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One minute you're happily racing down a mountain trail on your bike. The next? Splat! You're on the ground after hitting a tree root. As you count the weeks that your ankle is in a splint, your bathroom scale is counting the pounds that have crept on since the accident. "Many patients are so focused on the injury, they forget that they need to take care of the rest of their body, too," says Matthew Buchanan, MD, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon in Falls Church, Virginia.
It's hard to predict exactly how much weight you will gain while you're on the mend, because there are so many complicating factors. But one thing is certain: Your cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength will drop if you don't do at least some activity.
Outsmart it: If it's okay with your doctor, hobble over to the gym or roll out a mat at home and do whatever exercise you can. "That may mean getting on the rowing machine or jogging in the pool," says Dr. Buchanan, who believes that unless your injury is catastrophic, the best thing you can do for your body is work out.
Don't be discouraged if you have to take it slower and easier. Shirley Chan, a mom of two and a longtime runner, turned to walking when she partially tore two ligaments in her ankle. "It was hard at first, but I tried to keep things in perspective," she says. "It wasn't the level of activity I was accustomed to, but I knew I had to do something in order not to fall too far behind in my fitness goals." After several months with her leg in a boot, she had gained just three pounds, which she easily worked off by running once she'd recovered fully.
The other benefit of exercise, of course, is the mood boost. As little as 11 minutes of exercise a day improved the mental health and vitality of sedentary people in a Louisiana State University study. "A positive frame of mind will enhance your healing process," says Martha Peaslee Levine, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, psychiatry, and humanities at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania. "From a mental standpoint, this is one of the most important times in your life to work out."