Work It Out! Safe and Sane Exercise for Medical Basketcases

The cross trainer can be used to warm up muscl...

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One of my big goals for this year has been to improve my health (yeah, I know – that’s always my goal, but hey, there’s plenty of room for improvement). In the past I’ve focused more on diet, which is a great starting place if you have a lot of pain issues to work through. This year however, I’m experimenting with exercise that will hopefully become as much as habit for me as eating vegetables has become.


As a result of wanting my body to be thinner (I’d be lying if I said that losing even one pound wouldn’t thrill me), move more easily, move faster, and be stronger I’ve, of course, have been lured in by the siren song of the Easy Fix. I read Tim Ferris’s 4 Hour Body cover to cover, tried Medifast and most recently have gotten into the site called Nerd Fitness. There are literally thousands of various programs, supplements, books, dvd’s, trainers, equipment, commercials and anything else you can think of floating around – and every single one will tell you that they have a way to help you build a better a body.

It’s easy to get caught up in the latest fitness trend or sensational new dieting book and hope that this will finally be the thing that makes the difference. Believe me, I’ve been there, but don’t let that drive and desire tempt you into fads that could cause your body more harm in the long run. Whether you’re trying a routine you found online, was taught by a trainer, or created yourself it’s important to make sure that what you choose really is best suited to your body and condition. Some of these points might help you decide:

  • What is your ideal goal? What is your practical goal? The distinction between your ideal and your practical is an important one. While you might ideally want to squeeze into a size zero, if you can barely walk up a flight of stairs or go about your daily routine, a more practical goal might be to make your day-to-day activities a little easier. Practical goals also work as good signposts – when those stairs really do start feeling easier, you know you’ve gotten stronger and you can move on to the next goal. Don’t let that size 0 clothing tag tempt you into pushing yourself faster or further than your body is ready to handle.
  • Be smart about advertising. While I love the can-do attitude of Tim Ferris and Steve from Nerd Fitness, they are young(ish), males who are (as far as I know) perfectly healthy. They don’t have compromised immune systems or kidneys, joint or fatigue problems. They don’t have pleurisy or any other conditions that could impair how their bodies work. If you’re looking to try a fad exercise or diet, take a good long look at the people promoting it – are they your age range, do they have a similar lifestyle and probably most importantly, do they have similar health problems. Anything looks better when someone else is doing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best for you. For example, the Medifast plan, like many quick weight-loss plans these involve a high-protein diet. However, for someone like me, with less than 50% of normal kidney function, a high-protein diet could put more stress on my kidneys than is good for them. In fact, within two weeks of starting the Medifast plan, the BUN level in my blood went up enough that my doctors immediately took me off the plan altogether. So while it might work for someone else, keep in mind that it might not work the same way for you – keep your doctor in the loop and update your blood work frequently to head off any problems before they become serious.
  • That said, don’t ignore potentially useful info. While the pre-made workout plans on Nerd Fitness probably are a little much for me to try right away, I’ve been loving the motivational articles. I’m a bit of a nerd – refer to X-men or Star Wars and I’m sold. I’ve also found links to other websites (such as the awesomely named ZombieFit and Fitocracy) that could be helpful as well. And the site has motivated me to try adding a few body weight exercises to my current routine and seeing how my body adjusts. If you find something that really sparks your excitement and motivates you, don’t automatically ditch it just because the details don’t match your needs. Just be smarter about how you use the information.
  • Be realistic. Think about your current routine – do you have the time to devote to improving your health? Are you willing to work at learning the proper form for various exercises – even if it means shelling out for a trainer or spending hours online looking at videos and tutorials? Or is something with a much smaller learning curve better, something you can jump into and start using right away? For Christmas I invested in a semi-recumbent bike. It’s compact, ready whenever I aim and a complete no-brainer way to raise my heart rate and keep my joints mobile. I advocate low-balling – start with an easy goal, an easy change and go from there. For me, I aim for 5-10 minutes of cycling a day, allowing myself to skip it if my joints are really bad or if I’m going to physical therapy. Often I wind up doing more since I cycle while listening to music or watching tv. Be realistic about your lifestyle and look for solutions that will best fit where you are right now.
  • Always get your doctor on board. They might have recommendations that will give you pointers or may caution you about moves that make you more prone to injury. Either way, at least give them an overview of what you are trying and be realistic about following up – if you stopped the exercise plan for any reason, let them know that as well. Your doctor can help you with your goals by doing weigh-ins, giving advice and nabbing any potential problems before they become serious.
  • If you don’t have a regular doctor… keep your own records. Be as detailed as possible, including information such as what time you did the work out, what weight or intensity and especially noting any soreness or pain before, during and afterward. A record like this can not only help you see how you are progressing to your goals, but can also help you figure out if something in your routine might be making your condition worse. There are tons of tracking websites such as Spark People and Fitocracy, along with zillions of apps for that workout on the goal. Of course, there’s also a good old fashioned notebook.

Exercise has so many benefits – but it can be challenging to make it a regular part of your life. Add in the decidedly irregular aspects of lupus and it’s a tricky ride. So probably the best tip for exercising is to find something that really interests you, something fun and throw yourself in – you’ll meet people, learn something new and have a great time, all awesome motivators.


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