Living with a chronic illness isn’t easy. Tasks that were once second-nature have now become daily struggles. Much-loved hobbies have long since been forgotten because they’re too exhausting or too painful. It’s little wonder those with chronic illness begin to feel a loss of self-identity. Throughout school, I was such an active kid; partaking in sports as much as I could. That’s something I had to give up when I was diagnosed with my chronic condition. Last year, however, I decided I wasn’t going to let it stop me from doing the things I loved anymore. So, I joined the gym and started exercising again. Exercising with a chronic illness isn’t the same as “normal” workouts, but a year later I’m still going. So, if you’re looking to get more exercise, here’s 10 tips to help you while working out!
Some of you are probably sat reading this and thinking “exercise”? With a chronic condition?! Yeah right! But, depending on the severity & regularity of your symptoms, it’s absolutely possible. I used to get so bad after doing the briefest and easiest of tasks that I didn’t think I stood a chance. Yet, a year after joining the gym, I’m still going from strength to strength. AND, it’s actually easing the effects of my condition in the long run.
However, chronic illness comes in many different forms, from joint conditions to autoimmune conditions, and vary from mild to severe. Unfortunately, not one person’s experience with chronic illness is like another, even amongst the same conditions. This makes it very hard to understand someone else’s situation. Therefore, although I’ve found the following works for me, it may not be the same for you so please, always, be careful.
My 10 Tips
- Before you start, set a goal: whether this be general fitness, weight loss or muscle toning, decide what you want to achieve. This will help you decide on your workouts and next steps.
- Try low-impact exercises/machines: low impact exercises are a lot better for those who suffer with chronic pain because, as the name suggests, the strain on the body is lessened. These include swimming, yoga, walking or water aerobics. In the gym, try the bike or the elliptical trainer.
- Start small, short & slow: don’t expect to jump straight in and smash it. That doesn’t work for anybody, much less someone with a chronic condition. Even if you start on 1 machine and only for 5 minutes before having to stop, that’s great. Small progress is still progress.
- Always warm up: warming up loosens the muscles and joints. It’s important for everybody to do at the start of a workout (not that everyone does) but it’s even more important for us – especially if your condition is joint or muscle related.
- Find exercises you enjoy: the more enjoyment you get from exercising, the more likely you’re going to want to keep going.
- Find a buddy: finding a buddy (if you’re a social butterfly) to workout with usually means more motivation. You get bonus points if they also have a chronic condition, because you’ll both be in the same boat.
- Always listen to your body: we are so receptive to what our bodies are telling us, don’t start ignoring it now. This will help you not to overdo it.
- Rest and recover: take proper time to rest and recover. If you don’t, you’ll overdo it. Getting back into fitness will be over before you’ve even started.
- Remember, each time will get easier: getting back into fitness isn’t easy, for anybody. There’ll be times you want to give up. Keep going.. remind yourself it gets easier; the workouts and the recovery. The next time won’t be as bad as right now.
- Set up a playlist before you start: make a playlist of your favourite, most upbeat songs; the songs that get you moving; the songs that motivate you.
Exercising with chronic illness can be challenging, because it can limit what you’re able to do, especially when you’re first getting back into fitness. Remember, inactivity causes muscles and joints to weaken over time. However, gradually you will start to regain the strength while also increasing energy. That, mixed with the release of endorphins (a natural painkiller), will hopefully start helping your symptoms and, long term, make your condition more manageable. If you heed the above advice and are able to get a fitness routine going, you should start to reap the benefits.
Do you exercise with a chronic illness? I’d love to hear about your fitness journey and progress. Oh, and if you have any other tips, let me know!
Until next week,