Chronic joint or muscle pain, extreme fatigue, difficulty sleeping, weakness, nausea, headache, depression – these are all symptoms you may experience if you are living with an autoimmune disorder.
Autoimmune disorders arise when the body’s immune system, which is meant to protect you from disease and infection, mistakenly attacks healthy cells as if they were invading virus or bacteria. There are more than 80 autoimmune disorders, including arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, Graves’ disease, lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome and multiple sclerosis. Some other illnesses that commonly affect women such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (though not classified as autoimmune diseases) have similar symptoms including fatigue and chronic pain.
Many people with an autoimmune disease go through periods of being symptom-free, and then have sudden onset of severe symptoms called flares. Often stress contributes to an oncoming period of flares. It’s understandable that when you’re not feeling well, you may – as many people do – avoid exercise as it’s difficult to find the motivation and energy to be active.
That being said, for many people with autoimmune disorders moderate, low-impact exercise and physical activity can be of great benefit to their quality of life. Keeping active is especially important when you have an autoimmune disorder for several reasons: exercise boosts physical energy; endorphin production is a natural painkiller; exercise can help reduce inflammation throughout the body; and exercise also helps combat the depression and anxiety that often accompany this type of illness.
Here are some tips for exercising when you have an autoimmune illness.
1. Go at your own pace, figure out what works for you. Not everyone’s experience of autoimmune disease symptoms is the same. Start slowly with your workouts and work your way up to more challenging ones. Some days will be harder than others, adjust your workout accordingly. If you miss a day because of a flare, don’t beat yourself up about it, just make sure you get back to the gym, Pilates, Tai Chi, swimming, yoga, walking or your favorite form of movement just as soon as you can.
2. Have good support systems. Talk to your health care providers about your plans to exercise and get their input. Make an appointment with a personal trainer or reputable Pilates teacher to have a fitness assessment. It’s your teacher’s job to create a workout plan that fits your ability and helps you fulfill your fitness goals. You may also find it fun and motivating to have a fitness-buddy other than you teacher, someone who you can attend group classes with, or even just meet at a designated time to do light cardio or do some Pilates exercises or moderate weights together.
3. Choose low-impact exercises. Low-impact activities are easier on your joints, back and knees. Consider exercises like walking on the treadmill, yoga, Pilates, light weight training, low-impact circuit training and swimming. Add in cardio and aerobics which fit your ability levels such as rowing, stationary bike or outdoor walking and cycling, step climbing, elliptical and dance.
4. Keep a journal of your daily activities, including when your exercise, the activities you did, and what you ate. If you find yourself overly exerted, you will probably see patterns start to emerge with when you have the most/ least amount of energy. Take these into consideration and adjust your routine accordingly.
5. Conserve your “spoons”. Imagine each day that you have only so many spoonfuls of energy to pour into your day and parse out your spoonfuls of energy carefully. If you have an active autoimmune disorder you only have so much energy to spend in one day, you need to budget your time and energy. Don’t over extend yourself or plan too many activities or appointments for one day. Prioritize self-care activities, like exercise and other things that are necessary or that make you feel good.
6. Give your body the fuel it needs to succeed – consider an anti-inflammatory diet. Many autoimmune disorders create inflammation in the body, which leads to muscle and joint pain, as well as fatigue. Consult with a nutritionist or a certified health coach to see if there are diet changes you can make to help you succeed with your fitness goals.
This article is mainly sourced from The Womens Fitness Clubs of Canada (WFCC) Blog of September, 2012. It offers some very sound advice! If you live in the Los Angeles area and would like to see me for a therapeutic Pilates evaluation, please go to http://www.vhPilates.com for more information. For help with your diet and nutritional lifestyle, please go to http://www.vhHealth.com.
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