Exercise Accountability and Pain

Fitbits in MinnesotaA recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise points out whether we are reliable in reporting our exercise. The answer is that most of us tend to over report our activity level. When using an objective measure of activity, such as a monitoring device of steps and pulse, the record is much more accurate. The best way to keep healthy and reduce pain is to stick to a regular exercise routine. If you are not being accountable, the activity is usually not being done. Very few people have the self-discipline to be consistent with exercise on their own.

Up until recently, the best way to be accountable is to have an exercise partner. Whether it be a yoga classmate or a running partner, if you had to meet someone else, it was much harder to skip the exercise.

Currently, the electronic age can become out partner, as most people now own a smartphone. Both the Android and the Apple phones have fitness apps built into the phone and have electronics that can monitor motion. As long as one has the phone in hand (or pocket), the phone will record your steps. Most people should be aiming at obtaining at least 10,000 steps a day to maintain general cardiac aerobic fitness.

Fitness Trackers and Exercise

A fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit, Vivofit (by Garmin) or Jawbone can be of great benefit. There are now multiple brands of trackers, those at about $100 dollars tend to monitor:

  • Steps
  • Distance
  • Calories burned
  • Steps climbed
  • Sleep patterns

The more expensive ones will add in heart rate monitoring, sometimes blood oxygen levels, and may connect to smartphone notifications. All the fitness trackers have apps that chart your daily, weekly and monthly statistics. Keeping a record of your activity tends to make one more responsible toward meeting fitness goals.

The importance of maintaining physical activity is very evident in the pain patient. My patients who are the most active have the best control of their symptoms and tend to use the least amount of drugs and other interventions. For myself, the fitness tracker keeps me more active, maintaining my aerobic conditioning goals. The more intense aerobic exercise, even for just 15 minutes every day, definitely increases my endorphins (the body’s own pain killers) and decreases my back and leg pain. Without the tracker, I know I would be lazy, and definitely would think I am doing more activity than I actually perform.

Aerobic activity does need to be combined with strengthening and stretching for most pain patients. The areas that are causing pain often need more physical muscle support to prevent symptoms, and strengthening and keeping these muscles healthy is another priority.

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Thomas Cohn, MD

Interventional pain doctor helping Minnesotans manage back, neck, foot, and other pain. Board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation with additional board-certification in pain management from the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA), the American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians (ABIPP) and the American Board of Pain Medicine (ABPM).

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