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Fit4Lyfe

Lyfestories: Incorporating Exercise Your Life with an Invisible Illness

Hi, I’m Zoe and I am actively autoimmune!

When I was diagnosed with lupus, I felt like I had lost control of my health and body. As a physiotherapist, I have always believed that movement is key and began to use exercise as a way to take back some control. Whatever the illness, injury or challenge, I believe exercise will support our health and recovery.

In saying that, I know how difficult it can be to motivate yourself to be active. Pain and fatigue, alongside juggling work, family or school plus hospital appointments and medication regimes; exercise can just seem unachievable. Health can fluctuate on a daily basis preventing consistency and progress. Here are my top 5 tips into how I incorporate exercise into my life with a chronic illness:

  1. Be kind to yourself!

Sounds simple, but I find adopting the right mentality about why I am exercising, helps to motivate me. A lot of social media is aimed at fit and healthy people, striving for excellence. With chronic illness, we are striving for different goals.

You are not exercising to punish your body. You are not a bad person if you miss a workout. And you should not feel guilty if you cannot keep up with what others either on social media or in the gym are doing. Find what feels good for you and be kind to yourself.

2. Set realistic goals

Find a balance between something realistic but challenging, and something you care about or enjoy doing. Our bodies cope with enough medically, so we don’t want to add to the stress it goes through!

I find comparing where I am and what I want to achieve is very different to the average #goals on Instagram. Realistically running 5k and doing 50 burpees are not possible at the moment. But to aim to get on my mat 5 times a week, whether for a gentle workout, stretch or yoga is attainable and helps motivate me.

3. Be flexible

“Be stubborn with your goals, but flexible how you get there”

Health is unpredictable (the number of days I wake up with my list to do and due to how I feel, I achieve zero of them). Add in spontaneous hospital trips and appointments and it can feel disheartening not achieving what you set out to do that day. I try to use these moments to mix up my routines, walk instead of run, stretch instead of workout or on really bad flare days, simply sitting and doing some breathing exercises. Frustrating as it can be, it is about listening to what your body needs.

4. Learn when to rest and when to progress

Lots of my clients used to ask me:

“If I feel unwell should I still exercise?”
“Do I stop if I have pain?”
“Should I keep pushing past fatigue?”

For those of us with invisible illness, if we listened to our bodies every time they were unwell, in pain, or fatigued we would never exercise. That being said, we can be too brave and push past symptoms we should pay attention to. It is a really difficult balance and often ever changing due to drug changes and disease activity.

The best way to find out your limits is to test them! I started very lightly and monitored how I feel during, immediately after and the next day. A gradual increase in activity is a lot wiser than getting stuck in a pattern of over exerting yourself and then needing days to recover.

5. How to push through

Everyone has bad days, either physically with raging symptoms, or mentally due to a lack of motivation or simply fed up. It is absolutely okay to have these days off! However, it is often on these days when I am feeling rubbish, getting on my yoga mat can have the biggest positive effect.

Sometimes it is the thought of exercising that can seem overwhelming more so than the workout itself. The process of getting in my activewear and getting out my mat can sometimes seem a big a task as washing my hair aka. huge. One method I use is to break down the task so it seems more manageable. I give myself a target of 5 minutes. If after 5 minutes, my symptoms are still horrible or worse, then I stop but more often than not, I carry on.

I hope a few of my tips helped, for more guidance or if you have any questions please reach out to me on @activelyautoimmune or on www.activelyautoimmune.com

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