Loolwa Khazzoom: Why did you turn to exercise for natural pain relief?
Brad Lemley: Well I didn’t really understand why it worked; it was just kind of an intuition. I started to get my mind around it when I was reading John Sarno’s book, Mind Over Back Pain, where he talks about a real disconnect between pain and structural problems in the spine.
He came to realize that pain doesn’t occur so often as a result of a disc or a bone being out of line. It is almost always a muscular phenomenon that results from chronic tension, which is a feedback mechanism.
People feel pain, and there’s a tension that surrounds the concern — that “It’s going to get worse if I…” feeling — so they become both sedentary and chronically tightened in that muscle, which leads to a constriction of blood flow, which in turn causes pain.
Push or Pull Back?
LK: What are your thoughts on pushing past pain versus stopping when you start to feel pain?
BL: You have to listen to the signals that your body is sending you. It’s clearly a bad idea to put extra stress on a structurally flawed part of your body. You’re really running the risk of winding up paralyzed or at least injuring yourself further.
But when you talk about pain from exercise, it’s not necessarily the stabbing, shooting pain that tells you that something is wrong. It can just be the old, “Eh, this is hard, I’d like to quit” sort of pain. I think that most people have enough body intuition to be able tell the difference between the two, but of course, it’s not always easy to tell.
I think that with plain old discipline, we have a tremendous ability to go past our limitations and get into better and better shape. From my experience, if you really push yourself hard physically, you are strengthening your muscles and increasing good, strong blood flow from a strong heart. I think that is the secret of getting past pain.
LK: How do you keep that discipline, when it’s hard to stay motivated — especially when your body aches?
BL: I think it’s really important to just do a little bit at a time. Being completely sedentary, and then pushing yourself for two hours, and then being completely sedentary is not, I believe, nearly as healthy as the three sessions that work for me:
My daily exercise routine is doing 10 minutes in the morning, and then a run at noon, and then when I get home I’m usually a little bit jazzed, and I do about 5 more minutes of weightlifting to wind down.
LK: What are your thoughts about sitting and meditating, moving energy through your body, as opposed to just going for a hike on the trail?
BL: I’ve tried various times in my life to do meditation. But my mind stays extremely active. It just doesn’t work for me. So I don’t do it. What can I say? I’d rather run. I’ve gone from stressed and crazed and feeling out of shape, to feeling strong and relaxed and focused. I never have to wonder if running makes any difference.
BL: I might mention that my two heroes are Jack Lalanne and Dean Karnazes. Jack Lalanne is now 93 yrs old, and he is the father of fitness. He’s the guy who invented working out to stay in shape. In the ’50s — when people said it would make you muscle-bound, and you would get an enlarged heart from working out — he was on TV, working out.
All of his critics are now dead, and he is still in fabulous shape, working out two hours a day. They’ve got his old TV show from the ’50s on YouTube. He is a real hero, a guy that really had it figured out a long time ago. The fact that he’s lived so long and is so healthy now is evidence that exercising works.
Dean Karnazes is an ultra-marathon runner. He’s got the world record for the longest, continuous run of 356 miles. He says, essentially, people have no idea what the human body can do. It’s ten times more than anyone guesses.
His book, which I just read, is called Ultra Marathon Man. It’s nothing for this guy to run 48 hours without stopping. He actually has run in his sleep for brief periods of time. He’s just reinvented what the body can do.
I’m not going to go out and run 300 miles, but it’s inspiring to me, as somebody who does try to keep in good shape, to realize that it’s possible for a human being.
Brad Lemley is the editorial director of DrWeil.com, Andrew Weil’s website. Previously, Brad worked as a television reporter and anchor, a radio reporter, and a freelance writer for The Washington Post, Life, Discover, and other leading periodicals, and he co-authored two books, including It’s Not What Happens to You, It’s What You Do about It. In his spare time, Brad is a woodworker, house renovator, and dedicated fitness enthusiast.