I am one of the thousands of casualties of the gym. There was never a point where I felt the moment of injury – just a sudden realisation last February, while walking our dog Ollie on the common, that I was no longer able to walk without limping. An achy pain shot down from my knee to the inner calf of my left leg. I even knew the machine that had been the culprit – one of those strange contraptions resembling a birthing machine.
I rested it, I worked it out, I tried homoeopathy – and when that still didn’t settle it down, I began to call in the professionals. I paid a few visits to a masseuse who specialised in sports injuries, and then attended a sports-injury clinic. They weren’t sure what the problem was, but it seemed to be coming from my knee. Periodically, I returned for another session, all the while limping and making jokes in public about no longer being able to ‘walk the talk’.
After weeks of this, I gave up on the sports-injury specialists and headed off to my osteopath, who eventually determined that I had somehow shifted my sacroiliac during my workout in the gym. The problem had nothing to do with my knee or leg, but emanated from my lower back.
As with carpal tunnel syndrome, what appears as pain in an extremity is often just referred pain. My osteopath tells me that a good percentage of his patients are referred for surgery when the source of the pain actually lies along the spine.
For months this past spring and summer, I have wrestled with this problem back. I returned repeatedly to the osteopath; I took up Pilates; I rested. Although the leg got better and I stopped limping, my lower back still felt like it was glued together.
And then, late in August, we went on an active holiday in Greece. The resort was built on the cliffs, and our room was at the absolute top. From our rooms, we had to climb 132 large stairs to the main building, and an additional 100 stairs to get down to the beach. So, every day of our holiday in the August heat, we would have repeatedly trudged up and down, up and down, some 1000 large steps by the time we retired each night.
Each member of the family was interested in a different activity but, as there was no cross-over, I was enlisted as everyone’s partner. I played tennis every day with my husband; I learned how to dinghy sail with my teenage daughter. My youngest daughter wanted to swim, canoe and learn how to waterski and, as I had skied (but some 25 years ago) and was the only adult swimmer in my family, I drew the short straw with her as well.
By the end of the first week of climbing those stairs, my back began to loosen up and, by the end of the second week of canoeing and skiing and playing tennis, I was fitter than I had been in years.
The problem with sports is not the sport itself, but what we do most of the time when we are not exercising. Most of us (myself included) spend the vast majority of our days locked in one position – such as in front of a computer screen. Those few hours hurriedly snatched at the gym don’t compensate for the largely immobilised lives that we lead.
One of the fittest people I met on holiday was a housewife, who insists on a clean house and doesn’t trust anyone else to tend her garden. Although she was involved in all the activities on offer, they were tame, she said, compared with one good day’s worth of scrubbing her floor or mowing her lawn.
The point for all of us is not simply to exercise, but to design a life that keeps us moving.