Exercise has important benefits (in life in general, but also in chronic illness). It can improve strength, balance, coordination, mobility, and endurance. It has been shown to improve fatigue associated with chronic illness. It can also help with depression and anxiety and pain management. It may even help to protect against dementia.
So whilst it is an important aspect of being “well” with chronic illness, it is easier said than done. I used to be quite fit and strong. I grew up doing ballet and kept dancing until my mid-20s. I then did a lot of gym and personal training, and then regular Pilates. However, I haven’t been near a combat class or reformer/Cadillac for at least 2 years. And there was a period of about 12 months where my exercise was incidental only.
Getting back into exercise after illness, or while you’re adjusting to your “new-normal” body is a slow and steady approach. Before I started my exercise reintroduction I had assessments with my physiotherapist and occupational therapist. I still see my physio and clinical Pilates instructor regularly.
Exercise does not have to be high intensity to be beneficial! Exercise such as Tai Chi, yoga and hydrotherapy have been trialled in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). If you’re just getting back into it, I would suggest going slow – you don’t need a strain injury on top of everything else! (and get advice if you can).
Intensity aside, you may also need to adjust the equipment you use. My balance is not what it used to be, so I need to take this into account (and go slow). I also struggle with my hands and gripping things.
So, some equipment I have found to be useful:
- Cans/bottles: instead of dumbbells. You don’t need to form a tight fist, and there are more surface area contact points for your hands. Don’t use glass – if you drop it, it will break.
- Soft weights: also instead of dumbbells. They tend to come in ball form. You can find them in 0.5 – 3kg weights. Again, you don’t need to from a tight grip, and there is more surface area in contact with your hands. They are soft, so if you drop them, they won’t hurt as much as dumbbells.
- The magic circle: this is used a lot in Pilates and there are a range of exercised you can do for upper and lower body – no weights or grip required!
- Resistance band loops: good for adding resistance to leg exercises without needing weights. Simple things like side to side steps with the loop around your ankles can certainly bring on the burn (the good exercise kind).
- The mat: I do a lot of mat exercises these days – it’s hard to fall over if you’re already on the floor.
- Walking! If you are going to be doing a lot of walking-type exercise, please check your feet regularly for wounds/pressure injuries. Consider having your shoes professionally fitted.
- Stationary machines, e.g. recumbent bike, elliptical, treadmill (be care careful getting on and off).