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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to work out when it's not working out

          I am going through a very frustrating time right now around working out and the fact that at the moment my attempts to do so are NOT working out.  One of the many issues that those of us with chronic diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis face is that despite knowing how beneficial it is to workout AND having the desire to do so, our bodies are not always so cooperative.  We hear from virtually everyone in our lives that exercising is the key to longevity, good physical and mental health, etc.
     I GET IT!  I really do.  But the reality of RA is that because we live with a disease that flares with NO RHYME OR REASON or rationale our best intentions can be dashed in a moment.  A moment you say?  Yes.  
     People with RA can literally be getting ready to head to the gym, pool, etc. with every intention of exercising and when they get up to move their _____ (fill in the blank with any joint) they experience pain, swelling and limited mobility.  It happens to me over and over and over.  I swim.  I prefer early morning for a variety of reasons.  My routine is to get my gear ready to go the night before so in the morning I just throw my bathing suit and warm ups on and head out the door.  Far too many times lately this is simply not happening.  I get up and this hip or that shoulder or this ankle or that wrist or all 4 are saying "nope, not today Nan".  It is so very discouraging.  I want, no need, so badly to exercise.  It is what gives me energy, a clear head, better sleep, weight control, etc.  Without it I am none of the above! I try to tell myself it is OK I will do it tomorrow but that is getting old and so am I!  I need to find a way to get through this.  More medication is not the answer...tried just gives me more problems with its various side effects.  I have been on dozens of them at this point and although I am under moderate control....
....the reality of RA is that unless you are in remission you WILL FLARE! It is that simple.  I have said here repeatedly that the single worst aspect of RA is its chaotic nature.  Never knowing when the pain, swelling and overall discomfort will strike without any apparent reason. It is that complete lack of control and being at the absolute mercy of this master, RA, that makes living with this disease so challenging on a daily basis.  Living with this disease for over 18 years now you would think I would be able to adjust to this and move on....well not true.  I think it is simply in our nature to try to establish control over our lives and so when you are continually hitting a brick wall when it comes to RA management it makes one weary, frustrated, depressed and discouraged.  I have to try to find a way to get through this and I will but it sure is a challenge!  
     So now that I have had my rant....what exactly can we do? Well, here are a few thoughts I have.  First of all if we cannot work out on a given day or week even, we pledge to not feel guilty about it.  That is easier said than done.
Everywhere you turn these days from TV to ads to social media we are confronted with the attitude that if you don't exercise you are 1) lazy 2) overweight 3) weak minded 4) will never be healthy and on and on.  Although these are meant to motivate us I suppose, they just serve to make us feel even worse than we already do.  That we have no chance of even being OK let alone perfect!
     Well, time to accept that we are who we are and although we can make some choices and decisions and will do that as much as possible, there are simply some things out of our hands thanks to RA.  A reality I hate but one that has to be assimilated into how we operate day to day.  Next up, some tidbits of information I offer that we can read over and over when we are feeling discouraged in the hope they will get us through the tough times and we will emerge stronger and ready to take on the world (or at least our little part of it).                                                           
     This needs to be our basic premise....because RA is so individual we need to get away from listening to and comparing ourselves to anyone else!  The smallest gain is still a gain.  

    I know this is true because in the summer when I am already in light weight clothes I am much more likely to go for a simple walk than in the dead of winter here in Vermont where I have layers of clothes, boots, etc. to put on before venturing out.  So knowing this is half the battle I hope and even putting out your clothes or bathing suit so they are ready to be put on helps. 
     Despite the constant barrage of information about "no pain no gain", intensity workouts, etc., an easy workout is incredibly beneficial.  I repeat, incredibly beneficial!  There is no need to lift 20 pound weights or do kickboxing!  
     Moving our bodies for even a short time is better than not moving them at all.  So if you are feeling good enough to simply walk around your house, do that 5 times instead of 1 time and you have helped yourself immensely.
     Try to remind yourself that the mental benefits of exercise are many!  Not only the chemical release of endorphins that are proven to enhance mood, but the simple knowledge that you got up and moved your body is a powerful emotional uplift!  YOU DID IT!  Repeat that throughout the day and you will find that you are smiling a lot more and feeling a whole lot better about yourself.
I cannot say often enough how perfect water workouts are for folks with RA.  It is joint friendly because the buoyancy of water makes it joint neutral and that means you can do just about anything in the water from jogging to strength training to the traditional lap swimming.  The key is to get yourself there.  I get discouraged when I don't get there because of the pain of a flare but eventually it passes and I get my butt to the pool and feel so much better for it!  If you try it you will never go back!
     This is the time of year when it seems every TV talk show and every magazine we pick up urges us to diet, diet, diet.  I HATE THAT WORD.  I literally cringe when I hear it.  The key to eating is to do so with an eye to making good choices without depriving yourself of the foods you enjoy. I simple refuse to face a life that will not allow me to ever have a glass of my favorite wine and some pretzels because the carb count is to high.  Moderation, a varied diet and portion control along with some form of exercise are all we need to get control of those things we CAN CONTROL.  
     This is a great mantra to repeat to ourselves this year and I encourage you to follow it.  It is yet another device to put into our RA Management Toolbox!


Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year - Fresh Start

     I think my favorite part of the beginning of a new year is that feeling of a fresh start I get each time the old year ends and the new one commences.  Despite it being the dead of winter in Vermont there is still a feeling of lightness as a new year is launched!
     I do not often indulge in the practice of new year's resolutions as that seems to be an exercise in futility and frustration to me.  For those of us with chronic illnesses, making predictions of what we hope to accomplish over a year is not very productive or even positive from my perspective.  It is as silly to me as seeing a fortune teller and hoping it comes true!
     How can we say in January what we can or will be doing months from now?  Just cannot buy into that one.  On the other hand I am not suggesting that setting some realistic and doable goals are not a good idea.  On the contrary I think it is a wise and wonderful way to start each new year!
     It is a time for me to reflect on a variety of issues around my RA management.  For instance, I like to consider my exercise goals/plan and work towards that but without the "pressure" of a "resolution" which for me seems so intense. I think when setting goals it is important to remember the pitfalls which are not unlike what I think is negative about resolutions.  
     When determining what goals you would like to implement it is important to not make them so big and challenging that you cannot accomplish them.  In the same token, setting up too many can be just as damaging.  Limiting yourself to a few items that you want to really focus on will make success a lot more likely!  I also think it is important to be specific so that you are not so vague that you cannot even determine if it is successful or not.  In addition I like to write down my goals just like my daily and weekly and annual work tasks so that I can have the satisfaction of checking them off as I accomplish them! It is so satisfying to check that box when you achieve that goal or get that task done.  Plus it is a bit of a pat on your own back which is very encouraging and serves to keep you going with your goals.
     Feeling success is a key part of continuing improvement and overall management of RA.  Not only do I use this new year as a time for setting goals relative to exercise, etc. it is also a time to reconsider your overall RA status and the treatment options you have chosen.  It is wise to check in periodically with all of aspects of your overall management of RA and the beginning of a new year is a great time to do it!  I wish everyone a happy, healthy and joy filled new year!