Even though she’s a spring chicken, Phoebe is thwarted by ankle aches and pains that come from a lifetime of athletics (soccer and field hockey). “I’ve always done cardio, but lately the problem is that it hurts when I walk. If I do nothing, it will go away for a while, but as soon as I do something like running, it comes back immediately.” Also in the mix: a chronically painful left wrist. To combine injury with insult, Phoebe doesn’t feel like she has any real options: “Here’s the embarrassing thing. I don’t know how to ride a bike. I’m terrible at swimming. And I can’t afford a gym membership.”
Phoebe’s first step would be to consult a sports medicine physician and not try to figure it out on her own. “When pain is part of the problem, the first step is to find out if your body is able enough to exercise,” says Murphy. “A lot of people have a pain or injury that prevents them from exercising, but in a lot of cases, that pain can be rectified—ironically with exercise. We just need to give her ankle a boost, start slow and get her back to what she likes to do.”
- Fortify what’s above your feet. To strengthen your ankles, sit down, extend your leg out in front of you and imagine your big toe is a pen. Next, begin rotating your foot, pivoting from your ankle, and start writing the alphabet in the air with your big toe—writing cursive is a much better workout. Try this move 10 times a day with each foot—once it becomes easier, try hanging a towel over your foot to add resistance.
- Mix up your cardio every few days. Each type of aerobic exercise trains different groups of muscles. If you keep exercising the same way every day, you can cause muscular imbalances that can pull your knees, lower back, and hips out of alignment (and create more unnecessary pain for yourself). Trying a new type of cardio at least every week (or even every time you exercise) will ensure you’ll hit every muscle group evenly, so everything stays in alignment.
- Don’t worry if you’re not a good swimmer. In the water, your body weighs 10% of what it does on land, which helps reduce the stress on your joints as you exercise in the pool. If you can’t swim a stroke, simply tread water for one minute, rest for one minute, then repeat this cycle for 8 to 10 times to start. You’ll get a full-body cardio and strength-training workout—minus the aches and pains.
- Give your body the rest it needs by taking two steps forward and one step back with your goals. Every three weeks, cut either your workout time, the distance you walk/run/cycle, or how often you exercise in half. It’s the best way to stay injury-free so you burn fat and stay healthy for a lifetime.