How to Keep Moving! (Chronic Illness and Exercise)

How to Keep Moving! (Chronic Illness and Exercise)

Though exercise is an important part of maintaining our health, exercising regularly is more difficult for people living with a chronic illness than it is for many others. However, with a doctor’s approval (of course), regular exercise can become manageable to some extent, while being highly beneficial for many aspects of people’s lives. For people with chronic illness, it can be even more crucial to regularly do some light physical activities, in order to increase their heart rate within safe parameters.

Some of the benefits of exercise for people with chronic illness include bone and muscle strengthening, weight control, improvement in mental health and mood, reduced chances of falls, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (as well as helping to manage the symptoms of these conditions). As a whole, regular exercise can help preserve your lifestyle.

How to get started:

If you’re a person suffering from some kind of chronic illness, then the topic of chronic illness and exercise is surely familiar to you. The first thing we ask ourselves is how to even begin exercising. The first thing you should do is speak to your doctor. This is very important, as they will give you the best advice that will match your medical condition and capabilities. Your doctor will advise you on how to start, what exercises are best, and what pace to keep.

How to get your exercise routine started when you experience chronic illness

Remember to ask about the exact benefits of taking up some physical activity, the safe exercises you can do, the ideal intensity and duration of these exercises, and the realistic goals that you can set; as well as learning what exercises are definitely off your list that may cause you harm. You can find the right level of activity for yourself and your unique chronic condition only when you have the answers to all the above considerations to act as a basis for your exercise plan. 

Dealing with exercise related fear, grief, and trauma

Exercising with chronic illness can lead to experiencing a turmoil of emotions, including fear, grief, and trauma. Fear can be brought on by worrying about being judged by strangers while exercising, or being scared that we may not be able to keep up or do what we used to. There is also the fear of onset numbness, flares, and possible injury.

Grief can be experienced while exercising with chronic illness because we may not be as fast as we used to be, and the loss of functionality and stamina during our workout routines can be upsetting. We need to acknowledge that our bodies will look and work differently than they did before the onset of our chronic illness symptoms. Even knowing this may not stop us from feeling vulnerable as we see other people doing everything we once could but now can’t. We need to be aware that each person has a different level of activity they are capable of.

People diagnosed with chronic illness experience moments of acute trauma. This can mean that due to pain they feel, they simply disconnect their mind from their body in an attempt to ease the tremendous pain they feel. However, when exercising it’s impossible to disconnect our body from our mind. The sensations that accompany being physically active are discomforting, especially for people with a chronic illness – as they tend to associate the pain from exercise with the pain associated with their illness.

Dealing with  fear, grief, and trauma when exercising with chronic illness

These are some reasons many people with chronic illness avoid exercise. We can help ourselves overcome these by thinking encouraging thoughts and assuring ourselves that we are not in danger. The more we are able to deal with these emotions, the stronger and more capable we will become. This kind of practice will make us stronger – both physically and mentally.

Start off slow

It’s important to start off slow. Choose some light, mild activities as you begin your exercise plan. These activities could include taking a short walk, gentle stretching, riding a bike leisurely, or lifting light weights. If you’re a fan of walking, take some walks in nature: go to the park or the countryside. If you prefer cycling, find a perfect bike that fits your personality and needs and cycle leisurely around your neighborhood. Any kind of physical movement, even though it might not seem much to you, is better than no movement at all. 

Choose activities you like

Usually, in life, we persist and continue doing what we enjoy doing. That’s why it’s key to choose the activities we enjoy because in that way we’ll have something that ties us to the activity. Another way to persist in doing physical activities is to find an exercise buddy. That helps you stay motivated and accountable. Everything we do with our friends is easier and more bearable, as we can give each other support during hard times. 

Frequency is more important than duration

This means that you should focus on moving a little every day rather than doing something for two hours once a week. You should try to make the activities a part of your day. Even things such as using the stairs, sweeping and even standing up and sitting down on a chair repetitively are also considered to be light physical activities.

Frequency is more important than duration when exercising with a chronic illness

Set realistic goals

It’s necessary to be realistic in setting our goals. We should start with simple and easily doable ones such as some yard work and little housework, for those people who don’t suffer from severe chronic conditions. On the other hand, people who suffer from more severe forms of illnesses should maybe start with improving their flexibility in order to start managing some usual daily activities. Setting unrealistic goals can lead to disappointment and lack of motivation.

Don’t give up

Even if sometimes you can’t keep up with a regular activity once or twice in a certain period, don’t let that bother you. Take a break if you need to, but remember to go back to exercising as soon as you can. Go over in your mind what you’ve achieved so far and think about what you can achieve in the future if you keep up the good work. 

Motivation is important

Everybody has a different motivation for making themselves go through something that is extremely difficult for them, such as exercise. Some people want to be in better physical shape in order to keep up with their toddler, while other people want to improve their mood, their quality of life, and their overall health – the reasons are countless. When you have a reason strong enough, you’ll find more time and energy to endure. It’s especially important to remember your motivation on the days you don’t feel like exercising. Motivation is a very powerful tool and it can help you achieve almost anything. 

Remember: Your excercise plan can be adapted to suit you

If there is an exercise that you loved but are no longer able to do, it may be able to be adapted to suit your needs. This means you don’t need to stop doing what you enjoy. For example, yoga can be practiced from a chair and you can receive all the same benefits of improved flexibility, increased strength and reduced stress

You can adapt your exercise plan to suit you (chronic illness and exercise)

Try attending a class

Attending a fitness class has the benefit of being able to consult an instructor, who can help you do the exercises correctly and avoid any mistakes that could lead to an injury. If you worry that a “normal” fitness class may be too hard on you, you may be able to find a special class for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. This means you also get to spend time with people who may have a similar condition as you, allowing you to share your experiences and maybe even hear a few good pieces of advice. 

Learning how to live a to-some-extent-normal life when suffering from a chronic illness is not an easy task. With lots of effort, motivation, will, and support from our dear loved ones, we can try to improve as much as we can and be the best version of ourselves. 

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About the author:

Helen Bradford is a journalism student who always seeks new ideas to write about. She enjoys blogging about beauty, health and style trends for women. When she’s not writing, she spends her spare time being active through fitness and traveling.