getting some actual rest (again not easy for me), and for exercise I walked rather than push myself to do some other type of cardio or strength training. It made all the difference in the world. My back recovered and I was able to get right back into the swing of my regular routine. I also probably avoided some even more serious back issues because I finally listened to what my body was telling me. - 7/6/2011   10:53:06 AM
  • 17
    Wow..this is just what I needed to read today. I've always been a go, go, go type A person and it's bit me in the bootah a couple of times...i have actually gotten sick in the past because of. Still didn't listen after that. Slowing down is the key to longterm success. Even though, mentally, I know that there's another mental half that still argues with me about it. Perhaps I just need to breath and let things go sometimes and get on without doing everything, or at least not by myself - 7/6/2011   9:54:25 AM
  • 16
    I am one of those people that listens to their body, sometimes too good, especially after intense training. Because when my body is saying "let's get going" (again) the voices are saying, "one more day, we will get back to it tomorrow" resulting in tomorrow not getting here until days and even weeks later. - 7/6/2011   9:24:03 AM
  • 15
    This is an important posting. I see way too many members overdoing it. This is why I love the slowest loser race blog. If you are enjoying yourself then this is a good indicator you are on the right path. If you don't feel like working out, then start slowly from a place of joy. Take a walk do some movement that you can live with for 10 minutes. Or if you've already done your workout for the week - then laying out in the sun with a good book might be just the right thing for your workout regiment. All things in balance. - 7/6/2011   9:12:22 AM
  • 14
    I have started yoga at the Y. The classes are taught by two different instructors. I Listened to my body this week and stopped going to the Tues. class because that instructor was constantly over-riding what my body was telling me and I was paying for it. I was having to take Aleve after her class which only made my pain more tolerable. She refused to accept that I have some limitations due to several old fractured. On the other hand, the Thurs. instructor always included modifications and I came away feeling like I had a good workout but felt refreshed. It took three weeks and a lot of pain before I listened from the screaming that was my body! - 7/6/2011   8:18:23 AM
  • 13
    I am the kind that pushes thru . I'm learning to listen to my body but then I quit for longer periods then is necessary. Have to work on that. - 7/6/2011   8:16:41 AM
  • 12
    I a set a goal to walk an increasing number of consecutive days. Last night walking and within two block was having calf pain - I stretched it out and felt better so kept going. After reading this blog I think I am going to adjust my goal and take today off from walking and maybe do some sit down exercises or swim instead. I know rest is important but I sometimes push toward that arbitrary goal and ignore what my bod really needs. - 7/6/2011   7:54:11 AM
  • 11
    Thank you! -- I have felt this way for awhile now--seeing the need to factor in longer breaks & then be able to come back ready to go again. I tend to think it is this "older" body I'm adjusting to. Also it is in realizing that NOTHING is gained by comparing myself to others. I have to do what works for ME!

    Exercise just does not have to be "all or nothing"! - 7/6/2011   2:33:54 AM
  • 10
    Learning the hard way....pushed past pain signals and ended up not being able to exercise for a month with knee pain. Knee is still healing. Pushing for number of steps or time when your body says enough is not worth the price. - 7/6/2011   12:49:55 AM
  • KHALIA2
    9
    I listen to my body. - 7/6/2011   12:22:55 AM
  • 8
    I'm listening now... - 7/5/2011   11:45:19 PM
  • 7
    Guilty of not listening...... - 7/5/2011   11:15:15 PM
  • ANDIRUNS
    6
    That used to be tough for me, but I am much better at it now. Sometimes too good at it! Actually, this lesson was reinforced for me this spring - I bike to work as soon as the ice is gone until the snow falls (with a nice summer break in between - gotta love my job!). Toward the end of my school year I was finding the short bike ride increasingly difficult. At first I blamed the spring winds and the soft roads of my small town. So you can imagine my surprise when two weeks after school ended I hopped on my bike and had to actually increase the resistance to higher than I ever have before. I had ignored the fact that my body was protesting and needed a break from all that biking. Now my bike rides have returned to enjoyable as opposed to tortuous. - 7/5/2011   8:24:20 PM
  • 5
    I plan scheduled 'rest periods' into my work out regimens. I usually take 1 entire week off every 3-6 months, depending on how my body feels. As I have become more fit, I also seem to require less rest and I am able to recover more quickly than in the past.

    I also think it is good to review the work out reports on SP to see if I am over-doing it. I can look at cardio minutes or calories burned.

    One thing that also works for me is making sure I spend time each week lengthening and stretching my muscles. There are times when I feel stiff and it feels like fatigue. But after a good stretching routine or hour of yoga, and I feel recovered. - 7/5/2011   4:41:36 PM
  • 4
    I suggest adding "rest" to your to do lists and be specific about it. if it's a nap write down 1 hour nap. you'll be amazed how much rest you get this way and as a result how much more you can accomplish . - 7/5/2011   4:22:19 PM
  • 3
    This is so true , when I backed off I started losing more weight. feeling better
    and not tired all the time. - 7/5/2011   3:55:47 PM
  • 2
    I have a really hard time with this. For me, it's especially obvious when I'm getting sick--I can feel it coming, and I know that if I just call in sick and take a nap I'll probably recover quickly, but I feel so guilty taking some down-time if I'm not on my death-bed.

    It's also difficult to determine actual "I need to take a break" from "I'm just feeling lazy and if I make myself do it I'll feel better." But I guess it just takes practice, and sometimes you have to take a chance. - 7/5/2011   3:43:03 PM
  • 1
    Learning to listen to your body is a lesson that takes a lifetime to learn. Even when your body forces you to it often. As a fibromite, I'm learning to take better heed. Have you ever heard of "the Spoon Theory?"
    butyoudontlooksick (dot) com / navigation / BYDLS-TheSpoonTheory (dot) pdf
    She talks from a Lupus-standpoint, but in truth, it works for many people on many levels. For someone with fibromyalgia, like me, it holds very true, too. I know that if I push myself too hard, I'll end up paying for it - sometimes for days, even weeks. I know it, and I try to keep that in mind, but sometimes I either forget or ignore it. And start my lesson all over again from square one.

    My advice? Start learning that lesson, because some things in the "now" are so not worth the trouble it can cause you in the "later".

    That said, sometimes the "now" far outweighs the cost of "later". The trick is learning when to make that distinction. - 7/5/2011   2:47:53 PM

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