Why Low-Impact Exercise is one of the Keys to Living Well with Autoimmune Disease
We’ve all been told a million times before that exercise is a necessity for optimal health. And it’s true, regular exercise decreases the risk cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and even some cancers, according to The Paleo Mom, and doctors everywhere. But what happens to those of us that are battling so much inflammation that moving becomes painful, to the point our joints begin losing mobility? Or those suffering from chronic fatigue, where getting to and from work is all the energy they can manage. When dealing with these types of symptoms, you may also be facing a sluggish thyroid (hypothyroidism) resulting in increased unexplained weight gain from low metabolism. Does any of this sound familiar? It did for me too, for my entire adult life, making exercise feel impossible, painful, and debilitating at times. Until I learned something that was life-changing, not only for my recovery, but for my ability to manage autoimmune flare-ups the rest of my life: Low-Impact Exercise is one of the Keys to Living Well with Autoimmune Disease!
For years, I always believed that in order for exercise to be legit, and actually benefit my body, it should be some sort of intense cardio and result in a bright red face and a body dripping from sweat. I tried to keep up with this picture for many years. I yearned to feel that “runners high” that everyone talked about. Or the energy boosts my friends got from exercise. But for me, I realize now, that my body doesn’t work like that. My body physically breaks down, and it takes me days to recover from a hard-core workout like that. While others leave the gym feeling like they can conquer the world, I’d leave and go home to take a 3-hour nap.
So, what changed? My mindset around what exercise should look like!
Changing exercise routines to encompass low-impact exercise, rather than intense cardio, changed how my body reacted, helped reduce my inflammation, increased my flexibility and mobility, AND increased my energy and stamina!!
You may need to adjust your exercise routine if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Chronic fatigue
- Need for naps or serious rest after workouts
- Inability to complete workouts
- An unexplained increase in weight gain
- Loss of motivation or enthusiasm
- Easily Irritable
- Unbearable PMS symptoms
- Digestive distress or leaky gut symptoms
- Decline in physical performance
If you want to explore finding relief from these symptoms, and find an exercise routine that works for your body, here are the first steps to take:
- No Intense Cardio or High Impact exercise for 30-days
That’s right. I’m giving you permission to give your body some grace, and take a break from you think you should be doing. Now some of you might not be doing any sort of exercise because of the symptoms I mentioned above, and that’s ok. These steps are going to help you through that. Examples of intense cardio or high impact exercises include running, jogging, Zumba, kick-boxing, cross-fit (gasp!), cycling and weight-lifting. I know, cross-fit is all the rage right now, and I’m a huge fan, but not now when you’re trying to nurse your body back to health. You’ll be able to go back there someday, if that’s your exercise of choice, I promise! (Both weight-lifting and cycling are technically considered low-impact, but for this purpose, I include them here because my experience is that they require a recovery time similar to high-impact exercises.)
- Give Yourself Grace
I mentioned this above, but it’s important enough to have its own bullet point! Take some time to take a deep breath, and appreciate your body and all it is going through. This can be a difficult step, especially if you’re like me and have had a love hate relationship with your failing body. But that stops here. Give yourself grace and set an intention for healing for the next 30 days. Remember with grace comes patience. It’s taken our bodies a long time to get to this point, so relief may take time.
- Take a Walk
Carve out some time to walk every day. Start with 10 minutes, or 30 minutes, whatever works for you, and build up as the month carries on. I’m not talking about speed walking, either, unless that starts to feel like a natural progression for your abilities. Take the first step by going for a leisurely stroll with your kids or spouse, or take a ten-minute walk around the block while on a break at work. Remember your intension you set at the beginning, take a deep breath, and just walk. When we start to make taking a walk a priority, our bodies begin to crave the movement, and our stamina for longer walks quickly increases. As the month continues, feel free to pick up the pace, or not. Listen to your body and what it needs.
- Find Your Favorite Low-impact Exercises
After the first week of just walking, start experimenting with other types of low-impact exercise to find what you like, and what feels good to your body. My personal favorite is yoga. After one session I finally felt that feeling, that energy boost and ability to conquer my day, and quite possibility the world. It’s amazing how much flexibility and strength you can gain with regular practice. This study shows the same results for those with Rheumatoid Arthritis using yoga for both physical and mental health.Other forms of low-impact exercises include swimming, pilates, water aerobics or aqua Zumba, tai chi, hiking, or kayaking. Find an exercise that brings joy and positive energy into your life. And don’t forget to be proud of where you are today. Keep showing up, and who knows how far along you’ll be this time next year.
I hope you enjoy the process of finding an exercise routine that truly helps rejuvenate you. Even with low-impact exercise, soreness and joint pain may still be common at first. Be sure to drink plenty of water on a daily basis as proper hydration is another key to relieving joint pain and inflammation. Following an anti-inflammatory diet is also highly recommended.