Fight inflammation through movement!

Carrie and Cara bodypump after glow

This photo captures the 10 minutes after my first Bodypump class because I needed proof that I could live through it. And I did! The smiling blond to the left is the instructor and one of my dear friends. Cara is such a dear friend, in fact, that she is the only person I will let lie to me. (But you said only 2 more!) She is also the Ulcerative Colitis Warrior and one of the funniest women I know. Look for our podcast coming soon (Summer 2017) on the ups and downs of healing from autoimmune…

But I digress…

Through this series, I’ve written about how movement helped heal my connection to my body and how to get exercises in even when we are busy, but today I want to be a little bolder. If you have an autoimmune disease, exercise — even a little! — could help tremendously.

I know that exercise can be challenging when you barely have strength to wake up from your four-hour Saturday nap, but even a little bit can go a long way. You don’t have to think super big when it comes to exercise, especially if you are having a flare. Just 20 minutes of walking can reduce inflammation.

When you do feel stronger, incorporating strength training can really improve your quality of life. For instance, research has shown that those of us with autoimmune diseases like Lupus,  fibromyalgia,  and MS benefit from strength training through a reduction in our symptoms and an increase in our wellbeing. This is because these types of exercise also help fight inflammation. And that’s what we are all going for with the foods we eat or don’t and the medicines we take. Hell, it could be our battle cry: “Fight the inflammation!”

Strength training does not have to be difficult. It could simply mean intentionally doing some squats and lifting weighted objects (cans, bottles of water, children) a few times a week. Or you could get a bit more formal and do a short strength training video from Fitness Blender.

Or take it a step further …

Lately, I’ve decided to upgrade my workout routine from yoga, walking, and YouTube videos because I was so inspired by the remarkable comeback I’ve seen Cara make over the last few years.  Cara’s story and her energy are the reason I got out of my comfort zone and started going to workout classes. For those of you not in the know, this means a room with a bunch of other people also trying to follow instruction. I know, I thought it sounded horrible too.  I’ve avoided these sorts of activities for a good 30+ years because I had a longstanding policy of not intentionally making a fool out of myself in public. I think my P.E. teacher thought I was crazy.

But that fear, like lots of silly fears we all have, was holding me back. So I decided to face my fear and make a commitment to going to a minimum of three strength training workout classes each week. And you know what? It’s awesome. My workouts have been ten times more effective than doing it by myself. There are people (including the instructors) of all sizes, shapes, and ages, and they don’t care about whether or not I look silly because they are just trying to make it through the workout like I am.

And yes, I do probably look a little silly, but I also feel a heck of a lot stronger.

Takeaways and tips to making working out work for you.

  1. Working out, especially strength training, is a great way to reduce inflammation in your body and increase your quality of life.
  2. Start where you are. If you have really low energy, try to build up to at least a 20-minute walk. If you are feeling pretty solid, start to incorporate strength training into your weekly routine.
  3. Listen to your body. If you feel particularly exhausted after working out, rest and then start over by reducing the amount of time, weight, or repetition. You will get stronger.
  4. Do something that interests you. Think you might like to try Barre? Try it at a gym or YouTube it. Think you might like bicep curls while binging Buffy, do that.
  5. Don’t let fear get in your way. A better quality of life vastly outweighs the fear of looking silly.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what strength training method you chose as long as its something that you will stick with. Fight that inflammation. Just do it!

Cultivate a mindset of movement

Cultivate a mindset of movement. How everyday movement keeps us healthy

I’ve got a simple tip for helping you move from being a sedentary person that aches, holds on to weight, and has no energy to one that cultivates movement as a way of life.

But first…

You know that weight loss advice that says “just take the stairs” or “just park farther from work.” Well, I have a bone to pick with this advice. I completely agree with the idea that you should work more movement into your day, but I don’t think it goes far enough. Unless you work on the 5th floor or you can park a significant distance away from your work, these short bursts of movement aren’t really going to help you. And in some cases, this advice may give you license to splurge a little. “Well, I did walk up and down two flights of stairs today; a cupcake won’t hurt.”

Put the cupcake down, Cindy!

Here is the thing. We have to move more. But more importantly, we have to get intentional about breaking up those looooong periods of sitting at our desk, in our cars, or binge watching The Great British Bake Off. We have to cultivate the mindset of “how can I get the most movement out of my day.”

I know this seems silly in its simplicity. But if you think about it, most of us are hardwired to look for the easiest path. Spend any time driving around a parking lot looking for the closest space recently?

We have tons of labor-saving devices — from cars to mixers — to make sure our lives are super easy and our bodies super stationary. Heck, I can even change my thermostat from my phone. My phone! I don’t even have to walk the 10 steps to do it manually.

I am not saying to sell your car or throw out your electric can-opener. But I am advocating that we rethink how often we rely on these things. Researchers have found that people in the Blue Zones (areas of the world where people have a high quality of life long into their lives) all share a few things in common. One of those things is that they incorporate physical activity into their days naturally. They garden, they knead their own bread, and, when they go out, they walk!

You might be thinking people in those Blue Zones have an environment more tailored to this sort of movement. And I get that. Especially in the States, we have built out cities to be car, not pedestrian, friendly. But I contend that half of our blocks are in our mind. I spent years living without a car both in Europe and in America. It’s not always easy, but, in my experience, it is doable.

Try one (or more) of these ideas: Walk your kids to school. Walk to the grocery story or your friend’s house.  Walk or bike to your office. If that’s just not doable, yes, follow the advice to park far away. But also think of how you can move more inside your office.  Stop calling and emailing if you can walk down to your co-worker’s desk.  Instead of hopping in your car for lunch, how about walking to get your food? How about hanging your clothes on the line?  After work, how about you throw yourself a dance party to get the stress of the day off ya?

You’re going to eat anyway, might as well use the fuel well.

So how are you going to start moving more? How will you cultivate that mindset of movement? I think I’m going to take a break and have a dance party right now.

Movement as healing, even in the chaos

 

Imagine one of those women that are radiant when they are pregnant. Maybe they say things like “I’ve never felt so beautiful” or “I feel so connected to all of life.” Got that image?  Now imagine the opposite, and you will know what kind of pregnant woman I was.

I did not like being pregnant, mostly because I was either vomiting or trying not to vomit for the entire pregnancy. It was no fun. And neither was the delivery. I’ll spare you the details but I will say it wrecked me a bit.

In fact, the whole experience left me with a real distrust of my body. Even after I healed, I couldn’t do things I did before. I couldn’t hike familiar trails without a lot of fear. At one point, I flat out refused to climb a hill I had climbed with ease before. I simply did not trust that my body would be able to get the job done.

I sat at the base of that hill as my husband and older daughter climbed, and I fumed.  I was so angry at myself for letting fear win the day, but I was even angrier at my body for letting me down. Angry that it couldn’t carry and deliver a baby with ease and really angry that it had gotten sick. I felt like my power had been taken from me.

I don’t like feeling powerless, so after I fumed I came up with one tangible thing I could do to take my power back. I decided that I needed to work on my balance. I know it wasn’t the most dramatic idea, but it was a start.

I  searched the YouTubes and found a 30-day yoga challenge at Yoga with Adriene. My life at that time was taking care of my daughters and building my business…which is to say that it was crazy busy with little to no routine. A 30-day yoga challenge that I could do at home was just the thing to work into the chaos of my day. I would either do the 10 to 30-minute set when the baby was content or sleeping or in the evenings when my husband was home. My only rule was to do the day’s session before bed.

Immediately, I started seeing results and not only in my ability to feel surer in my feet. I started to heal the connection between me and my body. My anxiety reduced, my body got stronger, and I became confident in my body’s ability to take care of me.

And while I think yoga is one of the most powerful tools ever, I don’t know that it can take all the credit. Looking back on that time, I see that I had a choice. I could have stayed angry and used the excuse of a busy life to do nothing, or I could take my power back. Through those 10 to 30 minutes every day, I did take my power back.

We all have excuses, and we all have busy lives. But we have to carve out time and a space to make sure that we have control over our health. If we leave our health to when the chaos stops, we leave our health for good.  No matter the chaos of your days, you can always find a way to prioritize your health and take your power back. Because empowering ourselves through movement is one of the most loving acts we can take and one that will benefit us for years.

So what’s your loving act going to be? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Move now, move later!

The workout and I have a long complicated history. In elementary school, I was super creative in getting out of P.E. and probably only went about half the time. As a chunky child, I sat out of fear of looking like a fool. In high school, I spent an hour plus at the gym every dang day, running on the treadmill and lifting weights. As I got older, the exercise thing was like a rollercoaster. I was either completely dedicated to it or dedicated to the couch. There were no in-betweens. The only thing these exercise stages shared was that exercise equaled punishment for being less than.

Thankfully, that’s not where I am today. Part of my healing journey was to find a way to work exercise into my life in a loving way. To do this, I developed a new way of looking at exercise. I would move in intentional ways so I could continue to move in those ways into the future.

While I have a much more rigorous exercise routine now, this idea is my base. At the very minimum, I walk now because I want to take long walks when I’m older. I pick up heavy objects and hold planks for my kids to crawl under because I want a strong body well into my old age. I do yoga and stretch throughout my day so I can keep my balance and flexibility when age makes that more difficult. Movement is an investment in my future self.

Of course, exercise can be challenging to fit into your day, especially when you have little ones, work, laundry, and other adulting to do. But you have to prioritize it. Just like you prioritize brushing your teeth, eating food, and update your Facebook status. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing different ways to get exercise into your life. But for now, start brainstorming about what you hate about exercise, what you love about it, and why you aren’t getting enough. Leave me a comment below!