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Exercising with Chronic Illness

10 Jul 14
Toni Dawn
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[dropcap color=”orange” background=”green” size=”small]E[/dropcap]ditor’s Note:  Just a small note that for the rest of July at least posts here will be a bit sporadic as I overcome some health issues and obtain a better balance in life. I will be aiming to do at least one post a week.  In the mean time, here’s another guest post from Toni Dawn focused on exercising with chronic illness

Do you have a chronic illness and think exercise is a waste of what little energy you have left? Or, do you try to exercise, but end up exhausted and in pain for several days afterward? Without a doubt, exercise is a difficult endeavor for those with chronic illness. However, neglecting exercise may worsen your condition, decrease your ability to function, and lead to other chronic diseases. On the other hand, trying to do too much, too soon will likely make you crash. That’s not good, either. If you want to live the best life possible, you have to find the right balance of movement and rest.

Why You Should Exercise

Exercise has many benefits. We all know that moderate to high intensity exercise strengthens the heart, lungs, and muscles. Regular exercise also reduces anxiety and depression, improves physical capacity, increases your ability to function, helps you sleep better, and decreases pain and fatigue over time. However, the most important benefit of exercise when you have a chronic illness is the circulation of blood and lymph, both of which deliver vital nutrients to the cells and remove waste products. Thus, exercise nourishes and detoxifies your body at the same time. If you don’t move your body, these fluids stagnate and cause all sorts of problems.

How To Start Exercising

You will need to get approval from your doctor before embarking on any exercise program. Also, it’s important to remember that any movement, no matter how gentle or how short the duration, is good for your body — especially if you do it consistently.

Depending on your particular situation, you may want to consider asking your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist to help you get started. A physical therapist will be able to perform tests, help you relieve pain and stiffness, strengthen weak muscles, improve your posture, and improve your range of motion to help you exercise easier, more efficiently, and more comfortably.

If physical therapy is not an option for you, a personal trainer may be able to help you set up an appropriate exercise program. Just make sure that you choose a trainer who is very familiar with your illness and limitations.

Try Short Bursts of Movement Throughout the Day

When choosing to begin exercising without the direction of a physical therapist or personal trainer, one option to get you started with regular exercise is to do several short sessions of movement rather than one longer session. Adding spurts of movement throughout your day in this way is a quicker, gentler way to build your tolerance to exercise. It also helps increase your circulation better than a single, longer workout will.

Walk through your house or stretch for five minutes (or whatever you can comfortably handle) every hour or two throughout the day, as you feel able. Start with one five-minute session, then add another every few days or every week until you are able to move for five minutes every hour or two throughout the day. If you do this just six times a day, you’ve moved for a total of 30 minutes! When you’re ready, you can start adding one or two longer sessions until you’re able to go for a solid 20 or 30 minutes. Just don’t forget to move some more throughout the rest of the day, as well. Your goal is to avoid sitting for long stretches.

If your chronic condition has left you severely debilitated, or even bedridden, you may want to start with “micro” movement. For example, if you can only stand for five minutes, then start with that. Slowly increase the duration of time in which you stand in 10- or 15-second increments every few days. Or, you could start by simply doing gentle stretches in your bed. Remember, any movement you can comfortably do will benefit your body. Rest when you need to and don’t push yourself too hard. Just do what you can – and keep moving forward. Don’t give up!

For those of you who are more physically able, remember: you don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment, fancy clothes, or a gym membership to begin exercising. All you need is a little bit of space, something stretchy and comfortable to wear (you already have that, don’t you?) and maybe a good pair of shoes. Tai chi, qi gong, and yoga do not require shoes. There are plenty of free videos online, just be careful about which instructor you choose and always stop if you feel any discomfort.

Types of exercise you may want to try:

  • Tai chi or qi gong
  • Simple stretching
  • Walking
  • Dancing (even if it’s just in your living room)
  • Warm water exercise (either swimming, water aerobics, or just walking in the pool)
  • Beginner’s or “gentle” yoga
  • Light strength training
Get outside LiveKen

Get outside and go for a walk if you can. Even just in your garden

It isn’t necessary to pour sweat, get out of breath, or make your muscles burn in order to benefit from exercise. In fact, exercising too hard for too long will likely land you in bed for several days. All you need to do is move consistently. Go easy on yourself, especially in the beginning. Soon, you will find that you can sleep better, have more energy and less pain, and are able to live a better life despite chronic illness.

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