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Everyone has limitations and roadblocks for exercising, but they can loom large when you’re struggling with a chronic illness. Don’t throw in the towel, though…. You’re going to need it after you conquer your exercise goals!
A smart first step for anyone, but especially those with physical challenges, is to talk with your doctor to determine the activities and intensity level you can handle.
Got the green light? Now what? First, start small! If you haven’t been very active, choose gentle exercises. Walking for a few minutes, “circling” your joints while you’re on the couch or in bed, or doing a few minutes of yoga every day are all good ways to improve blood flow and get more movement into your daily routine. Swimming and Tai chi are other low-impact options that will improve your overall health.
Even when you’re starting small, it’s important to listen to your body. Chuck that “no pain, no gain” mentality out the window! Trust your instincts so that you don’t push yourself too far. However, it’s easy to let legitimate caution turn into laziness and fear. Don’t let yourself skate by with half-hearted effort!
Focus on what you CAN do. Focus on what you accomplished! Be proud of yourself. Don’t worry about what you can’t do or what other people are doing. Don’t worry about making your workout perfect. Wanted to do 10 minutes but only made it through 5? That’s okay! Something is better than nothing. Challenge yourself to stick with it, and use yourself as your own competition. Remember, it also doesn’t have to involve equipment or a professional workout routine to count as “real” exercise, although those things can be helpful. Playing with your kids, walking around the block, or using a two-liter of soda as a weight for a living room workout all count!!
“Accept that perfect is never coming. You will never be perfect. Your life will never be perfect.” —What You Can When You Can: Healthy Living on Your Terms
Do you need an accountability buddy? Sticking with exercise can be difficult for anyone, and it’s often even more challenging for those with a chronic illness. Make your commitment known to someone, and ask them to help you stay accountable. This can be a trainer, a workout buddy, a loved one, or even a stranger in an online forum. You might also enjoy and benefit from keeping a journal of your workouts—length, reps, how many pounds your weights are, etcetera. If you feel like you’re not making much progress, just wait till you flip back in your logs to see how far you’ve come and how long you’ve stuck with it!
Lastly, choose activities you enjoy. You’re not going to stick with it if you hate it. For me, this has different aspects. There are some exercises that I don’t really enjoy while I’m doing it, but I love the sense of accomplishment when I’m done. Some exercises are enjoyable for me while I’m doing them and after! I appreciate both, and I challenge myself by not always selecting the ones that are fully enjoyable. Also, rotate your activities, even ones that you love, so that you don’t get bored or burned out.
Regular movement of your body can benefit you in so many ways—stronger muscles (including your heart), better levels for things like blood sugar and cholesterol, reduced arthritis and fibromyalgia pain, and improved emotional health. In a University of California-Davis School of Medicine study, researchers even discovered that people with better mental health felt less pain while people with worse mental health felt more pain. Wow! Our mind-body connection benefits from the body’s natural feel-good chemicals produced by exercise, like serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters positively impact memory, mood, and sleep. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to improve those!
So, what can you do today to get moving?
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