How exercise (even just a little bit) can help those with chronic illness
10/04/2018 // Zoey Sky // Views

Dealing with chronic illness can be difficult, especially since it often makes the body fragile and weak. Your condition can affect your daily life, especially your ability to do normal tasks and exercise. Despite these setbacks, you must try to exercise to help improve both your physical and mental health.

Exercise can heal the mind and the body

Using regular exercise, you can face three factors that often make individuals with chronic illness feel vulnerable: trauma, grief, and shame. Accepting these vulnerabilities and managing them is important if you wish to improve your overall fitness.

Choose an activity that you're comfortable with so you can boost your physical health and emotional well-being despite your chronic illness. With physical activity, you can stay in shape and face illness-related emotional vulnerabilities.

Trauma and disengaging from your body

Living with a chronic illness can affect your relationship with your body. When the pain flares up, even small movements can be agonizing. To deal with this constant pain, you may start to distance yourself from your body.

During moments of acute trauma, disengaging the mind from the body can work but it isn't a feasible long-term strategy. Humans experience both pain and pleasure through their bodies, and disengaging from your body means you can miss out on pleasure even if it lets you avoid pain.

Instead of ignoring your body, exercise to deal with your pain. Physical exertion makes your heart beat faster and your muscles hurt. This may seem scary as you begin your exercise regimen because it may mimic the pain you feel brought about by your chronic illness, but don't let this stop you. (Related: Exercise found to treat chronic disease conditions better than drugs, with no toxicity.)


Identify this feeling to understand it more. You may be having a trauma response and being in your body may be hard because of your condition, but the aches caused by exercise aren't signs of danger. Using self-talk, remind yourself that your body is safe, and take protective action by participating in low-impact exercises.

After your body has relaxed, review your exercise experience. It's normal to have a trauma response to exercise, especially since chronic illness normally cause pain. Celebrate the fact that by exercising, you're helping yourself become stronger.

Grief and limitations

If you have a chronic condition, exercising may force you to face the limitations that come with your illness. Being sick affects your energy level and strength, along with range of motion. It can even change the way your body looks, and this may cause grief.

Working out means being vulnerable. If you're at the gym, you'll be exercising with other people who can do more than you can and this may cause feelings of hopelessness. Don't give in to grief.

Life after being diagnosed with a chronic illness may be different, but think of the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. At your worst, you may not have been able to move as much, but with exercise, you can slowly regain the ability to move around on your own.

Don't ignore your grief, either. Grief must be felt, and facing it is key to living peacefully despite your illness. Be thankful that you're still alive, even if some days you have to deal with the pain.

Shame and self-image

Some individuals with chronic illness don't want other people to think of them as sick. One way to hide an illness is by avoiding life experiences, such as exercising in a public area like the gym, because of the fear that you might trip or become too weak to continue.

However, there's nothing wrong with being weak. Face your shame and be proud of your accomplishment, like going to the gym to work out.

"Shame expands in secrecy and recedes in connection." Talk about the shame you feel with a friend. Discussing your feelings and accepting the love of family and friends as they empathize with you is an effective antidote to shame. Use this love, be brave, and start exercising.

Exercising despite your chronic illness

Take baby steps. Gauge your capability to exercise by trying out some gentle stretching exercises and light movement. As you get stronger, slowly add more repetitions or exercises.

Be flexible. You won't always feel strong enough to repeat the same routine, and this is normal if you have a chronic illness. If you're feeling weak on a certain day, try gentler alternatives like leisurely walking or swimming.

Enjoy your body. Exercise lets you deal with the fear and anger you may have because of the changes in your body. If you feel stronger, relish in the feeling that you can finish more laps or do more reps.

Believe in yourself. Living with chronic illness means dealing with emotional and physical obstacles, so celebrate small victories like being able to do quick errands even when you're feeling weak.

Face your grief, trauma, and shame by exercising to improve your overall health.

If you have a chronic illness, visit to learn more about the benefits of regular exercise.

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