Exercise is an interesting topic in the world of autoimmune diseases. What type should we do? How many do we need? Are there any specific concerns about cardio or other strenuous activities?
After several years of living with vasculitis, I have found that the answers are not that complicated. If I move my body in a way I like, the effects are noticeable – and I’m having fun at the same time.
find my own rhythm
My mother ran distance races in several cities, including St. Petersburg, Florida, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and other faraway places. And these weren’t your average 5k runs either; this woman has run several half marathons and full marathons. She trains impressively and always manages to get a respectable time.
My friends know running is not for me. I would rather endure several hours of manual labor involving muscle strains and stay in one place than run like mom does. It’s just not my cup of tea.
Walking is gentler on the body. The low impact movements are gentler on my knees and hips, and I can take my dog with me. If I have the choice, I will always walk the same distance as the others, even if it takes two or three times as long. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just my preference.
I have another favorite choice for a workout regimen: strength training. It involves staying almost still and focusing on precision and strength, which is good for my concentration as well as my physical health. Every movement of my body should be optimal for what I can control, without giving in to bad form. Cardio is a side benefit, especially if I add Tabata training or high intensity interval training.
I know what you’re probably thinking: “I’m still sick with vasculitis, and sometimes that’s all I can do to have enough scoops to get through the day, let alone a workout routine!” I understand. It’s not something I could have done in the early stages of my illness. And I recognize that I am lucky to be in remission, which makes weightlifting a possibility for me.
In pursuit of endorphins
It all started for me in 2013 when I realized I needed a physical outlet. Having no experience in the fitness world, I found a website called Fitness Blender. It’s now a decent-sized company with multiple employees and hundreds of videos, but back then it was just a husband-and-wife team running fun workout routines accessible to beginners.
I immediately hooked. The endorphins the workouts released made the time spent well worth it, even though I didn’t feel physically stronger yet. It gave me a new perspective on holistic approaches to health, and I could see how much better I felt in my mind and in my body, even before taking my daily meds.
After about a year of training four to five times a week, I noticed that some things that used to be hard no longer were. Practicing my instruments, yard work or gardening that required an awkward position, and even making the bed were easier and less stressful on my body. My back in particular had developed a new level of strength, although I also felt an improvement in my arms and shoulders.
My mind was clearer, my body felt tighter, and my confidence soared. Any weight-bearing exercise is, of course, a type of therapy. The release of serotonin and dopamine send powerful “happy chemicals” to the brain, lifting mood and improving overall health for the day. My mental outlook has completely shifted to a more optimistic view.
I also welcomed weight-bearing exercises as another kind of outlet. Over the past few years, with a move overseas and multiple life changes, I have experienced severe frustration and depression that quickly led to anger. I didn’t like the feeling that my emotions were out of control. During a workout, I discovered almost instantly that lifting weights released a lot of that pent-up steam and allowed me to relax.
Strength training doesn’t have to match Rocky Balboa’s intense diet, and you don’t need to work towards chiseled abs. Something as simple as a 1, 2 or 5 pound dumbbell can have a significant impact on your arms and torso without giving you too much uncomfortable resistance. If it helps, consider it toning, a gentler form of lifting that doesn’t rely so much on building mass.
No matter where you are in your vasculitis journey, I want to encourage you to find an exercise that’s right for you. In no time, you might be where I am: a serious amateur using it to my advantage to feel better. Of course, if you are considering trying any type of exercise or other physical activity, be sure to consult with your healthcare team. These are things that work for me and may not work for everyone.
For me, weightlifting is synonymous with health, empowerment and confidence.
To note: News ANCA Vasculitis is strictly a disease news and information site. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of anything you read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of News ANCA Vasculitis or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about vasculitis issues at ANCA.