Start the New Year off on the right (pain-free) foot by making these four simple life changes.
Fact: Most people don’t keep their New Years Resolutions. Indeed, as many as 92% of people give up on their resolutions in the first weeks and months of the new year.
You can improve your odds of successful resolution completion, however, by implementing a few simple tricks:
- Make goals small but specific—Instead of saying you want to lose 20 pounds, aim to exercise twice a week for the next 30 days. You’ll be achieving the same goal (losing weight) but you’ll be framing it in a way that makes it seem more manageable. This will ensure you don’t become so overwhelmed and intimidated that you quit before you’ve had the chance to start.
- Set short-term objectives—If your New Years Resolution is to eat healthy, instead of telling yourself “I’m not going to eat junk food for the next three months”, tell yourself “I’m not going to eat junk food for the next week”. Breaking up a large goal into smaller chunks will give you the sense of accomplishment you’ll need in order to stay motivated enough to see your goals through to completion.
- Get a “resolution buddy”—You’ll be far more likely to achieve your objectives if you have a friend by your side to encourage you to stay persistent. Invite a chronic pain buddy to come over to cook a healthy meal or join you as you work out with a trainer in the gym. You can be each other’s “cheerleaders”, which will make the chore of getting healthy more social and fun.
Even with these tips, however, New Years Resolutions can still be a challenge, especially for chronic pain sufferers. Finding a healthy way to effectively manage chronic pain (at LVRC, we like to use the term “recover” from chronic pain) can be difficult when you’re still struggling to accomplish everyday activities like getting out of bed or walking to the mailbox.
Nevertheless, if you start small and stay realistic, you’ll be able to make real strides towards becoming healthier and happier. Here are four resolutions to get you started.
1. Walk at least three times a week
Research suggests that light to moderate exercise helps with chronic pain because it lessens inflammation and promotes healing by pumping oxygenized blood to injured areas of the body. It also strengthens muscles, which can become weak and stiff when underused. By building muscle strength through low-impact workouts, you’re helping to reduce and prevent the painful side effects of inactivity—side effects that often exasperate the symptoms of chronic pain.
While any form of regular exercise can help, walking makes for an ideal New Years Resolution because it’s simple and doesn’t require fancy equipment or expensive gym memberships. All you need is a comfortable pair of walking shoes (and a dog, child or friend to keep you company) and you’re set!
How long and how far you walk will depend on your level of ability and comfort, but if a jaunt around the block sounds intimidating, you can start by incorporating more walking into your every-day routine. Next time you go grocery shopping, for example, deliberately park a little ways away from the main entrance so that you’ll be forced to journey on foot more than you would normally. Or use your lunch break at work to take a short walk around the building. For those experiencing more intense pain, walking on a padded treadmill can help, as can walking in a swimming pool. Once regular walks have become part of your routine, you can begin working on other aspects of physical fitness.
Need some tips to get you started? LVRC Strength Trainer Jason Harper describes several exercises for chronic pain on the LVRC blog.
2. Meditate for 10 minutes every day
Though it may seem too simple, meditation is one of the most powerful tools available when it comes fighting chronic pain. Sitting quietly for a few minutes every day can help because it refocuses your thoughts away from the pain and onto your breathing. Over time, this can lead to a reduction in the intensity of the pain. Meditation also helps to eliminate stress and increase happiness levels, both of which can affect your perception of pain.
If you’re new to meditation, we recommend starting with 10 minutes per day. If you can meditate longer, that’s great, but the most important thing is that you commit to doing it every day. The process is simple; sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and focus on the feeling of the air entering and leaving your body as you inhale and exhale. Do it for 10 minutes (you might need to set a timer) and then you’re done. That’s it! Simple, huh?
3. Write in your Gratitude Journal every evening
Start a “Gratitude Journal”. The concept of a Gratitude Journal is straightforward: Before you go to sleep each night, write down three things that happened that day that made you happy and then write down the reasons why. Research has found that doing this every day will lower your stress levels and make you feel calmer. Feeling calm and relaxed at night will help you sleep better, which can also help to decrease pain levels. Plus, focusing your thoughts and mental energies on the positive aspects of your life will keep you from dwelling on the negative.
4. Eat one anti-inflammatory food each day
Foods like broccoli, blueberries, salmon and green leafy vegetables help to reduce one of the major causes of chronic pain: muscle and joint inflammation. While it would be ideal if every meal included several food items with inflammation-fighting properties, a more realistic goal is to start small. Focus on eating one healthy, anti-inflammatory fruit or veggie per day and then you can increase from there.
Dr. Mel Pohl’s blog about the best food for chronic pain lists several creative recipe ideas you can try if you’re in need of a little inspiration.