Hey guys! I know, I know – the title might be a bit provocative. But you know I suffer from M.E and fibromyalgia, so I understand how hard it is to ‘exercise with chronic illness’ (or even make it out of bed!) As my M.E is moderate to sometimes severe, physical activity is often very difficult for me. What this post is going to be about is how all of us with chronic illnesses can do something, it’s about finding what works for your personal level.
My Inspiration/Sponsored Post
One thing that inspired this post was the reaction I had to my recent Spoonie New Years Resolutions post. Often posts like that are discouraging, as they aim way too high for my level of health and I just can’t relate. Hitting the gym 5 times a week? I’d be happy to make it out of bed 5 times in a week!! So many spoonies contacted me to say that they’d enjoyed my post as it was more relevant and relatable to them. When Mobility Nationwide contacted me about their #AchievementForAll campaign, it was the perfect timing!
Inspired by the Rio Games last summer, Mobility Nationwide, who specialise in mobility vehicles, launched their campaign to encourage people of all levels into activity. This times in perfectly with my own NYE resolution of re-starting hydrotherapy. This post is sponsored by Mobility Nationwide, but all content, ideas and opinions are my own!
Exercise With Chronic Illness – What is Exercise?
The important part of this is defining what we mean by ‘exercise’. Of course, most healthy people would class exercise as going for a run, hitting the gym or doing yoga. That is often completely unachievable for spoonies (obviously depending on your level of fatigue or disability). What I’m talking about here could more accurately be defined as ‘activity’.
For me and a lot of spoonies I know, having a shower and washing our hair is absolutely exhausting. This can definitely be classed as an activity! Having a shower involves standing for the duration, reaching up with our arms a lot, bending down/twisting to wash our bodies etc. Then if you have long hair like me, that’s an added 15 minutes of towelling it off, brushing out all the knots and drying it with a hairdryer! It’s genuinely like a marathon for people like me!!
That’s why I want to touch on physical activities that even those with more severe illnesses/disabilities can achieve. I am not an expert, I just speak from personal experience and from speaking to a lot of the spoonie community. I completely understand that this sort of thing is not possible for some people. I also get that sometimes you may be able to do some physical activity that you can’t on other days (my M.E is very variable day to day, sometimes I can’t do anything useful!) But for those that can, I hope this post inspires you to add something to your routine! 😀
5 Ways to Exercise With Chronic Illness
1) Starting with those who are most mildly affected, here are some things you could look at doing a few times a week (or even daily, if you are able). Start the morning with a yoga-inspired stretching routine – this will get rid of all your overnight stiffness and get your body going! There are yoga tutorials of all levels on YouTube, which are free and easy to follow. Got a bit of time in the evening? Use your house as a mini-gym. You can use the bottom stairs to do a step workout, or even walk/carefully jog up and down the stairs repeatedly if you’re feeling energetic! Use the back of a chair as support whilst you do some squats, keeping your back straight. Got some tins in the cupboard? You can hold these whilst doing some arm exercises, as they act as light weights!
2) If number 1 is a bit too ambitious for you, I feel ya! Cardio exercise with any illness like M.E can be extremely difficult (and some believe dangerous), so make sure to work up your stamina slowly and carefully. My M.E is moderate to severe (variable) and I am also usually in a lot of pain from my fibro. One thing I have found really helpful is hydrotherapy. I’ll be honest – at first it is very difficult when you’re mostly bed/housebound. It’s a big challenge, but it is achievable and really did help my stamina and pain levels. I documented my entire hydrotherapy journey, so if you want to find out more, everything you need to know should be there! Unfortunately I was unable to do it for the second half of 2016, but I am restarting again next week – wish me luck!
3) If you’re mostly bedbound and not up to leaving the house, or anything too physical, these ideas are for you! I used to have an all-or-nothing attitude to physical activity when I first got ill. Because I couldn’t do my usual high level cardio exercise and I struggled even using stairs or walking a few metres, I thought all I could do was rest in bed. The M.E clinic helped me realise that if I could push myself to do a few simple stretches throughout the day, it would help my stamina. It would also reduce my pain levels, as some of the pain was coming from being bedbound and getting very stiff.
I have a very simple 2 minute stretch routine, than I can manage once on most days, even days that I’m not feeling great. They are based on ones I was given by the physio, but are pretty generic. I do neck stretches, side to side and up and down. I hold each arm behind my head and then in front of me, like a warm up exercise. I put my hands on my hips and then lean back ten times, which helps reverse the effects of slouching on the back. I also slowly bend all the way down (as though trying to touch my toes… which I can’t!) and hang there for a bit, to really stretch out my back, arms and neck. Come back up from this slowly otherwise you can get dizzy!
4) If you’re able to get out of bed for a brief period of time, but aren’t up to too much moving about, this one is for you. A lot of things from yoga can be perfectly adapted to be less strenuous. One particular move is called Child’s Pose, and is great for stretching the hips, back and legs but in a very gentle way. It doesn’t stress the body but helps relax the muscles whilst carefully stretching. It can be made deeper if you choose to sink lower into the pose, but this isn’t necessary to benefit from it.
You simply kneel on the floor, place your forearms on the floor and scooch them out further away from you, until your head is resting on the floor and you’re sitting on your heels. The further out you move your arms, the closer to the ground the rest of your upper body, and the deeper the stretch. You may find you can’t move your arms out far to start with – this is fine! You should be able to move further in time, when your tight muscles have been stretched out! This is an extremely relaxing pose, and is a great one for if you just need a few moments to yourself, to relax and feel calm. (It was hard to describe how to do it, but a quick google will show you how!)
5) If you are mostly or fully bedbound, or confined to a wheelchair, I understand any form of activity or movement can be difficult. If you feel able, or are approved by your medical team, there are some small changes you can make to help retain muscle tone. When bedbound, it’s really difficult to keep your muscle tone, as you are rarely taking your own body’s weight or moving the muscles. Loss of muscle tone can in turn lead to it being even more difficult to move around if/when you are able to get up, as your body becomes deconditioned.
There are exercises you can do in bed, even whilst lying down. These are the sort of thing they often do in hospitals to prevent bedsores and deconditioning of their patients. Some examples are raising your leg into the air, as far as you comfortably can. Hold it in place if you are able, if not, place your leg back down and then repeat. You may only be able to do a couple of repetitions to start with – that’s fine. Think of it this way – it’s a couple more than you were doing! Progress has to start small and build up. There are plenty of useful exercises online, or on YouTube. Have a look and find something that you are happy to follow!
I hope you enjoyed this post and found it helpful. My goal was that every spoonie could find something they could do to stay that little bit more active. Now I’m a spoonie – I know that some days you’ll be happy if you’ve managed to wash your face! But on those slightly better days, why not take a step towards helping your body stay a bit more strong and supple. Not to mention how positive it is for the mind, to feel like you’re in control and doing something to help manage your illness!
If you currently do exercise with chronic illness (yep, even just stretches count!), let me know what you do and how it helps you, in the comments! If you were inspired to start doing something new after reading this post, then I would love to hear about it! Leave me a comment, or find me on social media (all linked at the side)!
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