My experience of exercising with a chronic health condition

Tonight I was at the gym and found starburst wrappers on the treadmill. Someone’s clearly having more fun while working out than me. 

I might not exactly be Kayla Itsines but for the past 9 weeks I’ve been doing something that’s made a massive difference to my health and wellbeing, especially mentally. Er yeah, you probably guessed it if you read the title- exercise. But not just random, sporadic sessions or meaningless 20 minute bursts on any free piece of gym equipment, I’ve had an actual routine. 

Exercising when you feel constantly unwell is not a high priority, I know, I’ve been there. I’ve also been in situations where doing anything physical ( like walking 15 steps) would have been impossible, so I understand the severe end of the spectrum as much as the mild. There are tons of chronic illnesses that stop sufferers being able to exercise, from chrones, to endometriosis or joint related problems like mine- the list is endless. What I’ve been conscious of ever since being diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos, is how much I need to get fit but how much it could end up making everything worse. It’s a catch 22. I was told to get fit and strong or end up immobile, yet my body is fragile and my joints dislocate and my body doesn’t function right. There’s a very careful balance to strike. 

The idea of going to an exercise class after a day of bad pains would make past me feel horrified, and it sometimes still does. Putting up with sharp, dagger pains in fingers, legs, feet, ankles, jaw and basically any body part you can name leaves you ready for bed and painkillers, not spinning. What I’m slowly learning though, is that when you know how to judge your body, you can do the right amount of exercise without leaving yourself bedridden and weeping with regret. It is possible- and I realise not for everyone, believe me I feel your pain. I dread the next time I’m under a duvet covered in deep heat unable to lay or sit comfortably or lift my phone up without feeling like I’m being beaten by various blunt objects.

My determination to keep a run of good days, and now good weeks, has also made me extra careful to not push myself and get cocky. I need to remember I am not Britney (have you seen her abs lately though?). By dipping my toes in gently and not being scared to sit out or modify moves in front of a class full of people, I’ve given my chronically unwell body a whole new spring in its step. 

I’m currently doing spinning, circuit training, HIIT and a core class every week, plus some some gentle running. It’s a lot and more than really ill me a few years ago would have dreamed possible. This amount of exercise won’t always be possible, and I no doubt will still have weeks where I can’t walk downstairs properly let alone do box jumps and planks. The point is, I’ve tried out various things, taken advice from trained professionals and put together a routine that ‘having a good spell’ me can do. I don’t do everything exactly as instructed in circuits because my fragile shoulders would probably pack their bags and leave me, but getting over the fear of asking for help and not needing to be on the level of total strangers at the gym has meant I can do a Lauren circuit session. 

On days I exercise with pain, I take everything down a few notches. Less reps, less sweat, less effort. Showing up and just raising my heart rate is better than doing nothing at all. I also try to make sure I have what I need after- a bath, hot water bottle, deep heat and time for a long sleep. And I’ve bailed out on days where exhaustion leaves me napping accidentally in toilets or with blurred vision and brain fog. 

I want a nice body. I want to be fit. I want to feel physically good and I want to treat my body right- even if it does give me a bloody hard time. I don’t want my health to stop me. It will. I know that at times it will undoubtedly floor me and make me feel more engine failure than fitness fanatic, but by gaining the confidence to give things a go and setting some limits, I know I’ll bounce back and want to feel the way I do now- which is pretty bloody good and on track to serious confidence. 

2 thoughts on “My experience of exercising with a chronic health condition

  1. I found this really interesting to read especially as one of my best friends has been recently diagnosed with a chronic respiratory condition and is now trying to improve her fitness as a road to managing her condition. But I think even people without chronic illnesses could learn something from this – sometimes we do just need to listen to our bodies and not force ourselves to adhere to strict routines. Exercise should be an improvement not a destruction of our bodies and minds xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua | Food, Travel, Italy


    • It is true, I used to hate the thought of going to the gym or going swimming and drag myself to do it, but when you do it on your own terms and it’s comfortable it makes such a difference. I hope your friend finds it useful! xx


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