Exercise Helps Recovery from Illness and Injury

When exercise and fitness is a part of your life from an early age, the thought that the time will come when you are unable to perform does not cross your mind. Being in great shape feels almost as if you wear a shield against potentially debilitating injury or illness. Ben Dearman, co-owner of KDR Fitness in Lebanon, certainly could fit that description. Having served as a college strength and conditioning coach, helping to develop fitness regimens for U.S. military Special Forces units, and operating a fitness center for many years, Dearman certainly personified the health and fitness lifestyle as well as anyone.

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Yet when illness struck, Dearman was affected in a similar manner to many without his background and experience. Having been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2016, he found even the basics of life difficult. “I couldn’t work, couldn’t exercise, couldn’t do anything,” he says.

In his mind, however, Dearman knew exercise would play a role in his recovery. “I knew I would get back to it,” he says.

Taking time to recover, Dearman made plans to return to a fitness routine that would help the process. “Exercise was always a part of my life,” he says. “I tried to figure out what I could do.”
Along with exercise, Dearman found other factors key in recovering from this devastating illness. “Lots of sleep, good food, working on flexibility,” all played a part, he says.

Rick Dickson, fitness coordinator at the CCBA in Lebanon, works with many clients recovering from illness and injury. Though some of his clients are young people working back from injury, the majority he sees are elderly clients, often dealing with health issues. Though he stresses his clients need to “set realistic goals,” when in the recovery process, he finds the outcomes from an exercise program can provide surprising results. “Many are capable of doing more than they think,” says Dickson.

While his clients may come to the gym two or three times a week, it is important to continue to that work at home throughout the week, says Dickson. One does not need a home gym to gain benefits at home, however. Movement is the important factor; “Anyone can do movement at home,” Dickson says.

Bill Cioffredi, physical therapist and founder of Cioffredi & Associates in Lebanon, says one factor is universal in bringing clients to his clinic. “Pain is a primary reason in bringing people here,” he says.

Of course, pain is a symptom of a wide range of problems and issues, so Cioffredi says his first task is to assess the individual, and determine the reason for the resulting pain. Living in an area such as the Upper Valley, with a long snow and ice season, it is not surprising that Cioffredi finds many patients come to him with various ailments resulting from slips and falls.

At the River Valley Club in Lebanon, Chris Poljacik, fitness director and movement training specialist, stresses the importance of movement in exercise, and recovery. When designing a program for a client, Poljacik says he will do a movement assessment, as well as a range of motion study, to determine the needs of the individual. That movement program extends to work and home, not just at the gym, he advises. A minimum of activity for 30 minutes each day is essential, he says. Whatever form of exercise one undertakes, doing it right is important, Poljacik says.

Movement is a critical factor in rehab and recovery, adds Bill Cioffredi; using movement to help clients return to a healthy, restored physical level is an important part of his work, he finds.

Having a professional fitness expert assess condition, and design a program, can go long way in a successful rehabilitation. Poljacik points out that exercise and movement programs may vary between two people with the same injury, based on other factors, such as muscle imbalance.

Along with the role the body plays in rehabilitation, the mind also plays a significant part. Bill Cioffredi finds that “how they view themselves, and their confidence,” plays a critical role in the rehab process.

Looking ahead, seeing how one projects into the future with the reality of dealing with an illness or injury, is an important part of the process. “That is fundamental for us,” says Cioffredi, when discussing how therapists at his clinic approach a client’s attitude. He finds the benefits of a patient’s confidence are many, and a successful rehab includes, “Helping people find a level of confidence,” no matter the situation.

As Ben Dearman prescribed, many other factors play an important role in recovery, along with movement and exercise. Sleep, eating three meals while concentrating on whole foods, proper water intake; “These are essential,” says Chris Poljacik.

In his recovery, Ben Dearman found a proper eating regimen a huge benefit to a faster recovery. “Nutrition trumps exercise,” Dearman says.

Dickson says a nutritionist he knows well espouses the following regarding exercise and proper nutrition; “You can’t outrun a bad diet.”

All of these fitness experts point out another key factor in healthy rehabilitation is removing stress from one’s life. Unfortunately, when dealing with an illness or injury, stress is a natural outcome, says Rick Dickson. “Stress is detrimental to health and well-being,” he says. Exercise and movement is an antidote, however. “There is a direct correlation between movement and stress,” adds Dickson.

Bill Cioffredi finds stress plays a big role, not only with physical problems occurring, but also with rehabbing from injury or illness. “A healthy mental well-being,” says Cioffredi, is fundamental factor in health, and recovery.

A good understanding on the part of the client about the condition they are dealing with, and ways to help, is another important factor. “Education is key,” says Chris Poljacik. Ben Dearman agrees. “One needs a good understanding of the human body.”

Whether adopting a new movement and exercise routine, changing your eating regimen, or incorporating relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation, the ultimate success of these relies on a change of lifestyle. That is dependent on a person adopting these changes into all aspects of their life. “You have to do these things on your own,” says Ben Dearman. Rick Dickson agrees that the key to long- term success in rehabilitation involves a lifestyle change. Regular attendance at a gym or fitness center does provide inspiration, Dickson says, but he adds one does “need to incorporate (these changes) into daily life.”

Clients find these healthy lifestyle changes can make unexpected changes in their lives, too. Dickson says he is familiar with several people who undertook an exercise and cardio program, the results of which included a tapering off, and some cases elimination of various prescription medications previously needed.

Ben Dearman faced a very difficult health issue, which forced him to take a life-affirming look at what he needed to work his way back to health. “I know what it’s like to face adversity,” he says. Working to recover from his challenge gives Dearman a new outlook on what it takes to succeed. One of these attributes is perseverance; “No tolerance for excuses,” Dearman says. 

 Adversity is something we will all face at some point, often from illness or injury. “Anybody’s life can change at any point,” Dearman says. Having the desire to seek out the knowledge, and to adopt changes to take on these challenges, is a crucial factor in success. 


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