Doctor, it hurts when I…

When you are committed to a fitness routine daily for five years in a row, without fail, suddenly putting the brakes on it sends a shockwave through your mind and body.

There’s a pretty simply chemical reason for this. Endorphins. Endorphins are morphine-like neuro-chemicals our bodies release to suppress pain. Some scientists think we evolved the ability to produce our own pain relievers in order to allow our ancestors to track animals relentlessly over miles and miles or persistence hunting. When you run, bike, swim, or do any kind of sustained or intense exertion endorphins are released. I learned about endorphins playing football (briefly) as a freshman in high school. My season came to a sudden end after breaking the same finger twice in a two week period, but that was only after I’d spent weeks in pre-season camp getting ready for competition. When I went from all-out effort for a few hours a day to, basically, nothing the endorphins stopped and I crashed.

Running track in the spring I experienced the same thing at the end of the season each year. Endorphins pumping through our brains is something we can become accustomed to. Some might even say addicted to. When they’re withdrawn you feel like shit. Physically you feel sluggish and wooden. Mentally you feel lost.

There are other parts to it too. Nailing a tough workout, or accomplishing a personal best time provides a sense of achievement and satisfaction. We’ve got brain chemicals for that too, namely serotonin. I’ve never been entirely convinced that low serotonin causes depression, but I’m willing to admit it doesn’t help you to feel good about yourself. This is one of those chicken v. egg debates though. Do we feel good because our serotonin levels are where they belong, or do we have normal serotonin levels because we feel good? Either way, going from 60 to 0 on your daily fitness routine opens the door to depression. It’s either because there’s no influx of serotonin because you felt a sense of achievement from knocking over a goal, or the lack of activity and action in life means you’re not doing anything worthwhile so your body drops the serotonin production. Again, either way, you feel like crap.

That’s my world at the moment.

On the plus side, my physical therapist has cleared me to do modified workouts. She says I just have to be mindful of how what I’m doing is affecting my body. If it causes my spasms or tightness in my back to get worse, back off and do something different or make it less intense. Basically, it’s a version of the old joke about the guy who went to see his doctor and said, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”

Onward.

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