Pushup challenge OK, but listen to your body


DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 69-year-old man, in pretty good health. I have some normal age-related arthritis in my hand. I am an active walker and hiker; all in all, I have no major issues. I do pushups and have done so for many years as a way to keep my upper body and core strong — usually four sets of 12, with about five minutes of rest in between. I have been mostly doing this every other day, or three times per week.

I have read about the “pushup challenge,” where you do them every day, trying to get to 2,000 in a month, or about 75 every day. At my age, is it advised to have a day of rest for muscles to “rebuild,” or is an everyday routine safe? Wouldn’t doing pushups every day wear down muscles? — D.B.

ANSWER: Most serious athletes who weight train do have a day off for specific muscle groups when building muscle, to allow the muscle to recover. Particularly for adults in their 60s or older, building stamina slowly is recommended in order to reduce the likelihood of injury. However, the body is resilient, and most people will adapt to higher levels of exercise.

Dr. Keith Roach

If your muscles are not sore on the days you don’t normally do your pushups, it is fine to do more that day. You will likely be able to get yourself to 75 per day. However, I would still recommend you listen to your body. It is far more important for you to do the right exercise for you than it is to achieve an arbitrary goal that might not be appropriate for you. If you are getting really sore, are unable to finish the goals you set for yourself, or simply aren’t enjoying it, back off and put your rest days back in.

DEAR DR. ROACH: Over the past couple of months, I wake up each morning with my left arm tingling and feeling numb. I am not sleeping on it, nor is it being pressed on in any way as I wake up. It tingles and feels numb between my elbow and my fingers. It sometimes then continues to tingle and stays numb when I start to exercise, right after I get out of bed. Can you tell what is happening at night to cause this? — A.M.

ANSWER: This sounds like it is a nerve compression, which is often worse when people wake up. Several nerves may be affected, but the two most common are carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome.

In carpal tunnel syndrome, the median nerve in the wrist is compressed, and most people note numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, middle and sometimes ring fingers. In cubital tunnel syndrome, the ulnar nerve is compressed in the elbow, and most people notice the pinky finger and sometimes the ring finger affected.

You may not think you are sleeping on it, but while you sleep the arm can get into certain positions that pull and irritate the nerve. Sometimes a splint to keep the wrist or elbow in a neutral position is all that’s necessary. A careful exam is needed to determine the particular cause. Occasionally more sophisticated nerve tests (such as an EMG) must be done to be sure.

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Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to [email protected] or send mail to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.

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