Exercise and Chronic Illness
Exercise is often the last thing on the mind of those of us with a chronic illness. Joint pain, fatigue, and even depression make it hard to get out of the house, much less get out for the purpose of pumping iron or cranking up the heart rate.
Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make us feel good. That alone should be a good motivator.
So, what is the secret to increasing our fitness level without also increasing pain and fatigue? What is the best way to get around the cloud of depression or anxiety to get around to moving?
It is time to get up, get moving, and get the benefit of exercise for the Chronically Awesome.
The Importance of Exercise for The Chronically Awesome
Exercise is a free and creative medication that helps you to manage your chronic symptoms.
- Endurance: Endurance training is a way a way to train your body’s cardiovascular system to allow you to walk farther, recover more quickly from acute illness, and even stay healthy from acute conditions. The greater your endurance, the more capable you able you are to perform everyday tasks.
- Strength: Stronger muscles help to protect you from injury. Keeping our muscles strong is one of the most important ways to keep a chronically awesome body protected from the results of the extend confinement to bed, or to home. Even the lightest strength training is healthy and strengthens bones, and connective tissues (tendons and ligaments).
- Flexibility: Flexibility, like strength, is an important quality of a fit, Chronically Awesome body. For any of us that are less mobile, becoming more flexible can help us avoid some of the aches and pains associated with being confined to bed, couch, or chair for extended periods.
- Balance: The three types of exercises listed above are more productive and safer when our balance is stable, and our core is strong. Everything from posture to proper alignment of shoulders, hips, knees, and feet allow us to move more easily not only through exercise, but through our everyday life.
About our “Core”: the core is the group of muscle surrounding, above, and below the hips. Your abdominal muscles, your buttocks, the lumbar spine, your thighs, and hamstrings.
Chronically Awesome Exercise
Before you begin your Chronically Awesome Exercise Plan, you should check with your rheumatologist, pain management specialist, or the primary doctor treating your condition to find out if you have any restrictions on exercise.
- Set Reasonable Goals: If you have not been exercising recently, set reasonable goals. If you set out to do too much too soon, you risk injury. You also risk frustrating yourself. No one just starting out will be able to do everything at once. Choose one thing, and choose a reasonable amount of time per week in the beginning.
- Choose Something That Doesn’t Hurt: I once knew a lawyer. Early on a Tuesday morning he got a call from a prospective client who stated that she joined a gym and started a new program on Monday. On Tuesday, she woke up sore, and she wanted to sue the gym. Do not begin with an exercise that is too hard too soon. Begin with a short walk, an easy swim, or some light stretches. Go easy on your joints. Don’t wake up the day after your first workout wanting to sue your sneakers.
Do Something You Like: There are YouTube videos and other ways you can tune in with your phone, your computer, or your television to find enjoyable, low-impact exercises such as dances of many themes from hip-hop to Bollywood, tai chi, or yoga. Maybe you like the pool? You can walk or simply kick your feet while holding the edge of the pool for resistance exercise. Use your imagination. Put on your earbuds and dance!
- Modify: if you are taking a class, or watching a video and the stretch is too much for you or the pose lasts too long then modify. You can stretch from a chair; you can bend to only your knees instead of your toes. You can walk 1000 steps for a week, then 2000 steps, and so on.
- There’s An App For That: There are apps both for free or for purchase that work as pedometers and help you to log your exercise.
- Equipment: if you choose to buy equipment remember that you do not need heavy weights, light weights will do. You can also use elastic bands for resistance training. Exercise balls can help for posture and balance as well as sit-ups, push-ups against a wall, and many other exercises. Look around your house for items that may work in place of light hand-weights such as cans of soup. You can use a belt to help stabilize your arm or leg for yoga and stretches.
- Wearables: fitness bands and clip-on pedometers have become popular. The more popular they become, the less expensive they are. While some are more accurate than others, you can decide if you prefer something that clips to your clothing or one that you wear like a wristwatch. There are others that are multi-purpose: pedometer, watch, heart rate, sleep monitor, more.
The key is to start slow and build up, enjoy what you are doing, and make sure that your doctor is aware of your new exercise program.
Summer is a great time to get out and begin a new exercise program. We hope you let us know how it is going!
By Jules Shapiro
Sources: Mayo Clinic, American Heart Association, Chronic Chronicles (Chronically Awesome Foundation)
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