Your back is killing you. Your neck and shoulders are tense from a stressful day at work. All you want to do is go home and relax on the couch. But before you kick off your shoes, know this: Often, everyday aches and pains can be whisked away with moderate exercise.
"There's so much you can do therapeutically to help yourself feel better," says Lisa Matkin, co-founder of Matkin Yoga and a senior teacher at Yoga Works in New York. After a moderate workout, most people feel great. That's because after we exercise (and this includes everything from biking, running, and walking to hiking, swimming and even sex) our bodies produce endorphins, hormones that give us a natural high.
Granted, going for a two-mile sprint or adding more sets to your strength-training routine isn't the right move when your body feels achy. But gentle exercise might be just the ticket. Two exceptions: When you have a cold that's accompanied by a fever and exhaustion, or if you experience pain that is sharp, quick, burning, or tingling, you should check with your doctor before pushing ahead, adds Matkin. Otherwise, "start with breathing, work gently, and see what your body tells you."
Looking to ease some particular aches and pains? Try these suggestions:
If you have a backache...
Exercise can be better for lower back pain than lying in bed, according to research from the British Medical Journal. Try taking a gentle 30-minute walk after a complete stretching session. Have enough walking in your daily routine? Why not try swimming? This low-impact sport offers full-body exercise without putting stress on the joints. It's a common form of physical therapy, too.
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If you have menstrual cramps...
A good yoga session can be a welcome relief for those once-a-month aches. Make sure it's the right kind, though. A vigorous Ashtanga class won't do; opt for a relaxing Vinyasa or hatha class, or use a yoga video if you like to stay home. You'll notice your muscles relaxing and your cramps fading.
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If you have neck and shoulder tension...
Sitting at a computer for eight hours a day can bring a tense neck and shoulders. Moderate stretching plus strength training will help tone muscles and increase flexibility. Having done this, your muscles will be less likely to tense up in stressful situations — or after a long day at the office.