Blog Post

Pushing the Limits

August 08, 2014

Kendra Boswell
Rehabilitating from a surgery or an injury is, in many ways, similar to training for a triathlon.

My hobby outside of work is triathlons. This July, I concluded my biggest triathlon adventure yet – I completed 140.6 miles in one day at my first Ironman Triathlon. I learned a lot about my body while training for this race. For instance, I learned just how much I could push the limits. More importantly, I learned the importance of rest and recovery. Even beyond the world of triathlons, the significance of rest and recovery often gets overlooked. It is human nature to think more activity is better and sitting still is counterproductive; I have treated many patients that have this same mindset when it comes to rehabilitation.

Rehabilitating from a surgery or an injury is, in many ways, similar to training for a triathlon. There might be a bit more time commitment with training for a competition, but the end goal is still the same – making the body stronger and healthier, which helps better prepare us for the challenges that life brings.

The human body is amazingly adaptable. It is possible to get stronger and healthier; exercise plays a big role in helping make these changes. It does this by creating positive stress in the body. Exercise, when performed in the right amount and right intensity, can serve as positive stress to the body. Lifting weights can increase muscle size and help reduce the effects of osteoporosis. Running can improve the health of the heart and blood vessels, reducing the risk for stroke or heart attack. Hobbies that increase heart rate can improve brain and nerve health, helping to reduce the risk for disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. All these examples are “stressors” that can create very positive changes in the body. When done in excess, however, they have the potential to create negative change. At this point exercise adds negative stress to the body. When this happens, the body will respond to exercise similar to what it does with lack of sleep, excessive life stress, poor diet, emotional instability, etc.

When training for my triathlon, I had to really watch how much stress I was putting my body through. I needed to exercise a lot (sometimes up to 20 hours/week) to be strong enough to finish my race. I also needed to make sure I was eating right, getting enough sleep and making time to relax and enjoy activities. I knew that my body could only handle so much stress. More exercise and more training did not always bring me the best outcomes. I think that these same principles hold true for anyone that is rehabilitating from an injury or who suffers from a chronic pain condition. Exercise and medication can help, but they aren’t the entire solution. Any kind of negative stress from life will affect outcomes. Sleep matters. Diet matters. Stress from work matters. It all matters. Don’t overlook the importance of rest and recovery.

After a year of training, I knew I was finally ready for my race. I was strong, healthy and ready for my challenge. On July 27, 2014, I crossed the finish line with a time of 13 hours and 49 minutes after swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.