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Looking for Mr. Good Pain

Whether because of age, weight, or lack of athletic chops, most type 2s-and I’m one of them-have settled on walking as their main form of exercise. It’s the simplest, easiest exercise you can do: Put one foot in front of the other, rinse and repeat.

Even so, walking can be a pain. If you haven’t done it in awhile, your long-unused muscles are going to squawk, “How dare you put us to work!” Even if you’ve been faithful about taking daily walks, the squawking never quite stops. That’s because at the start of almost any walk your leg muscles need to stretch and lose their stiffness-and that can be a painful process.

This is where the notion of “good pain” comes in. C.S. Lewis, author of the beloved children’s books “The Chronicles of Narnia,” once described “good pain” as the feeling of accomplishment, even though your muscles are sore, that comes after an excellent workout or satisfying labor. It’s a pain you don’t mind because it’s a result of having done something beneficial.

When I’m feeling lazy or uninspired to take a walk, my first excuse is that I dread the low-grade pain of those first few hundred steps. But then I remember what Lewis said and tell myself that those initial moments of stiffness and tightness will soon give way to stretched, warmed-up muscles that will now bear me along on a good, pain-free workout. 

(The temporary stiffness of not-yet-warmed-up muscles is a lot different from the pain of a pulled hamstring or an injured groin, and it should be easy to tell them apart. I’m by no means recommending that you “walk it off” if something is really hurting.) 

Aside from worries about pain, anxiety about other things that might go bad on a walk can drain my will to take one. I’m the most uptight about exercising when I’m running gloomy scenarios about it around in my head: “It’s going to be too hot.” “My allergies might kick in.” “I won’t see anything new because I’ve walked all the places in town I care to.” I realize that when I let my imagination rattle me with visions of what terrible things the future might hold, I cheat myself out of my present benign inspiration to go take a walk.   

Maybe the most useful thing to keep in mind when it comes to walking is an ancient truth about us humans: we sense things best when we’re walking at about five miles per hour. At that speed, we can smell the flowers, hear the birds sing, watch kids at play, and feel a breeze. I’m thankful that thinking about those rewards usually is enough to overcome all my excuses for not heading out the door. 

As a matter of fact, that’s just what I’m going to do right now. It’s time for me to go out looking for Mr. Good Pain. 

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