The look on my face showed the pain. Just taking the three steps into the therapy pool hurt my knees. The instructor asked, “What part of your body hurts?” I said all of it!
The gym I just joined had an aqua class called Gentle Joints held in a 90-degree therapy pool. Some people in the class were recovering from knee or hip replacement surgery. Not me. The autoimmune disease scleroderma had caused all my joints to hurt and stiffen. But, in the water, I could move pain-free, and finally, I felt like my old self. So, that feeling kept me going, and I want the same for you.
How exercise can give you a purpose and control
For many suffering from an autoimmune disease or chronic disease, exercise or movement, in general, can be painful and difficult. Chronic disease plus inactivity due to illness increases fatigue and pain – a vicious cycle. In addition, the emotional and mental struggle of having a chronic condition, doctor visits, insurance companies, and everything else that comes with illness can be depressing and leave us with very little energy. You may find the things you used to love to do before diagnosis are no longer fun, you’re no longer able, and you don’t have the motivation.
When I was diagnosed with scleroderma, I became weak, and all my joints and muscles hurt. Walking was difficult, and my walk turned into a shuffle. Climbing stairs was almost impossible as my knees were stiff and painful. I feared becoming immobile and didn’t want to be stuck with frozen joints and stiff muscles, so I decided to exercise at a gym that was part of a hospital’s physical therapy center.
Exercising gave my life a purpose again. My purpose was to get better. Finally, I was doing something I could control and met some wonderful people along the way. The benefits of exercise began to work in my life and not on the scale.
The fantastic reason why you’ll never be the biggest loser
You may think that you won’t get any of the benefits of exercise unless you push your body and mind to the point of pain and exhaustion, as seen on The Biggest Loser. Or perhaps you’ve tried exercise but haven’t seen any immediate weight loss results on the scale or how your clothes fit. Seeing my results on the scale or how my pants fit was always some of the benefits of exercise I looked for from my workouts.
This image below was my motto. However, you could replace chocolate with any other type of junk food – fries, ice cream, cookies, chips, and the list goes on and on.
Any movement you can do, no matter how simple, will benefit you. Nobody is asking you to run a 5k or become a triathlete. Instead, move what you can in small increments, especially if you are starting to move.
Tracking your activity and inactivity
Do you sit too much? I know that I do. I love working at my computer and could sit for long periods before getting up. But, unfortunately, it’s not healthy for my body and not productive for my mind.
I used to believe my morning exercise of 30 minutes was enough to get my movement in for the day. However, my Fitbit tells me otherwise because it reminds me to get moving every hour if I haven’t tracked 250 steps within the hour. In addition, the “get moving” feature on my Fitbit helped me become aware of how much I actually sit throughout the day.
Have you thought about how much you sit or are inactive during your awake hours? Take some time and track what you do in a day and see how much you may be sitting, stiffening, and sedentary.
So, take those breaks to get up and walk or stretch while working, watching tv, or scrolling on social media. See ideas below on easy lifestyle movement ideas.
The Benefits of Exercise for your body and mind
Please keep in mind when I refer to exercise, it has very little to do with weight loss because the benefits of exercise go well beyond weight.
The best exercise for you is an activity that you enjoy doing and one that works for your schedule and your lifestyle. If you dread going to the gym or walking on the treadmill, you won’t do it for very long. If you feel isolated on your basement treadmill or experience pain, it won’t be easy to be consistent and make it part of your life. Picture yourself five years from now. Can you imagine doing this activity in five or ten years?
Change your mindset around exercise from something you dread doing to an activity that engages your body and mind and will help your overall health. Make it a priority and set aside time for it. Be flexible around the types of exercises you can do. Do you love gardening, walking, golf, stretching, or household activities? These activities are part of your lifestyle and count as exercise. Fit exercise into your daily life so you can easily get movement throughout the day.
The benefits of exercise from the inside out
The benefits of exercise affect all parts of your body, mind, and spirit, such as sleeping better, managing stress, and helping our brains function now and as we age. Here are some of the benefits of exercise and ways exercise will change you from the inside out:
- Improve your fitness level, range of motion, and strength
- Better emotional and mental health
- Alleviate your stress and anxiety
- Boost your mood and energy
- Enhance memory and cognitive function currently and in the future
- Lessen the severity of menopause symptoms
- Increase your self-confidence
- Improve the quality of your sleep
- Boost your metabolism, which may help with weight management
- Strengthen your heart
- Assist in strong blood flow for your arteries
- Develop strong muscles and bones
- Prevent and protect your body against disease
- Serve as a socialization avenue
- Connect with nature
*BEFORE BEGINNING ANY AEROBIC OR STRENGTH PROGRAM, PLEASE CONSULT WITH YOUR PHYSICIAN
Start where you are
If you are starting, I recommend you do what you can to move your body. Start small and take your time. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Start by increasing your daily physical activity, which are physical activities you do or enjoy daily as a regular part of everyday life. Daily lifestyle activities include walking the dog, cleaning the house, or gardening.
Try to be active, and become aware of those things you already do actively daily. Then, as you fine-tune your activity during the day, gradually begin to increase your activity.
If you already incorporate movement into your life, take some time to research and do a wide variety of activities. Then, incorporate different forms of exercise into your daily life. Diversity of movements is essential for good health. These include walking, stretching, cleaning, gardening, biking, aerobics, Zumba, swimming, Pilates, strength training, and running
Tips for setting your expectations and consistency
One day at the gym, a woman a few years younger than me asked me to take a “before” picture of her. She had recently joined the gym and wanted to get a picture of herself before the expected transformation. I gladly took her picture and went on my way.
I noticed her around the gym, pushing herself hard on the elliptical machine and using all the strength machines. Unfortunately, I saw her for about a week and never saw her again.
There are a few lessons you and I both can learn from this hopeful lady.
- Exercise won’t change your body like a photoshopped before and after picture unless you consistently work at it with diet, hydration, mindset, and exercise over a long period.
- Weight loss and changes in your appearance don’t happen in the gym but in the kitchen.
- Exercise to the point of pain and exhaustion will feel awful, so don’t go to the gym and kill yourself working out so hard you will be defeated and never return.
The benefits of exercise and setting goals
Make specific, realistic, and attainable goals and choices for movement. When you make smart or SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant/Realistic, and Time-bound) goals, you are more likely to achieve them, feel good about yourself and continue working to achieve them. Here are a few examples of specific, realistic, and attainable goals.
- I will walk for 15 minutes four days a week.
- I will try one new exercise class this week and permit myself to leave if it is too hard.
- I will not look at exercise for weight loss but for a healthy body, mind, and soul.
- I will walk outside for 10 minutes during my lunch break.
You can Go gym-less
I mentioned a lot about going to the gym because that was my experience pre-pandemic. Of course, the gym closed during the pandemic, and I had to devise a new action plan for my movement. Figuring out what to do at home was very difficult for me. I went through about a year of mourning the loss of my gym friends and the motivation that I got from instructors. After a year, I found two fitness instructors on YouTube who reinvigorated my will to move and have fun.
You, too, can go gym-free. Here are some ideas and resources for exercising at home.
- Walk around your home to music or podcasts or quiet time. If you have a fitness tracker, set a goal to move 250 to 500 steps per hour.
- Take a dance break, and dance or sing like no one is watching.
- Perform household chores with the goal of 10-20 minutes of cleaning up the kitchen, laundry, or vacuuming.
- Get the blood flowing during commercial breaks and go up and down the stairs (if you have them) three times a day.
- Play with your children, dog, or cat.
- Talk and walk while on the phone.
Awareness and action will give you control and a purpose in feeling better. The benefits of exercise affect all parts of your body, mind, and spirit, such as sleeping better, managing stress, and helping our brains function now and as we age. Any movement you can do, no matter how simple, will benefit you. Let the benefits of exercise work for you by giving you purpose and control again.