Keeping up with exercise while living with a chronic illness

Before I was diagnosed with my chronic illness I was fit and incredibly healthy. I used to exercise five times a week alternating between swimming 70 lengths of the pool one day and then working out in the fitness suite and I used to walk everywhere often going on long walks on a weekend. I lost five and a half stone dropping from a size 18 to a size 8 and I felt invincible. At the beginning of 2013 my health started declining. I was waking up with swollen joints and I couldn't lift my head from the pillow I was so tired. I started missing lots of university and my fitness routine became non-existent. It took months of testing and convincing the doctors that I wasn't going insane for me to finally be diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), a degenerative autoimmune disorder. I tried to keep up with my fitness as much as possible, but my RA kept getting the better of me and I gave up. A year later, I had my second blow when I was diagnosed with a rare stomach condition called Sphincter of the Oddi type 3. I had been experiencing stomach pains for quite sometime and after the doctors removed my gallbladder, my pain tripled. I spent months on morphine, barely working and hardly leaving the house. Again, I went back to my old habits seeking solace in my bed covers and a tub of dairy free ice-cream - a far cry from the two hours of exercise I used to be doing and my low calorie diet.

The last four years of my life have been somewhat of a blur - juggling the start of my career, the start of my marriage, a body which hates me and trying to maintain a semi-normal life. It is only recently after months of medication and playing with my diet that I'm finally getting back to normal and deciding it is time to bring back scheduled exercise into my life.

Exercise is important for those with chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis as it can help reduce inflammation and keep pain levels at bay, it's just difficult getting started. When you begin exercise after being poorly for so long there's so many thoughts that go through your mind and you begin disbelieving in yourself. My initial thought when I signed up the gym was 'what will people think of me if I can't exercise longer than twenty minutes? It took me a few months to finally realise who cares what others think, it's about me and my recuperation - they have no idea what I have been through.

Today I have teamed up with Wilmslow Hospital to give you my top tips on how to get yourself back into exercise after being poorly or while you're living with a chronic illness. It can even be difficult getting back into exercise after a cold, but believe me, you can do it.

Talk to a fitness expert or your doctor

Before embarking on a new exercise routine, make sure to talk to a fitness expert or doctor so that they can give you the all clear to start your plan and give you advice on what you should and shouldn't be doing in relation to your condition.

Set your own pace

Introducing exercise back into your life when you have had a long period of inactivity can be difficult for anyone, never-mind someone who may be generally weaker due to chronic illness. Your need to get your body used to being physical again by taking it steady and setting your own pace. It is better for you to build up stamina and stay fitter for longer, than give it your all for two weeks and then decide to quit.

Don't run before you can walk

Signing up to a new gym membership when you're unable whether your body is ready to handle it can be daunting and very expensive. If you don't want the hassle of joining a gym or you're too afraid to take that leap, spend time going on long walks with your friends and family, have a go at some exercises you have found on Youtube or buy some cheap apparatus that you can use at home such as an exercise ball. Take things slowly and gradually.

Find an exercise partner

If you feel anxious when you first go back to the gym, try taking a friend or a family member for motivation. If you're the only one signed up to a membership, many gyms allow free day passes to friends and family every so often and it is worth checking them out.

Consider swimming

Swimming is a great all round exercise and works all the muscles in your body. For those who have existing medical condition it is less strenuous on your body because the water supports your body weight, making it an ideal way to get back into exercise.

How often do you exercise?

*This is a collaborative post

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