Is Fear Sabotaging Your Health and Well-being?

So you’ve heard stories about exercise related injuries, and think you’re better off not lifting that dumbell than pull a muscle. This article by the NYTimes talks about this phenomenon on how fear can block you from achieving the long term health that you deserve and let you resort to false rationalizations instead.

“Caution can easily morph into something more like fear, driving people away from activities that they enjoy doing and toward things that seem less risky. And much of the time, less risky means more tedious, which, in turn, means more likely that you’ll end up forgoing the workout altogether. The prospect of injury can seem scary, but letting it deter you from being active may actually be the bigger threat to your health.

The fear of exercise-induced injury or pain may be greatest among those that most stand to benefit from regular exercise — those with chronic conditions like diabetes or back pain. In one 2011 study in the journal Diabetes Care, people with diabetes walked less than people without the disease, and were also more likely to name fear of injury as a barrier to a more active lifestyle.

Of course, the young and fit aren’t immune to similar fears, particularly people coming off a significant injury. A review paper, published last year in the journal Sports Health, found that a fear of reinjury was the most common reason why people stopped playing sports after getting hurt, even after they’d fully recovered.

The logic there is simple: We avoid things we think will hurt. And exercise can hurt even when it doesn’t lead to injury. Of course, for the novice exerciser, it may be difficult to distinguish between the regular discomfort of a workout and something more serious, like a heart attack. But research shows that the odds of actually having a heart attack during a bout of physical activity are pretty low (one study estimated that around 5 percent of all cases of cardiac arrest happened while the victim was exercising). Others may subscribe to the idea that vigorous activities like running can raise the chances that you’ll develop a joint condition like arthritis. But unless you’re a competitive runner who does more than 50 miles a week, running regularly actually lowers your risk.

Exercise fears can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re stressed about your workout, you’re more likely to experience increased muscle tension and mental distraction, which can make you more prone to injury.

One key to beating that fear of injury, then, might be a better understanding of how warranted it really is.

A little bit of anxiety in exchange for the longer-term payoff of having a workout you actually enjoy — it seems like a pretty good trade.”

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