Move into Health, Part 10: Create a fitness plan that meets you where you are


I came across a quote only days after my recent ACDF surgery by Oprah Winfrey that read, “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” It accurately summed up what I have been trying to do as I recover.  Find new ways to stand, sit, sleep, work, walk, etc. . . Of course, I am blessed that my surgery did not require more than one night’s stay in the hospital, and wasn’t more serious.  Nonetheless, surgery is no joke and recovery is for real.

My movement was limited for days following surgery.  I had to learn to turn at the waist, rather than use my neck. Additionally, I had to focus on using my stomach muscles to get in and out of bed to avoid straining my neck. And, all forms of exercise, except for walking, was eliminated per staunch medical advice that my family took to heart with frequent reminders. (They didn’t need to worry, I truly wasn’t feeling like doing much during those first few days.)

Photo by SHVETS production on

Walking, I was told by the release nurse, was to be completed every hour, even if it meant only completing one lap around the dining room table before I sat back down.  However, I was encouraged, once I got past what the nurse called the “recliner days”–days when swelling and inflammation (aka pain) was at the highest level–to try to walk 10-15 minutes each hour.  I had just completed a half-marathon, albeit slowly, only weeks earlier, and now this was my new fitness plan. What a shift!

So why was walking so important, even on those days when I didn’t feel like moving?  Well, it turns out there are numerous valid reasons according to my doctor and as described in countless studies out of the Mayo Clinic, University of Wisconsin, and in a 2020 US News and World Report article. Here are a few of the reasons cited:

  • Prevention of post-surgery complications
  • Enhances blood flow throughout the body
  • Increases the flow of oxygen throughout the body
  • Accelerates wound healing
  • Strengthens muscles and bones
  • Improves digestion (aka ability to poop) and the function of urinary tract while reducing bloating and gas
  • Reduces risk for blood clots, infections, and lung issues, such as pneumonia
  • Boosts mood and self-esteem  

Why do I share all of this?  To make the point that my old fitness plan was, and currently is, no longer appropriate for me.  I had to adopt a fitness plan that meets my body’s needs where it is.  Therefore, my current movement plan consists of short segments of walking completed throughout the day as I remain home recovering, which complies with medical advice from my doctor and best meets the needs of my body.  

Gentle walking on my driveway or in my house is part of the slow and steady recovery plan.

At the time of writing this, I am entering my third week of recovery. After my two-week, post-operative appointment, I now have permission to begin to gently explore a few  strengthening exercises and stretches that can be completed without forward bending.  Additionally, I can begin to explore my neck range of motion with a few doctor approved neck stretches and strengthening exercises, but nothing more.  Slow and steady helps me find my new center of gravity.

Due to this experience, I want to continue to encourage you, Dear Reader, to carefully plan how you will enter, or reenter, your own exercise/movement plan this spring.  Create a plan that meets your needs, and commit to doing it–even if you don’t “feel like it.”  Personally speaking, I could feel angry and convince myself that if I can’t exercise the way I once did, then I won’t do anything at all. After all, it would be easy for me to sit around all day and use my surgery as an excuse to do nothing.  Conversely, I could try to push too hard with the delusion that, “The staff doesn’t really know ME,” and begin overdoing it with images of former, younger me dancing in my head

Instead, I have accepted the reality of my situation, rather than reject the medical advice I have been given.  They are the professionals, not me.  I have to meet my body where it’s at when it comes to fitness.  Sure, I have dreams of hiking again, walking (or jogging) the entire bike path of Ritter Park, and even practicing yoga with regularity, but none of those will ever happen if I don’t recover first.  And my first step in recovery is walking, so my body can focus on the miraculous work of healing.

Welcome walking into your life! You might be surprised by the benefits!

Therefore, no matter where you are, what shape you are in, or any other personal obstacles that you may be facing unbeknownst to me, I still encourage you to never give up on regularly incorporating movement into your day. Avoid the temptation to make excuses for yourself, but at the same time, don’t start off with a complicated plan.  Talk to your health care provider, and then start.

Start where you are.  If you don’t regularly move, then begin, like me, with short walks around your home, or up and down your driveway or sidewalk.  Do that 3-4 times per week.  The following week, add one more lap, or add five more minutes to your walk, and complete it 3-4 times per week.  Gradually, you will build up your time and the distance covered.  By keeping this up over several weeks, you will create the habit of moving.  Your body, lungs, and heart will be stronger, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you find you are reaping other unexpected benefits!

Think about this, my friends, if walking is scientifically established as one of the best tools for recovery after surgery, what can it do for you?  Don’t beat yourself up because you are no longer what you once were, you didn’t exercise over winter due to the cold weather, you’ve never really tried to exercise previously, or you’re somewhere in between, like me.  Start where you are at, and move one step at a time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is fitness, but you have to take the first step, and spring is a great time to start.  

Here we go my friend, take my hand, let’s find that new center of gravity, and cross this bridge together, one healing step at a time.

Open the door to spring, and find your new center of gravity one small step at a time!

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