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Keep Moving — Chronic Illness and Exercise

By Matthew Accardi, MS - This article originally published on Get Healthy Stay Healthy.

With your doctor's approval, it's important to stay active and keep moving. If you have a chronic illness, it may be even more important to stretch and move, and to safely increase your heart rate on a routine basis. Benefits may include:

  • Weight control
  • Reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome or help reducing symptoms for those conditions
  • Bone and muscle strengthening
  • Improvement in mental health and mood
  • Prevention of falls and stiffening of muscle
  • Preservation of your lifestyle

Though exercise cannot cure your condition, it can go a long way toward helping to improve your quality of life. In most situations, the benefits far outweigh the risks of getting hurt while moving and stretching – your physician will be able to help in determining this. A safe level of activity will depend on your health, the stage of your illness or disease, and your abilities. Even if you feel you are limited, a small amount is most likely better than no exercise at all.

Where to Begin

Ready to get moving as best you can? Your doctor is always the first person you need to consult when thinking about starting a new routine. Find out how you can start in a safe way that will help you stick to your plan now and in the future. Ask questions and write down the answers:

  • How can exercise improve my chronic condition?
  • What exercises are safe for me?
  • How often and how much should I exercise?
  • At what level of intensity should I exercise?
  • What goals are realistic for me to set?
  • Should I take any special steps to get started?
  • What else do I need to know?
  • Are there any exercises I shouldn't be doing?
  • Is there a trainer or professional you can recommend to help me get active? Is there someone who knows about my particular chronic illness?

Use the answers to these questions to tailor activity that meets your needs and fits your ability. For instance, if you have joint issues, you may need to choose a low-impact activity, like walking or swimming. Or if you have asthma, you may want to do short-bursts of exercise, resting in between. These are exactly the kind of ways your doctor can help you find the right activities for you.

Tips to Keep you Going

It can sometimes be hard to get going and harder still to stick to an exercise plan. Here are some things that may help:

  • Start slow: Pick one goal at a time. Once achieved, expand your goal.
  • Set a realistic goal: Some yard work over the weekend, or a little housework that is manageable, may be the perfect thing to get you moving. For those who are severely ill, the goal may be to improve flexibility in order to begin managing some activities of daily living.
  • Find your motivation: Are you getting active to improve your mood, keep up with your toddler, or improve your quality-of-life? Whatever it is, write it down, and use it to keep you motivated
  • Get an exercise buddy: Taking a walk around the block with a neighbor may help sustain your activity. Meeting some friends for a yoga class may help make sure you go.
  • Frequency over duration: You don't have to move around for a long time, but do try to move around a little each day. Build the activity into your day. For instance, use the stairs as often as possible, sweep the floor, or even stand up and sit down in a chair. If you're bed bound, do a leg lift or two if it's advisable by your doctor.
  • Find things you like to do and switch it up: Don't let yourself get bored. If you always walk around the block, try swimming for a few weeks instead. Or turn on some music and start dancing. It's great to add new activities that are fun.
  • Take advantage of resources: If you have access to gym at work or near home, or if you have any kind of wellness program available to you, use them. Support from outside sources can help keep you going.
  • Don't give up: Even if you fall out of the daily or weekly habit of exercise, get back into a routine as soon as you can. You can always start anew by making exercise part of your day.

Get Moving

Having a chronic illness might sound like a good reason for avoiding routine activity. However, if your doctor approves, you may be able to find some way to exercise, even if it means stretching in bed or going for a walk. Routine moving, stretching and strengthening can help you obtain a better quality of life, improve your general wellbeing, and even lift your mood. Sound good? Speak with your doctor today about what kind of activities are right for you.

Matthew Accardi, MS was a fitness expert at Pfizer's Health and Fitness Center.