Tired of your doctors telling you, “If you just exercised, you’d feel better!”?
Well, they may not be all wrong. Just hear me out! The truth is we all just want to feel better and fight to get as much of our lives back as we can. That is never going to be as easy for us as it would be for someone who doesn’t have all of the challenges that we deal with.
Not only is moving necessary for our circulatory systems, and better blood flow means less inflammation, but as Elle Woods says, “Exercise creates endorphins. Endorphins make people happy.” It’s actually true. And whether you’re chronically ill or just sedentary, a slight boost in happiness can change your entire outlook on life. Okay, so I am also not saying go out and pick up CrossFit. Or marathon running. We all know our bodies most likely cannot tolerate that. So how do you exercise safely, while still providing yourself the benefits of movement? Each one of us are different, but my goal is to give you the framework of how to start moving in some way, and then you build on that foundation.
Start small. I want you to remember that for the rest of your life – especially when you are faced with something difficult or are challenging yourself to start moving. Write down a goal (i.e., walk to the kitchen and back, or walk to _____ and back) and put it somewhere that you will see it. Once a day, accomplish that task. Most importantly, listen to your body. If it is day 1 and you accomplish your daily goal and the next day, you cannot move, that goal may be too much. How can you accomplish that daily goal the next day? Do you need to modify what the goal says? Or how you treat your body before or after? Does it involve extra braces, or heat or ice after? The first few weeks will be the hardest. You are re-learning your body and how it moves. Try not to reduce the goal (of course, if symptoms are such that you end up at the hospital, then please – re-evaluate the goal). If you want to walk outside, try to plan a route that will take you by things you enjoy – a friend’s house, a pretty park, etc. If you cannot walk outside, and choose to walk inside (your home, a building, etc.) that is perfectly fine too.
What if you are in a wheelchair or are unable to leave the bed? Well, that is fine too. You can still get your exercise in. You can do leg lifts while lying in bed. Pick a goal to do ___ on each leg. Or if you do not have use of your legs, do upper body movement (just be careful of pulling on your neck too much). Safe upper body movements while laying down include arm lifts (straight out in front of you like you would be a zombie).
Be sure that any movement that you do should be within a pain free range. If you are doing arm lifts and it hurts your shoulders or neck (or instability causes your shoulder to sublux), reduce how high you are lifting your arms. The same principle applies with your legs.
One of our admins is going on a trip soon and they wanted to be able to walk around, so they start walking 1 lap around the block (a small block) each day. After the first day, the pain was pretty bad, so she added some neck bracing, and additional leg braces in order to try it again on day 2. Day 2 she was able to complete without issue! She takes her time and is not concerned with HOW LONG it takes her to complete the walk around the block. She only cares that she DOES it.
That is all you should remind yourself. To pick a small goal and COMPLETE it to the best of your ability. You will be SO proud of yourself for completing that goal and I will be cheering you on and always here for questions and to help!