Updated: Aug 21, 2019
Setting goals is great when you’re feeling good. Achieving them is even better. But what about when you’re feeling like crap? What if you don’t achieve them? I’m thinking about this because of Active April and how wholly positive I felt about the challenge on April 1. April Fool? Hmm. Because life gets in the way and bodies get in the way and brain mush takes hold, and then what of the goals? I think the goals have to adapt and change along with our body and mind states.
I learnt a new term not long ago. I’ve know of the concept for ages, but have never had a label for it: post-exertional malaise (PEM). What a great term, and it’s interesting how having a label actually does help. I came across this when reading the Harvard Medical School Guide to Fighting Fibromyalgia. They describe PEM as when you feel great and zip around getting things done, taking advantage of feeling good. But you don’t notice that you are doing too much in the moment, which leads to exhaustion and many days or longer to recover. Not to mention feeling like a complete dill because you (I) fell for it once again. I’ve been doing this all my life and I wonder when I’m actually going to truly learn the lesson. But since coming across the term PEM, I’ve caught myself several times and gone, “whoa, lookout for PEM here”… or words to that effect. And slowed down, had breaks, rested with my legs up and tried to mimic my cats.
Who knows whether that lesson will stick with me, probably not knowing myself. When I’m feeling good I seem to completely forget I have to take great care with my body. I think it’s a bit like how we are programmed to “forget” the absurd pain of childbirth and will line up to do it again once the shock has worn off. That example may be a bit extreme, but it’s along those lines.
But back to Active April and moving goals. I’ve actually done very well with the half hour per day. I’ve generally done more than that, especially when I have a tai chi or qigong class. Yesterday however, I decided my activity for the day was making a birthday cake. I started early, and two hours later after folding 750 grams of flour into a combined 1.3 kg of melted chocolate and butter I felt like I’d been wrestling three pandas – thoroughly satisfied but very sore. My hand muscles ached, my shoulders and neck ached and I had to retreat to the recliner with a hot pack and my book, which I could hardly hold. Then a cat joined me, thereby forcing me to stay seated for longer, for which I was grateful.
The goal of half an hour a day of activity is great. But it’s not necessarily pain free, and nor is the recovery. We have to remember that those with fibromyalgia and many other pain conditions need longer to recover from exercise. And the choice of exercise needs to vary from day to day. Just like a split program at the gym, we shouldn’t be working our legs too hard several days in a row. Another lesson I'm slow to learn.
Don’t forget stretching. Stretching might be your half-hour activity instead of something aerobic or strength-based. The plus is that you can loll around on the floor and feel you are doing something productive for your body - which you are. Just remember to go gently, gently, gently. The moral of this ramble is to adapt your goals according to how you feel. If you can’t manage the half-hour each day, then that’s okay, you absolutely need the recovery time. Let yourself off the hook and accept that your body needs some TLC and that is as good as exercise. Be like a cat: enjoy your bursts of activity and rest a lot.