It is truly monumental for a person with chronic illness and pain to move their bodies. The pain and exhaustion from the simple thought of moving our bodies can be daunting. Traditional exercise is not realistic. We covered a few ideas to “exercise” by getting the brain moving when you cannot get the body moving in Part 1. Now let’s look at how to “exercise” when you are able to take a few steps.
There is always a way to move through any current situation. Not saying it is easy but I am saying it is worth every effort. If you are able to get up out of bed and you are not in a wheelchair you have many options. Here are a few.
- Alarm Strategy: Set an alarm for every hour on the hour. Setting the alarm and placing it out of arms reach will force you to get up and turn it off. In the very least, look up from your computer/phone/TV when your alarm goes off. If you can get up and walk around that is ideal. Take a look outside a window or actually open a door and stand in the doorway for fresh air. Walk to the bathroom. Walk to the kitchen for a glass of water or a healthy snack. Go find your pet and say hello. Do something, anything that is rewarding to you for getting up from the sitting or laying position, every single hour. You will not feel like it and you will at first be bothered by the alarm, but trust me, you will have less aches and pains if you can move just a little once an hour. Make a commitment to this alarm strategy in a manner that suits you. An example would be 3 hours (3 times a day) during your most alert hours so you see success. Be thrilled with success and don’t fret about the other hours. When you are ready, increase the times per day you do this.
- Stretching: Whether you are in bed or sitting in a chair or on a sofa you can stretch something on your body every time you think about it. Stretch your eyeballs by looking up to the ceiling, outside through a window and then left and right and you are done, success. Neck movement can be done by slowly turning your head as far as it will go to the left and to the right and then slowly moving your chin to your chest. Stretching your arms simply by lifting them as high as you can provides benefits. Add a circular motion to your wrists in both directions. Squeeze and flex your fingers several times to loosen them. Same with your legs; lift them, stretch them as far to the left and the right that you can, hold them straight out without any support. Wiggle your feet and your toes any time you have the thought. Add a circular motion to your ankles in both directions. Twist your midsection as far to the left and right as you can. Simply readjusting your body position while sitting or laying is great success if you are not already doing that on a regular basis.
- Muscle Contraction: If you are sitting or laying and your whole body aches, try muscle contraction. Let’s say your hand hurts, slowly make a fist then release. If your neck hurts, slowly shrug your shoulders together then release. Most of us do not have a live-in massage therapist to help us with the ongoing discomfort and pain. Muscle contraction provides some relief and you are capable of doing it to some degree.
- Breathing: Breathing is influenced by our thoughts. The more we hurt the more we tend not to breath deeply. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Breathe through your nose. Fill up your lungs, hold it, slowly release it. Try to get past your chest and down further down into your diaphram. You want to see your stomach move, not so much your chest. The Internet has many instructions on breathing exercises. Here, I am simply trying to remind you because it usually is forgotten during the daily struggles. You can release a lot of stress from your body and emotions by breathing deeply. It is easier to muster up a smile after a deep breath, seriously. Try it.
“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” ~Sanskrit proverb
- House Walking: There is tremendous value in walking but when we are ill and hurt so badly the value does not really seem to matter. Figure out what is realistic for you, your health, your safety and your sanity. If you can only get out of bed and walk around to the other side of your bed, DO IT. If you can walk all the way to the kitchen, DO IT. If you can walk to a door, do it and enjoy the fresh air. Getting out of the bed, chair or sofa and moving to a different room of the house can be uplifting just because it is movement and change of scenery. Make a special space in every room of the house where you can sit and rest and have something to do that you enjoy. Examples would be a favorite seat in every room; living room has the TV, kitchen table has your favorite music player and the bedroom has a pile of books to read, bathroom has candles next to the tub. A pair of reading glasses at each location is helpful so you don’t have to locate them each time. This helps you from getting stuck in one location for the whole day. Take the drudgery out of the task and find ways to make it rewarding for getting up and moving through the pain.
- Outside Walking: When we can take long walks that is ideal but during severe chronic illness and pain that is not usually realistic. You know what you are capable of, empower yourself to do it. Notch up your patriotism and start your own Flag Days; any day you are up to it, go out and put up the flag and take it down that same night. Flag Days might be a good indicator for a neighbor that you are open for some much-needed company. Try simply walking to an outside chair and sit down and take in the fresh air and scenery. Walk to your mailbox and back and call it a major accomplishment. On good days, walk around the outside of your house once. If you get a surge of energy, walk around the whole block and then be done with it. Setting unrealistic goals of long walks will just end in frustration. Even setting goals of doing more each day is unrealistic in this situation – some days and weeks will be better than others and it is very unpredictable in this state. Make wise choices at the moment based on what you think your body can do, and then do it, cautiously.
Every bit of movement you can do is valuable for your health. I know it is hard. I know that when you are in bed in pain that the last thing you want to do is move. If I had not gone through it myself I would not feel worthy of reminding you. This is so important that you move anything you can, as often as you can, that it is worth repeating, MOVE. There were some days that moving my eyelids hurt but once I realized the benefits, you better believed I moved those eyelids. Find great success in what you accomplish. It all benefits a bigger picture, your health.
One last consideration: perception of exercise. Whether you are the person trying to get an ill person to “exercise” or you are the one who knows it is impossible to “exercise” please remember the other person’s perspective. For those who have never had severe chronic illness and pain, there is no possible way for you to understand how hard it is to move. Accepting that you cannot understand shows great compassion. If you are the ill person it is helpful to accept that others who have not been through this cannot understand and you most likely will never convince them. There is great frustration on both sides during this difficult time. Those of us who have suffered from chronic illness and pain know that we are not exaggerating when we say we cannot do any better. We also know that we would never wish this on anyone who loves us enough to try to get us to move more. When an ill person is offered help with balance and company while”exercising,” set your pride aside and accept the help, you need it. Each side of this is right and each side of this has an opportunity to show kindness towards the other. You will get many opportunities to practice kindness as you walk through this health journey. Have patience with each other.
Share your success stories in how you found ways to move when it seemed impossible.
Maribeth Baxter, MBEC
Donations accepted to serve others on their chronic illness journey. Maribeth Baxter, MBEC provides voluntary certified health coaching services to the financially limited during their time of crisis.
HEALTH COACH DISCLAIMER Health/Wellness coaching is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. It is not intended to substitute for the advice, treatment and/or diagnosis of a qualified licensed professional. Trained Health Coaches may not make any medical diagnoses, claims and/or substitute for your personal physician’s care. As your health/wellness coach I do not provide a second opinion or in any way attempt to alter the treatment plans or therapeutic goals/recommendations of your personal physician. It is my role to partner with you to provide ongoing support and accountability as you create an action plan to meet and maintain your health goals.