Mental Health  
 August 28, 2020

Exercising With Chronic Illness

Exercising is a little different for anyone living with a chronic illness. Some workouts trigger flare-ups in autoimmune conditions, while others cause discomfort or pain. Sticking to a regular routine is also difficult due to the many challenges brought about by one’s condition.

The goal of exercise is also a little different from most people’s. Studies have shown that physical activity aids in the management of chronic illness in many different ways. It reduces risk factors such as high blood pressure; it improves joint mobility; and it lowers the perception of pain, making it more bearable to live with. What that means is that improving quality of life through movement always comes first. Achieving a certain physique or becoming the strongest person in the room, then, are just secondary goals.

Adding to these unique considerations are today’s challenging times. With gyms closed and many people in quarantine, it’s important to remember to keep working out, as regular exercise can help in the prevention and management of chronic illness. Here are five tips that can help you get started:

1. Consult with professionals

Before trying out a workout, make sure to get the go signal from your specialist. Ask which exercises are good or bad for your condition and how much training you’re allowed to do.

Looking for a qualified trainer is the next step. While there are many free resources online, hiring a certified professional is ideal for people with specific needs. Graduates of exercise science degree programs have an in-depth knowledge when it comes to proper exercise prescription, which should be based on each individual’s unique needs. Training with a professional means your program will be customized around your condition instead of having to use cookie cutter routines that may not be applicable to you. Make sure to be open with your trainer about your specific requirements, so they can make adjustments along the way. And given that going to a gym right now is not safe, look for personal trainers who are giving online consultations as there are many. And if hiring a trainer is not possible, try working out with a partner — while practicing social distancing, of course.

2. Be prepared

By now, you are aware of what your condition needs as well as the different scenarios that might happen if you push too hard. That’s why you should always come to each workout prepared. Bring cover to avoid an asthma attack like a mask on your run, pack extra medicine into your bag, and have your emergency contacts on speed dial. Inform your family or housemates that you’re going out to exercise. You can even print out a route so they know where you’ll be.

3. Experiment with different workouts

Trying out different types of exercises is not only exciting, but it also gives you different options. There will be days that doing your usual routine will be difficult, so having backup exercises is a good idea. For instance, Pilates is a low-impact activity that can be a great alternative for when you can’t go for a run due to inflamed joints. It targets your core without putting too much pressure on your joints. Pilates studios are offering their classes online so you can get proper instruction from qualified teachers. There are a myriad of exercises waiting to be discovered by you online, so don’t be shy and keep trying them out!

4. Pair exercise with good habits

People who get hooked on exercise usually re-evaluate their other lifestyle habits, and you should, too! Take a holistic approach when it comes to improving your quality of life as these factors are all tied together.

For instance, anxiety is a common experience for people with Crohn’s disease. It’s easy to fall into a vicious cycle, as being anxious also causes flare-ups in the inflammatory bowel disease. A helpful solution to avoiding triggering those unhealthy cycles is to stick to good habits that naturally alleviate each of them. Exercise is a good place to start, but do also look at getting quality sleep, eating nutritious foods, and balancing your social life.

5. Be flexible

Being flexible doesn’t mean being a master at yoga. Instead, it means being ready to adapt to your circumstances. Skip a workout if you’re not feeling up to it. Or, find an alternative that won’t cause you any discomfort, like gentle yoga or meditation. It’s good to have certain goals, but you should also accept that your condition might sometimes get in the way of achieving them. Regardless of your situation, listen to your body and practice self-compassion at all times.