I’ve shared a few times on social media that I’ve gone back to the gym since it reopened and my posts have been met with a lot of judgement. I’ve been tagged in articles about how unsafe gyms are and read plenty of “shocked” responses.
Prior to COVID-19, my posts about exercising were often met with negativity, with a sprinkling of encouragement. Other patients would respond that their bodies could “never be able to exercise” or that my disease must be very mild.
So, let me clear some things up: my Rheumatoid Arthritis is considered moderate-severe, I have a formal diagnosis of POTS, and have had Type 1 Diabetes for over 30 years. Asking how someone is able to do something is okay but questioning someone’s health just because you can’t/don’t do what they do, is not okay.
Exercise is medicine to me and it should be to you as well. Although I tried to exercise at home while gyms were closed, I couldn’t meet my target POTS heart rates during cardio and felt that my strength training really took a hit without access to gym equipment.
And just like medicine, we are all prescribed differently and our bodies all react differently. But, it is just as important as the pill you swallow or the infusion going into your vein.
As chronic illness patients, we need to stop thinking of the word “exercise” as something that only means running on a treadmill or doing pushups. If you start to think of exercise as simply moving your body, getting your blood flowing, and slowly strengthening your muscles (so they can give your joints much needed support), you might realize that it’s not as scary as you thought.
There are certain exercises I cannot do and that’s ok. I avoid free weights and only use strength training machines. My elbows are so weak that holding a barbell above my head doesn’t seem like the smartest idea. Push-ups aren’t for me- my elbows and wrists don’t stand a chance. Certain yoga poses that require my weight on my hands? Nope. But does that mean I don’t do yoga? Nope. I do what I can, in a way that I can.
Stretch Stretching is great because you can do it anywhere. Laying in bed? Point your toes down and stretch out your leg muscles. Gently turn your head and stretch your neck. Stand up and just stretch your arms out above your head or behind your back. Whatever feels good.
Have a physical therapy consult It’s even possible to have one done via telehealth (if your insurance company allows, that’s a whole other discussion). They can give you a home plan and show you how to safely do their prescribed exercises. And if you have pain or struggle with range of motion, they can help.
Walk Outside, inside, doesn’t matter. Just try to get up each hour (if you have an Apple Watch or Fitbit, stop ignoring those get up and move notifications like I do) and move around. If you feel up to it, go for a walk outside or if you’re like me and prefer the ability to start/stop as my body dictates, use the treadmill at the gym. Again, it’s personal.
Ask for help at the gym Seriously. The little photos and diagrams on the sides of strength machines are great, some even have a QR code you can scan to watch a video of how to use the machine. But they don’t always tell you how to properly position your seat. Or how many reps you should do and how much weight to use.
Gloves I’ve mentioned that my hands and wrists are jerks, so you will never find me at the gym without gloves. I like G-loves because not only do they come in so many awesome prints but they really help my hands. They might seem pricey (about $45/pair) but mine have lasted for years with daily workouts and weekly machine washings (No, you aren’t supposed to machine wash them. I use a lingerie bag and don’t dry them. Works for me but the risk is yours to take.).
Shoes I’m pretty sure you know that shoes might be needed for a lot of exercises but if possible have 2 pairs. For example, the shoes in my photo are Vans and they are extremely comfortable. I wear them for cardio (bike, treadmill, elliptical) and strength training. There are days where my feet ache before I even go to the gym, so I will usually wear my Nike shoes with heavier socks. I also prefer them for long walks outside.
Gym bag Having what will make you comfortable, close by, will ensure you get the workout you want, without having to stop unexpectedly. For me, having diabetes means I always have fruit snacks and a glucometer with me. I also have some Zofran for nausea and a Gatorade Zero. Throw your gloves and headphones in your bag and you’ll always have everything together. Lately, I have an extra mask too because sweaty masks are yuck.
Everything in this post is what I’ve learned on my own or from others sharing their stories. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What exercises do and don’t work for you? Any tips or tricks to managing your disease and incorporating exercise?