The day after Christmas my neck and shoulders started feeling tight. I knew the cause was the same as for the headaches I get occasionally; I was not taking care of myself well enough for the situation I was in. The holidays are a great time for reuniting and celebrating for many, but the downside is the disruption to routines.
I wonder if the holiday disruption for routines is what leads us as a nation towards making New Year’s resolutions. We know there are things we should being doing even better with our routines, like eating well, that we find ourselves doing worse during the holidays. We react by coming up with a resolution that may or may not last for more than a few days.
My routines are devoted to living well for brain health, for both my sake and Cindy’s. That my diet was compromised during the holidays comes as no surprise, but that was not the main problem. I stopped running stairs for a few days. The day after Christmas I started paying for my neglect.
The tightness got so bad I resorted to ibuprofen in order to sleep at night. “Vitamin I” is one of the more harmless medications and, in fact, I used to take ibuprofen regularly while hiking. However, there are still potential side effects, with higher blood pressure being one of them. I had not taken ibuprofen for months because I gradually and successfully replaced the antioxidant benefits of ibuprofen with chia seeds and other antioxidant foods. I hated to cave in to taking ibuprofen, but I needed the health benefits of sleep more.
Of course I knew what the real solution to my painful tightness had to be, the last thing people with tightness are inclined to do, exercise. I had to get back to running up and down the stairs, no matter how uncomfortable that might be at first. One good thing about my stair workouts are the adjustments I make for warming up towards a vigorous level of exercise. On bad days I just walk up and down the stairs until my body is ready for running them.
Last winter, after placing the pedicab in hibernation, I started my stair workout at 120 repetitions of going up and down seven stairsteps with a typical eight inch rise. By the end of winter I was up to 240 repetitions and when I took the pedicab out of hibernation I had an easier time pedaling than when I left off. Yes, that’s right. Though I was in good enough shape to pedal 250 pounds up Dennis Hill, or to Winsted and back, I got into even better cardiovascular condition, which means better brain health, simply by routinely running stairs.
Unfortunately, running up and down stairs is tedious, made even less desirable when tackled with a stiff neck and shoulders. I persevere because of my experiences as an endurance athlete and the motivation of a caregiver. I know there is a hump to get over with tightness and vigorous exercise, just as with any challenging routine, but once over that hump things get better. With the certainty of benefits to Cindy’s care and my health, I have the motivation to get over the hump to the other side.
I am up to 400 repetitions of stairs, though the first few days after Christmas I limited myself to 200 repetitions. By the end of the workout my neck and shoulders felt fine, though by evening the tightness came back. After the third day the tightness went away for good.
I suspect that simply by sharing this people are not going to adopt this approach. Yet I hope a few people are at least a little bit curious about understanding and tackling humps, with exercise or otherwise, in order to get into healthy routines as part of their New Year’s resolution. For people facing cognitive decline, hypertension, fibromyalgia, immune disorders and many other chronic afflictions this may make all the difference.