“Movement is medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states.”
— Carol Welch
Hello! Dr. Troy here!

Last week, we talked about the many health benefits of exercise and I offered a few tips for overcoming barriers to adding some more movement into your day.

While these tips are all great ideas for committing to an exercise program, I know first-hand that those suffering from autoimmune disease or chronic digestive issues often experience even more complex barriers to getting enough exercise to support good health. 
Joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, and exhaustion are all common symptoms of autoimmune disease and can make exercise difficult. Those who suffer from chronic issues may also have an even greater lack of motivation that can make it a real struggle to get moving.  

But studies show that autoimmune diseases sufferers who get regular exercise have a higher quality of life and mental health than those who don’t, even when physical limitations such as fatigue and pain are taken into account.

And though it may be tough to get past the additional barriers, being active provides us with the enhanced health and well-being that is necessary for living with chronic illness. The key is choosing the right type of exercise for your body at the right time.

When you’re experiencing chronic diarrhea or autoimmune disease symptoms, your body is under stress and inflammation is present. Intense exercise is an additional stressor and also causes an inflammatory response.  It makes it harder for your body to innately heal itself.

You will likely do better with moderate exercise, especially when symptoms are present. Moderate exercise has been shown to be just as health promoting as intense activity, without the risk of injury, burnout, and additional stress.  

Here are 10 ideas to get you started:

  1. Walking– There is no simpler movement than walking and you can walk for a few minutes or for a few hours depending on your fitness level and strength. It’s the ideal activity for those suffering from symptoms.
  2. Yoga– Yoga is a great activity for all around fitness. It integrates strength, balance, and stretching which are all vital components of a well-rounded fitness program.  Other benefits include stress relief and relaxation through breathwork to boost mental and emotional wellness.  Yoga can be gentle & restorative or intense & strengthening depending on the practice you choose.
  3. Pilates– Pilates was originally developed to be rehabilitative. It consists of several core exercises that help to improve your strength and flexibility.
  4. Martial Arts– There are many types of martial arts practices that focus on strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, meditation, and breath work. 
  5. Stretching– This can be done just about anywhere, anytime, and by anyone.  It helps increase or maintain your flexibility and protects your joints by keeping your muscles properly lengthened. 
  6. Swimming– This is a great choice for those who suffer from joint pain as it’s much easier on the joints than other exercises. Swimming provides a cardio workout and the water resistance helps strengthen muscles.  Water aerobics is a fun way to gain the benefits of exercising in water.
  7. Hiking– Hiking adds in a “connection with nature” element to the already plentiful benefits of walking. Options range from flat trails to a more strenuous climbs or multi-day backpacking trips. 
  8. Dancing– Put on some music and dance! It’s fun and it gets you moving. :-)
  9. Cycling– Go ahead and take a spin around the neighborhood! Cycling can be as gentle or strenuous as you make it, depending on the length of the ride, your peddling speed, and the amount of elevation you climb. It improves cardiovascular function and strengthens your muscles.  
  10. Disc Golf– This is a great way to get moving and it’s so fun you’ll likely not even realize you’re exercising!  The “rules” are super simple, and the discs are inexpensive so it’s an easy activity to begin.  Courses range from 9 to 18 holes and are often available in most areas. Walking, coordination, and a mood-boosting connection with nature are just a few of the benefits.
There may be times when even the above activities are difficult. During these times, don’t underestimate the impact that moving at home can have on your movement needs.  Often these activities help you achieve several goals – they get you moving, help you create a clean living environment, and help you prepare healing foods.

Here are just a few examples of everyday activities that keep you moving: 

  • Housework
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Walking the dog
  • Running errands
  • Shopping
  • Doing simple home Improvements
Living well with chronic digestive issues or autoimmune disease also means listening to your body and being flexible enough to give it a break when it calls for rest. This can be disappointing and frustrating after a period of strength, but essential to allowing your body the space it needs to heal itself.  

Remember, there’s no shame in being versatile and dialing it back in intensity when needed. Finding the right balance of activity and rest in an important component of your general well-being, especially when experiencing symptoms.  

Happy healing!

Dr. Troy


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