Runners Beware: Diversify Your Stress Reduction Portfolio!

Up until about a year ago, I was an idiot when it came to investing money and retirement planning.  Then, I stumbled upon a podcast called The Scott Alan Turner Show and realized just how much I didn’t know.  Among the many things I did learn over the last year was the idea of asset allocation, and how to alter it as you age in order to mitigate the risk of losing your invested money as you approach retirement.  Very simply put (and I know I’m missing a lot here, so if you’re a financial expert, please don’t judge too harshly!), you can have money invested in stocks and/or bonds. Stocks are riskier, but have a better chance at higher returns.  (Higher risk, higher reward.) Bonds are a safer place for your money, but the returns are much lower. As you age and get closer to retirement, it’s a good idea to shift the percentage of money you have invested in stocks over to bonds.  In this way, you’re protecting yourself from losing your retirement savings right before you’re set to retire if there were to be a big market crash, like when the housing bubble burst in the mid 2000s.

Naturally, this got me thinking about running.  (Stick with me. There’s a parallel incoming!)

Until about four months ago, I was an idiot when it came to stress-management.  Running was the end-all-be-all for me. Tough day at work? Go for a run. Kids being crazy?  Lace up the shoes and head out the door for a bit. Hot water heater takes a dumb all over the basement floor?  Nothing an easy ten miles (and a shower at your sister’s house) can’t solve! It was a plan that worked for a decade and a half, until it didn’t.

Four months ago, seemingly out of nowhere, I was hit with a case of “runner’s knee.”  It’s a frustrating injury for two reasons. First, it can be brought on by many issues (hips, muscle imbalance, arches, etc.) and often comes with no warning signs, leaving the runner to guess what the root cause actually was.  Then there’s the initial recovery step that no runner wants to hear: Don’t run. Don’t run for AT LEAST a month, most likely MORE.  There are also other steps that involve some strength, balance, and flexibility work, but there’s no shortcutting the time away from running necessary for allowing the inflammation to properly subside.  

IMG_8494
Not. Good.

I couldn’t believe how much this threw me off balance.  I didn’t realize how much I had been relying on running to manage the stress in my life of late until I couldn’t actually run.  Long story short, I was in a bad spot. I didn’t realize just how bad it was until I went for a haircut and found out that I had two random bald spots develop in the back of my head.  After a round of bloodwork came back negative on anything serious, my doctor came to the conclusion that it was most likely stress-induced alopecia. It was then that I realized that I needed a shift in my mindset.  I couldn’t count on running to be my lone method of stress management.

So many of us invest in some sort of exercise to stay healthy and manage stress.  For most people reading this, that exercise is running.  Think of running as investing in stocks.  It can yield awesome returns concerning your health and happiness, but it also carries a greater risk of injury, especially as we age.  Think of an injury as a market crash. Becoming injured means that you’ve lost the ability to exercise for a bit, as well as your outlet for managing stress.  What other vehicles do you have to fill this void? Do you play an instrument, work on some kind of art, go fishing, or engage in some other stress-reducing activity that isn’t physically demanding?  Think of these as the “bonds” of stress management: Low-risk options that you can easily count on to be available, even if they don’t yield the super-high returns that running might.  

As we get older, it’s a good idea to consider shifting our stress-reduction activity allocation from high-risk activities like running to those that have low (or no) risk of producing injury.  I’m not saying that anyone should ever stop running (I sure don’t want to!), but it’s never a bad idea to take the time to plan for other stress-reducing alternatives that could be used to fill the void should your ability to run or seriously exercise be taken from you!  

Happy Trails,

Eric

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