Are you sick & tired of people saying?
“You should exercise”
We all know we should exercise – but it is not always that easy is it?
If you are living with relentless fatigue, unpredictable symptoms & chronic pain the thought of slipping into Lycra & running to the gym is well…
At best unpalatable, at worst the stuff of nightmares!
So you won’t like what I am about to say but…
Exercise really can work wonders – especially for people living with chronic pain.
OK, ok hear me out…
When we exercise our bodies produce endorphins & serotonin.
These marvellous little chemicals are the ‘feel good’ chemicals & even better – they are pain-relieving chemicals.
Artificial pain-relieving drugs, like opioids, mimic the behaviour of endorphins in the body to dampen the pain signals travelling to your brain.
In fact, studies have shown that endorphins, our bodies’ natural pain relieving chemicals are up to 60 times more powerful than artificial opioids, like morphine.
Exercise is also shown to improve our general health, boost our emotions & improve our mental well-being.
I could forgive you for thinking…
“Well that’s just dandy for you but I just can’t exercise”
But you can! We all can!
Exercise does not have to mean pumping iron at the gym or training for a marathon.
The definition of exercise is:
Activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.
So if walking up the stairs is a mammoth effort for you right now – IT COUNTS!
No amount of exercise is too small. Every little bit of movement & physical effort helps to improve your health.
Maybe you are wary of exercise because you have tried it – once, twice, many times.
But each time you ended up in more pain, with more fatigue & even additional injury.
You are not alone.
It is very common for people living with chronic pain to think they ‘should’ be able to do a particular activity (anything from housework or sitting at a desk to walking).
The ‘should’ mentality drives people to push themselves through the pain…
So yep, you guessed it, it results in a pain flare that means you have to lie low for days.
This is the Boom & Bust Cycle.
It is possible to escape the boom & bust cycle through ACTIVITY PACING.
Activity pacing is a scientific approach to increasing your activity levels.
If you would like more information on activity pacing & escaping the boom & bust cycle you might like to read our guide ‘3 Common Mistakes People with Chronic Pain Make’.
Once you are confident that you know how to apply activity pacing to your exercise…
What exercise should you try?
Your exercise should be appropriate to your personal circumstances, health, fitness & let’s face it interests.
So we walk you through 7 things everyone with chronic pain should know – how to start exercising again
1. Don’t Overlook Walking
Although often overlooked, walking is regarded as one of the best forms of exercise for people with chronic pain.
Walking is a form of low-impact aerobic exercise that has been proven to release endorphins & relieve pain. Walking also helps to control your weight, improves flexibility & strengthens core muscles.
When combined with gentle stretching you can maximise the benefits whilst minimising your risk of injury.
Walking is also free, easy & can be a great opportunity to socialise.
2. Get in the water
Getting in the water to exercise is a great option for people with chronic pain.
The water provides enough resistance to build muscle strength but is non-weight bearing.
Swimming provides a brilliant full body workout & is aerobic so good for your heart & lungs too.
If you are not much of a fish, there are plenty of water therapy exercises that can be modified to suit your own condition & abilities.
You might like to check out these exercises for in the pool.
3. Yoga is for Everone
No longer just for hippies or Hollywood stars like Madonna, Yoga is now widely accepted as one of the best forms of exercise – for everyone.
Yoga is proven to increase flexibility, strength, respiration & protect against injury through greater stability – so your body can hold your skeleton more effectively.
If the thought of putting your legs behind your head (or even sitting crossed legged on the floor!) fills you with dread – fear not.
Yoga poses can be modified to suit your own strength, flexibility, injuries & conditions.
For a gentle therapeutic yoga routine, which consists of stretching whilst sitting in a chair check out this routine designed for people with fibromyalgia.
Yoga is also great for relieving stress & promoting a greater sense of calm – ideal if the metal & emotional challenge of living with pain is getting a bit tough.
Anything that has stood the test of time & improved people’s health for 5000 years deserves to be checked out.
4. The Bed Work Out
Chronic pain usually comes hand in hand with limited mobility & low energy. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get the benefits of exercise though.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean swimming 20 laps or a 10 mile hike…just moving your body all goes some way towards improving your health, strength & easing your pain.
You can even do exercise in your bed!
Check out this great little routine specifically designed for people with chronic pain & fatigue.
5. Get Fit Gardening
Any daily activities that involve movement do count towards exercise – you don’t need to slog it out in the gym to feel the benefits.
A study published by Arthritis Research & Therapy found that even 30 mins of vacuuming or scrubbing helped people with fibromyalgia feel less pain & function better.
Gardening is an especially good option as it is great for getting you outside & serves as therapy for body & mind.
6. Have a Giggle
Studies have shown that after watching a funny film clip, people’s bodies reacted as though had just completed moderate exercise.
Laughter is also shown to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, boost your immune system & relieve pain!
Laughter really is the best medicine!
There is now even laughter wellness training & community laughter clubs….if you fancy having a laugh with other health seekers near you.
7. Virtual Activity
If the thought of undertaking any activity is too painful or exhausting for you at the minute, you could try virtual activity first…and that doesn’t mean a computer game!
You should imagine doing the activity in a smooth, gentle & safe manner. We use 30% of the necessary nervous system connections by thinking about an activity.
This is a way to recreate the action patterns in the brain without the unhelpful influence of pain & uncertainty.
When you imagine doing the activity try to make it as detailed as possible.
Imagine the sound of your feet on the floor, the smell of the grass outside and the feel of the ground under your feet.
Practice the virtual activity until you feel comfortable enough to start your exercise program.
The most important thing when it comes to exercise it stick with it!
Studies from the Mayo Clinic found that exercise can initially increase the pain of conditions like fibromyalgia – but only in the short term
Medium to long-term the benefits of exercise definitely outweigh any short-term discomfort & pain.
When you are living with chronic pain, unpredictable symptoms & low levels of energy – it is perfectly understandable that exercise is the last thing you want to do.
The benefits of exercise though are unquestionable.
Exercise can increase fitness, mobility, strength & improve your mental & emotional resilience…
It can even make you better looking (well kind of ;))
Most importantly for people living with chronic pain, exercise releases our bodies’ natural pain-relieving chemicals, endorphins.
There are a huge variety of exercises that are free, easy & can be moderated to suit any fitness level or health condition.
Just make sure you take a scientific approach & pace your activity levels to avoid falling into the boom & bust cycle.
Exercise is not just for those that sweat it out in the gym but each & every one of us to get moving & feel the benefits.