From September 2018 to January 2020, I said a polite "no, thank you" to all forms of formal exercise.
I stopped the CrossFit workouts I was previously doing up to six days a week.
I stopped running, lifting, and scheduling time for a workout each day.
I gave myself the full permission to do only what I wanted to do and for a solid year that meant nothing more than a restorative yoga pose (or two) and a walk around the farm with my dog.
After 12+ months, I can officially say: a year off from formal exercise was one of the best things I've ever done for myself or my health. (Yes, ever.)
I have one lonely page bookmarked in my copy of The Paleo Approach (by author Dr. Sarah Ballantyne). It's a yellow post-it-note placed strategically on a paragraph titled "It's All Connected". The words below this sticky note talk about strenuous exercise, its role in a leaky gut and what even counts as strenuous exercise to begin with.
This one lone sticky note is there because this is a topic I have to come back to over and over again. I love exercise but, when you're dealing with autoimmune disease, everything can be a trigger and normal "suggestions" aren't always applicable. (Including those regarding movement.) Things that are traditionally helpful, like using oils, vitamins, or gummies to strengthen the immune system, can actually make matters worse. When you're diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you're told, in essence, that your body is attacking itself. We eventually start to question everything as a possible trigger... taking note of what causes our symptoms to feel better AND what causes flare ups to stay for days.
If you have an autoimmune disease and (1) wonder how to incorporate movement without worsening your symptoms, (2) work out consistently 5-6x week and are starting to notice signs of overtraining, (3) don't work out at all, or (4) hate exercise and feel forced to do it, then keep reading.
In this blog post, we'll talk about some of the best and worst exercises for autoimmune disease and chronic illness AND how exercise can help (and even hurt) when it comes time to optimize your body for healing.
I'm not a doctor and I'm not going to tell you which exercises to do for your specific body or health challenge. Instead, I'm going to introduce to you some movements that may be beneficial even if you're suffering from illness. Always talk with your doctor before making any fitness or lifestyle changes.
I was diagnosed at age 14 with an autoimmune disease. I talk a lot about this diagnosis and what happened afterwards, but I don't talk much about what was going on beforehand.
The years before I was diagnosed (and before the onset of any symptoms), I was a competitive swimmer. I had been swimming year-around since the age of 8 and loved the longer, more grueling events like the 200 fly, 400 IM, and 1650. While I certainly wasn't going to be representing my country at the Olympics anytime soon, I was starting to think about a scholarship to a DI school.
Or, at least, this was the path I thought I was on.
That path started to blur when I struggled to finish one lap let alone an entire 400 meter Individual Medley. All of sudden, my energy levels plummeted, my hands went blue during practices, and I sat out sets shivering on the bench. My coach (as awesome as he was) thought I was lacking motivation. That I wasn't trying and needed to get tougher or push through. At the time, I was frustrated... thinking maybe he was right and I'd lost my edge. And even now, looking back, I can't blame him. When you have an "invisible illness" your symptoms aren't tangible. They aren't seen and therefore aren't easily understood. Heck, I didn't even know what was going on... other than knowing that all of a sudden I could hardly bring myself to do ANYTHING.