How to Get Exercise When Everything Hurts

This is a big question for all Chronic Pain Warriors, and not one easily answered. The medical community stresses that ‘light’ exercise is good for autoimmune diseases, and chronic pain, but most members of the medical community aren’t suffering (sorry, fighting) chronic pain themselves. It’s easy to say, get some more exercise, even if I say it to myself. It’s harder to do when, often, just walking or being on my feet all day causes my joints to hurt. So how do we balance this? There has to be a way. It’s not just GPs and rheumatologists saying exercise more either; it’s physiotherapists, naturopaths, and chiropractors too.

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First off, do what feels comfortable and make sure it’s something you enjoy. Personally, my favourite cardio activities are walking and hiking. I have a small dog, who requires walks, and though, occasionally I’m a bad dog mom and can’t get him out for a decent walk every day, I usually try 20-30 minutes around the neighbourhood with him. That, or on my days off from work, we go for a hike together. There are some great trails near  my place that are not too long. Basically, we get to hike while staying in the city. My pace (or should I say our pace, though when we hike he’s off leash and can run ahead) depends on how I’m feeling that day. If my pain is low, I tend to move a little quicker and go for a bit longer, keeping in mind that I don’t want to wear myself out. If I’m having a bit of a tougher day as far as pain goes, I slow down, and go as far as I can, even if it’s not as far as normal. For those of you who prefer running, bicycling, or other high cardio sports, I would suggest the same approach. I also read an article recently on “mindful running” in Mindful magazine. Sometimes, I do the “mindful walking,” which is great. One of the heads of the mindful running movement apparently has an autoimmune disease and runs marathons. Just proof we can do it.

FullSizeRenderSpike and I on a hike.

The type of exercise recommended to me by every health care professional is yoga. And not just any yoga (in fact, they warn against hot yoga specifically). Lighter, more gentler yoga like yin, is typically what is suggested. It’s about slower movement, and stretching. Each pose is held for roughly two to five minutes, and are fairly easy to do. Most yoga studios offer yin yoga classes, or if you’re like me and don’t have the extra cash to spend on going to the gym or yoga studio, buy a yoga mat and YouTube some classes. I found a bunch of good ones. Yin yoga is something I just started to get into but I enjoy it because it falls into the whole “mindfulness” realm and my body feels good afterwards. The only problem with doing it at home, is that my dog thinks that it’s play time because I’m on the floor with him. If only I could teach him to do yoga with me…

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But what about strength training? We’ve covered cardio and stretching, but how can we make our muscles stronger? Especially for those of us, who in addition to joint pain, deal with frequent muscle pain. Some of the exercises my physiotherapist has given me are for strength and can be done at home on a yoga mat, two to three time per day. I just started seeing a chiropractor, who also happens to be a certified personal trainer. On my next visit his focus is going to be on giving me strength training exercises that I can do at home on my yoga mat. The best bet for finding out what kind of strength training is best for you is to see a physiotherapist or a chiropractor and get their suggestions. It will vary a bit for everyone, and they should be able to find exercises that will help you with your specific needs.

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I’m not an expert. I’m still learning and growing as I deal with my illness, and as with every post I write, if you have any suggestions, or thing you’d like to add or comment on, please leave comment on the article or send my a direct message via email.

**There are varying degrees to chronic pain. Always make sure to consult with your health care professionals before starting a new exercise regime.