Author Archives: Toni Dawn

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.

Identifying diet modifications for chronic illness

24 Jun 14
Toni Dawn
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[dropcap color=”orange” background=”green” style=”rounded” size=”small]E[/dropcap]ditor’s Note: This is a guest post from Toni Dawn, a writer, blogger, and former personal trainer from Bristol, Tennessee… She has kindly offered to do regular guest posts on living a healthy lifestyle with a Chronic Illness. Today she’s talking about diet. For more from Toni, head over to her blog at The Girl in Yoga Pants.

Many people have experienced dramatic improvements in their chronic illness from changing their diet. The reason is simple. If you don’t feed your body the micronutrients your cells need to produce energy, you are starving your cells. Starving cells cannot function properly, which manifests as fatigue, brain fog, pain, and a host of diseases. With chronic illness, it’s important to eat plenty of vegetables and to identify hidden food intolerances that may be aggravating your illness.

Eat Your Veggies

Fresh veggies from the garden LiveKen dietThe one thing you can do that probably any doctor will agree with is to make sure you are giving your cells the micronutrients they need in order to function optimally by eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. Take a cue from Dr. Terry Wahls, who reversed her progressive multiple sclerosis (yes, you read that right – she reversed her supposedly irreversible disease) by eating 6 to 9 cups of vegetables a day. If you make just one change, this should be it, and most doctors will agree.

Identify Hidden Food Sensitivities

Another important aspect of a healing diet is to eliminate foods that may be causing your body harm. Your body will have a harder time healing if you are constantly eating foods that have become a burden to it. Hidden food allergies and sensitivities (also called intolerances) are common among those with chronic illnesses, so it is very worthwhile to make every effort to identify any offending foods that may be contributing to your symptoms. While symptoms of a food allergy will usually (but not always) leave you without any doubt that you should avoid that food, symptoms of food sensitivities can be as mild as increased fatigue, irritability, pain, brain fog, or other vague symptoms without any sign of gastrointestinal distress.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you’ve eaten a certain food all of your life without any previous problems that the food is not causing a problem for you now. Many people have found that they suddenly develop an intolerance or allergy to foods that they have eaten all of their lives. With the added burden of a chronic illness, the body sometimes simply no longer has the resources it needs to properly digest the offending food, or the immune system dysregulates and begins to view the food as a dangerous invader.

The Difference Between Food Allergies and  Food Sensitivities

It’s important to realize that there is a difference between a food allergy and a sensitivity. A food allergy causes an immune system response that is often very serious and requires immediate medical treatment. A food sensitivity, however, causes a much more subtle reaction in the body that does not involve the immune system. This is why food sensitivities are more difficult to identify.

Your doctor can test for the most common food allergens, but may not be able to identify less common ones, such as food additives or dyes found in many processed foods. However, your doctor will not be able to test for most food sensitivities.

In order to identify sensitivities, you will need to conduct an elimination/challenge diet. During the elimination phase, you remove the foods that you suspect you are sensitive to from your diet for a period of time (usually two weeks, but some experts recommend up to six weeks), while you note any symptoms that disappear. After you’ve refrained from eating these foods for the recommended time period, you then reintroduce each food one at a time to “challenge” your body and note any symptoms that appear.

Foods to consider eliminating from your diet include:

  • All processed foods
  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Sugar substitutes
  • Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, tobacco)


If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), one particular thing you may need to watch out for are FODMAPs (an acronym for Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides, And Polyols – which is why acronyms are so awesome). These are types of carbohydrates that cause gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating in sensitive individuals. You can view an extensive list of FODMAP foods here.

Because the list of foods is so long, it’s probably best to work with a registered dietician if you suspect you may have a problem with FODMAPs. Most of the time, thankfully, you will not need to completely eliminate these foods, but simply eat less of them.

Even if you do discover a food intolerance, it doesn’t mean you will never be able to eat that food again. Sometimes your body just needs a break from it. Many people are able to slowly add offending foods back into their diet after six months or so with no problem. This doesn’t work for food allergies, though. You will want to continue abstaining from foods you are allergic to.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. Most of the time, it’s enough to just eat your veggies and stay away from junk foods. That’s the best place to start. The rest are suggestions in case you’re still having problems or you suspect that certain foods are affecting your health, but can’t figure out what.

Changing your diet can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re suffering from a chronic illness. Start by making small changes, such as eating more fresh vegetables and fruits. This one change will likely lead to decreased cravings and give you more energy. Uncovering hidden food intolerances takes more time. It is well worth it to investigate, however, to relieve your body of any extra burdens.