Exercising & Chronic Illness: 7 Things To Know

1)  Consult with a Physical Therapist when possible. Consulting with a physical therapist was the best thing I ever did.  A Physical Therapist who has knowledge of your particular illness (in my case progressive multiple sclerosis) and experience treating it can get you started. Exercises to improve my walking, balance, and posture were just some of the things I was taught and improved dramatically in pt. Our posture can make us or break us when it comes to getting fatigued.

THE most helpful advice I’ve received from a Physical Therapist was to REST as soon as you START becoming fatigued.  In other words, don’t do that last set or repetition when you START feeling fatigued.  Once fatigue sets in, it’s over.  For the longest time I pushed myself through the fatigue, paying for it for days and it was counterproductive to what I was trying to achieve.  Now as soon as I feel fatigued, I will sit down next to the weights and rest for a few minutes and I’m usually good.  SSRR = STOP SIT REST RESUME. As for the “trembles”, once I start to tremble I’m done working that body part that day. That muscle is telling me enough. Staying hydrated and cool has helped me prolong my workout.

2)  Don’t give up on the most problematic  body parts because you’re not seeing or feeling any improvement.  I’m guilty of this.  I completely stopped working out my legs because I felt they were “useless” and a waste of time.  Instead, concentrating on areas that I was seeing change and improvement.  In doing this, my legs worsened even more.  Just today I started to work them again….very slowly.

3) Diet:  Consult with a Nutritionist if possible.  See if your insurance will pay for a visit.   I learned this the hard way trying different diets and protein shakes that made me really ill.  A lot of us have more than one condition/illness and it’s difficult to find a diet that works well.  Find what works for you and you will have success! Long term success is better than a fad diet!

4)  Don’t compare yourself to others whether they have a chronic illness or not.  Everyone’s fitness journey is unique.  We all have different goals, reasons, and “whys” for working out.  Just have fun! 

5)  Don’t compare yourself to your “old self” either…the you before chronic illness.  I used to be able to do this or that.  Concentrate on what you can do now. 

6)  Find a gym that you’re comfortable going to.  It makes a big difference!  My favorite gym is the city gym.  It’s not fancy and that’s what I like about it.  (I actually  have to renew my membership.  I was waiting to survive the protein shake debacle). 🤩  If you’re a senior on Medicare look into the Silver Sneakers fitness program.  Silver sneakers is a free program and gives you free access to many different gyms.  Some insurance companies may offer gym memberships too.  Call and ask!

7) Finally, don’t have unrealistic expectations about your results. From my personal experience and in my personal opinion, when working out with a progressive neurological disease it’s more difficult to achieve the results that a healthy person achieves during the same time frame if at all.  However, you WILL see results and most importantly, FEEL better physically and mentally.  Exercise also combats the brutal fatigue that comes with ms and other chronic illnesses.  Sleeping better is another positive.  That’s more than enough for me!

Keep in mind it may take those of us with chronic illness longer to recover between work outs. Instead of going to the gym every day like I had been, I now give my body a day or sometimes two rest days depending on how I feel. Listen to your body.

*always consult with a medical professional before beginning any exercise program*

Thank you for reading.


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