Exercise and Chronic Illness

Did you know that you can’t let your body overheat if you have multiple sclerosis? A traditional cardio session can actually set a person with MS back for months.

How about “no pain, no gain” being completely laughable to someone suffering from fibromyalgia? Their joints ache constantly and even simple movements hurt.

Have you considered how much it hurts when you move your arm after breast cancer surgery due to scar tissue ?

We all know someone with chronic illness or maybe you’re facing it yourself. Here are some ideas to get better or to support a loved one who’s trying to get better.

How to Add in Exercise When Living With Chronic Illness

Let go of what you used to do.
Maybe you were a star athlete in school … maybe you were a fearsome weekend warrior. Now you’re not and that’s okay. As I say so often in my Pilates studio, just start where you are. You’ve shown up and you’re trying and that’s the most important thing.

Embrace small improvements.
If you’re struggling and need to take baby steps in your recovery or management of a medical issue you still need to celebrate these achievements when they come. Maybe doing a pushup from your knees used to seem wimpy, but now if you can do a wall pushup congratulate yourself and build on that.

Know there will be setbacks.
You won’t have a good day every day. A planned workout might not happen or an attempted workout might have to be aborted. This is alright. What you’re really doing is listening to your body and realizing that it needs to back off. Don’t let it set back how far you’ve come.

Rest is crucial.
Burning the candle at both ends will have more serious consequences for you than it used to. Plan lots of rest into your lifestyle so setbacks are less likely to happen. Work with your loved ones and circle of support to make sure they understand that rest is just as important as fitness.

Food is crucial.
Work with your doctor or perhaps a nutritionist to have a meal plan that works best for you. This is NOT an area where you should take your best friend’s advice about Paleo this or ketosis that … You need good, solid medical information that relates to the specifics of what you’re facing.

Physical Therapy should be your first stop.
Even if it seems odd to ask for, get a physical therapy referral or even hire a PT for a session or two to help you recover quickly and well. These professionals can map out goals and training methods for your specific issues. They can also refer you to trainers outside the medical community who get it and can work with you safely as you continue to progress.

Supporting a Loved One with Chronic Illness

The “atta girls” and “atta boys” only go so far.
Recognize their successes, but don’t make a huge deal out of it unless the person appreciates this kind of support. For most it’s a point of personal pride and something to build on. A high five and a “good job” will usually be plenty.

Don’t send them a million links on how to improve.
First of all, they likely already have a mother or other loved one doing this for them. And they probably don’t appreciate it from that person. If you run across an interesting and unique point of research, by all means ask first before sending. They probably had at least five other emails sitting in their inbox already.

Let them be real with you.
There will be triumphant moments and declarations that truly show their grit. There will also be moments of frustration, fear, why me?, and total desperation. Let your loved one be real with you and just listen and hug as needed. They are venting and sharing emotions and it can be one of the most restorative things you can do for them.

Don’t contradict a doctor’s advice unless your opinion is specifically asked for.
Your ill friend or family member is working with a medical team that has oodles of test results and years of experience. Let the pros do their job and don’t force your healthy living tips on anyone. When it comes to diet, there are a million zealots crowing that their particular diet cured them of whatever disease they had. Just know the basics of lean proteins, lots of fruits and vegetables, and limited processed foods is at the heart of  all healthy diets; if they’re going in that direction, they are probably doing fine.

What would you add to this list?  What do you think is helpful for people facing a chronic illness? Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.