I was recently asked this question, and as someone who finds exercise enjoyable it really took me aback. I really had to consider what was being asked; was it what it appeared to be on the surface? Why didn’t I think exercise was painful? Is this what is genuinely putting people off doing it?
Cruel remarks from childhood can sill impact how you exercise today
The first thing to consider is peoples likes and dislikes that can often be rooted in the past. For example, if you had a really bad experience of PE or sport or physical activity it might have set up a barrier to doing it for the rest of your adult life. I had a client who was quite a plump child who wasn’t a natural athlete. She was very self-conscious during PE lessons because of her shape and her inability to move effectively. A cruel remark from her teacher set her against physical activity for the next 35 years. She decided it wasn’t for her and so chose a lifestyle that would not leave her exposed to such ridicule again. Teasing from classmates because of size is another common theme that can build a resistance to exercise. So that when the individual decides to begin a healthier regime later in life, they are starting from scratch.
Never too late to start exercising
Learning a new movement is a slow business. Think of the trials and errors it takes a baby to learn to stand and walk. We know that repetition is the key from studying stroke victims who have to relearn simple movements that have been lost. It takes between 100-1000 repetitions. What is happening in this learning process is that new neural pathways are having to be built in the brain. New dendrites have to grow in order to connect neurons. They do this through this repetition of movement The good news is that you are as capable of doing this at 90 as you are at 9 so its never to late to start.
The other side of the equation is that as well as creating new neural pathways in the brain the message must also be able to move to the appropriate muscle and tell it the correct action. It is this innervation of muscle that can be misinterpreted as pain. Pain is a response to actions that put the body in danger or has been damaged, so because the body has not known a new exercise movement before it can misinterpret the sensation as pain and the action as a threat.
Consider 3 phases of ‘feeling’ during exercise
The way I work round this problem with clients is ask them to consider three phases of ‘feeling’ during an exercise. The first I call the ‘comfort zone’. This is when a movement is well within their capabilities and causes no sensations or concern (this is when muscle innervation is complete). The third zone I call ‘pain’. This is very specific. It is when the action is causing real damage to muscle or joints and will require time to mend. The second stage I call ‘uncomfortable’. This is the where muscle innervation is happening and is the zone I ask clients to work in. It requires the client to concentrate on their body’s response and ask themself if the sensation is real pain, in which case the intensity should be reduced, or if it is uncomfortable due to the newness of the sensation. This is often the first time many clients have carefully considered what they are feeling and this skill can be learned very quickly.
By starting a new exercise in your personal ‘comfort’ zone and then gradually and incrementally progressing into uncomfortable and working at that intensity until it becomes comfortable then moving again into uncomfortable etc., it is easy to learn new physical skills safely, whatever age you are.