How Exercise Is The Best Medicine For My Chronic Illness

October 28, 2018

 

 

While I am on monthly infusions of biologics to treat my Rheumatoid Arthritis - currently on Actemra, my 3rd biologic I am still uncertain if it is the drug for me and I definitely know my dosage needs to be increased. Finding the right medication for inflammatory arthritis ca be a very long painful process, mine is now just over 3 years and I've found what else helps me the most. Some people do not respond to medications or can not tolerant them, NSAIDS and DMARDS failed me and I don't want to take opioids for as long as I possibly ever can avoid them. There aren't really any effective medications to treat my Osteoarthritis or Fibromyalgia except pain relief from Cymbalta which helps my anxiety and depression. Medications are only a part of your arthritis treatment plan, you can't completely rely on them and your doctor, you have to learn to manage it. 

 

Why does exercise make us feel better?

 

There are psychological and physiological reasons why exercise is so awesome for chronic illness. 

 

Endorphins sometimes feel like the only thing that can push through the wall of fatigue, but of course not after experiencing a battle inside from autoimmune illness. Endorphins are a chemical naturally, released in the brain to reduce pain, that in large amounts can make you feel relaxed or full of energy. Anxiety is reduced by the increase of beta-endorphin. Pain is reduced by the increases of acetylcholine and beta-endorphin. Psychological stress is harder to control and energy losses can be significant and persistent. Exercise helps reduce my stress, improve my sleep, and helps me feel better about myself. 

 

With arthritis exercise will help you maintain mobility of your joints, otherwise don't use it then you lose it. Exercise will improve your muscle strength which protect your joints stability and helps prevent osteoporosis. Not to mention boost the immune system, prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and many things those living with an already compromised immune system need to take into great consideration if they want to fight their arthritis. Inactivity produces similar symptoms and impairments as arthritis and aging. Being diagnosed with arthritis already made me feel like I jumped 30 years ahead. 

 

 

How I Manage My Disease With Exercise

 

Eat healthy and exercise. This treats all of my illnesses and the side effects are great!

 

I lost a significant amount of weight after my 2nd arthritis diagnosis - osteoarthritis - I took this saying serious: 1lbs = 4 lbs off your joints.

 

After my weight loss of 50 lbs, I can say that it has benefited many of my joints. I still struggle with joint pain at times, but it has gone down in areas because I was putting too much weight on my joints. It's not about being skinny but being healthy.

 

With chronic pain, every day is kind of a new day to us. How will we feel today? Is there any chance I can improve how I feel for what I need to do later? Yes and that could be exercise. 

 

Not everyone with chronic illness is able to do the same exercises, I've met plenty who've been advised against most exercises and myself have been advised against some as well, like the treadmill because the impact is too high. Don't do any exercise that hurts to do, inappropriate exercises can be more harmful to the joints! It also depends on what joints you have effected. 

 

Remember to always consult with your doctor and physiotherapist trained in inflammatory arthritis about an exercise routine is safe for you.

It is ok to give yourself rest days if really feeling it. That is you body telling you to rest although getting up every hour or so during the day to do some range of motion, stretching exercises, yoga or even a little walk around the house will be beneficial, inactivity is one of the worst things you can do for arthritis. Why I love the low impact elliptical, next would be the stationary bike or swimming but in all honesty I am not a fan of swimming because I can hear myself breathe and I need music to power through that fatigue. On a nice day just going out for a walk is good enough. 

 

The key with chronic fatigue is to not over do it at first, that will burn you out. Start slow and ease yourself into it. If you can only do 10 minutes then only do 10 minutes that day, try again the next day or day after that but adding more time,you can also break up your exercises throughout the day with rests in between. Judge how you feel but remember exercise will make you feel slightly better when dealing with arthritis and your overall health. 

 

Types of Exercises Great For Arthritis

 

Aerobic Exercise - Also known as Cardiovascular or Endurance Exercise

You want to accumulate about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, about 30 minutes a day 5 times a week. This means activities that make you sweat and breathe harder, get your heart rate up.

 

I am fortunate enough, even before I was diagnosed with RA I live across from a rec center that has a gym, pool and sauna. I do 30 minutes on the elliptical and then enjoy the sauna after. Getting my heart rate up is the most beneficial thing I can do about my Fibroymalgia, a widespread musculoskeletal pain condition. Boosting my oxygen levels through exercise helps reduce the pain and fatigue from that condition.

 

Best: Elliptical, Swimming, Water Aerobics, Stationary Bike, treadmill if your arthritis allows you. 

 

Others Exercises That Are Extremely Beneficial

When it comes to the there forms of exercise beneficial to arthritis a treatment and exercise plan with a physiotherapist is your most effective option, your rheumatologist or family doctor can refer you to a clinic or one. However yoga and thai chi have shown benefits to those with arthritis and easy to learn, especially through youtube. 

 

Range of Motion - These types of exercises are intended to maintain full movement of your joints. They can also be helpful for reducing stiffness and pain.

 

Strengthening - These exercises help to build and tone your muscles surrounding the joints. Strong muscles help to absorb shock that is transmitted through your joint when doing activities keeping the joint stable.

 

Stretching - Stretching exercises help to increase flexibility of your joints. Flexibility refers to the amount of elasticity in the muscles and tendons.

 

Balance  - Balance exercises are used for muscle coordination and body awareness. 

 

Core Stability - Core stability exercises are designed to help re–educate the muscles responsible for stabilizing your “core”. The core of your body can be likened to the core of an apple. It is the inner most muscles responsible for stabilizing your back, pelvis and the rest of your body. They are recruited prior to doing any movement.

 

Hydrotherapy - Hydrotherapy refers to exercise performed in water. Water can be used for support, assistance and resistance. Water reduces the force on weight bearing joints such as hips and knees. General mobility is improved as there is less compression of the joints, less pain, and less muscle activity required with the buoyancy of the water.

 

 

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