Summer Exercise Tips for People with Chronic Pain and Fatigue
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My Boaz and I rode our bicycles this weekend on a local trail. It was absolutely gorgeous! The cooler temps made our ride a delight, but we felt thirst quickly as the sun came out beating down on our bodies. I wore my UV 50+ clothing and sunscreen and my hubby wore his sunscreen, too. My body reminded me that riding 20 to 25 miles at a time isn’t such a great idea, but we ended up riding almost 20 by the time we were done. We did take a couple of rest and water breaks along the way. The next day, I was down in bed. We pushed ourselves a bit too hard. It has been quite an experiment with my health and outdoor exercise in 2020.
This summer is my first with full-blown, treated mixed collagen vascular disease. It is also my first summer with bad sun sensitivity. Just when I get some semblance of a routine for my exercise, I find myself caught short with inflammatory pain and overwhelming fatigue. As much as I would like, my body refuses to do the intense exercise levels I had done in the past. I’ve discovered that others share in my struggle to feel well through exercise with the sun’s rays beating down relentlessly and the humidity beading up on our foreheads. There isn’t enough help for people who are in the same boat as me. This is why I am writing to you today— you who are frustrated with not being able to be as active during the gorgeous summer months. Here I share some tips to help you, or someone you know, take care of your body and improve your health this summer.
NOTE: Consult your medical provider before starting any new exercise or nutrition plan. This blog post is for informational purposes only.
On the Road to Success
Start on the Inside to Reduce Your Symptoms
One of the best ways to begin feeling better starts with what you eat and drink. We often seek comfort foods when we feel run over by a truck. These foods, and drinks, will make our symptoms worse because they often cause more inflammation in our bodies. When you feel like a wreck, try consuming these instead:
- More fresh, clean water. Sometimes our taste buds are a bit dull when we have a flare, so we opt for flavorful drinks. That wouldn’t be such an issue, except that we go for more soda, sugar and cream in our coffee, and other sugary drinks. Try hydrating with water, either still or sparkling. Dehydration makes us feel sluggish while it causes muscle burn and cramping. The drink of choice is water. If you need more flavor, try adding citrus wedges and a sprig of mint to a pitcher of water in your fridge. Also, decaf iced tea is a great choice. Decrease your intake of caffeine since it adds to dehydration. (HealthLine)
- Less creamy, sugary foods. Creamy, starchy, and sugary foods add to inflammation. Although we might feel better for a little bit emotionally, it has a boomerang effect. Instead, choose simple, less processed foods that you make yourself. Try using fresh herbs to kick up the flavor along with healthy unsaturated oils, avocado, or low-fat Greek yogurt. (Arthritis Foundation) I make a lot of stir fry with lean meats, fresh veggies, and herbs from my garden. They taste great and I feel better after I eat them than when I eat comfort foods.
- Lower sodium, less processed meats. High inflammation ingredients to watch for on package labels: sodium nitrates and nitrites, artificial colors, tocopherols, saturated fat content, MSG, and other preservatives. I choose fresh low-fat meats, naturals lunch meats, mostly poultry, and fish. Red meats are also known to cause inflammation and are likely to have carcinogenic properties, so once a week is more than enough. (Cleveland Clinic) Stop thinking, “How many different ways can I cook chicken and turkey?’ and start thinking, “I want to find a great recipe using the meat that I have.” You will notice swelling, pain, and tingling reduce within a month!
- More plant proteins. Instead of white rice and potatoes, look for power grains like quinoa, oats, chia seeds, flax, and more. Seeds and grains with higher protein don’t bloat your belly like simple grains like white rice, corn, and highly processed wheat. They also aid in weight loss by helping you burn more calories and contain fiber which fills you up. One note of caution: going gluten-free may or may not be helpful for you. Many gluten-free grains are simple carbs, not complex, causing weight gain and bloating. Only go this route of your doctor diagnoses you with celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity. (Harvard Health)
- More fresh produce is known for anti-inflammatory properties. Seek out dark green leafy veggies, red, orange, purple, and yellow fruit and veggies which have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Increase veggies that contain magnesium and potassium which will help cut down on achy muscles. Eat cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts in moderation since they cause some people gas and bloating. Nightshades, like tomatoes, white potatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant, can cause issues with your kidneys if you have an autoimmune disease that causes renal issues. Go easy on them or cut them out if your doctor is concerned about your kidney function. Go low on the glycemic index with fruits like berries, citrus, peaches/nectarines, and grapes due to lower sugar content. Keep fruit and veggies cut up for a quick snack. (Harvard Health)
- Less junk food. When we don’t feel well, we often grab what we can get quickly and easily. Potato chips, snack bars, and other quick snacks cause bloating and inflammation. (Arthritis Foundation) If you need something you can grab easily, opt for veggie chips like Terra chips, low fat, low sodium popcorn, protein bars, fruit and nut bars, multigrain snacks like Kashi bars or Nutrigrain bars. Also, keep fresh-cut veggies and fruit at eye level in your fridge.
- Increase your vitamin C, D, and Magnesium. In the fresh produce section, I list a lot of fruits and vegetables that contain these vitamins, but they were listed for anti-inflammatory properties. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and limes contain vitamin C. Dark green leafy veggies contain calcium and magnesium. Did you know that many types of mushrooms contain vitamin D? Portabella and morel mushrooms are great for this. (WebMD, Harvard Health)Try grilling Portabellas outdoors for a tasty topping on your burger instead of the bun on top! The large tops don’t sell as quickly as the smaller variety, so they are often marked down. You will often find vitamin D in dairy, soy, and fish. Also, natural, organic dark chocolate, in small quantities, will increase your magnesium intake.
Protect Yourself from the Environment
Whether indoors or out, if you are sun-sensitive, sunshine can put a damper on your active excursions. Humidity can cause a flare. Air conditioning can kick up Raynauds. (Raynauds Association) All of these can make you crawl back in bed. You must protect yourself from harmful UV rays, even if you aren’t sun-sensitive.
- Indoors, keep your air conditioning at a comfortable temperature for you or wear layers inside if you have no control over the air conditioning temperatures. Wear compression gloves or lightweight gloves and socks to protect your hands and feet. A light sweater or jacket and lightweight pants protect elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles. If your joints are happy, they are willing to work with you. (hss.edu)
- Indoors, use UV filtering shades or film to cut the UV rays that affect you. It bugs me that I have to stay away from windows, so I just bought screen material that cuts down the UV rays in my home so I can enjoy spending time anywhere indoors. (Lupus.org)
- Outdoors, either slather on waterproof sunscreen over your entire your body or wear sun-protective clothing UV 50+ with sunscreen 50+ on exposed skin. Sunscreen should be broad spectrum. I wear UV protective gloves on my hands because sunscreen wears and washes off easily. Wear polarized sunglasses with great coverage on sides and top. Wear a hat with a broad brim or bill. Clothing should have cooling and moisture-wicking properties to keep you comfy. (Lupus.org)
Heading Out for Exercise
Now that you’ve set the foundation for feeling your best, it’s time to get moving. One of the exercises of choice is walking. You can walk anywhere most any time. A great comfortable set of walking shoes, not running shoes, can set you up for a great long, productive walk. I love Ryka shoes for exercise. Two other great choices are swimming and cycling. If you swim, make sure your goggles are polarized and your swim cap is sun protective. Find a comfortable stroke or try aqua jogging. Cycling is great provided you have the right bike and seat for your body. I ride a hybrid with a gel seat and I wear gel cycling shorts under my clothing. I also wear cycling gloves to reduce pressure and numbness in my hands. When you have what you need to enjoy the activity, then you can follow healthy, safe exercise guidelines: (Mayo Clinic)
Special Note: Don’t exercise during a flare. Wait until the flare is past to avoid damage and serious illness.
- Warm-up with range of motion exercises. Before you start out on the trail, take the time to warm up your joints for five to ten minutes. Work through the full pain-free range of movement for major joints: shoulders, hips, knees, elbows, back. Go to the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Library for ideas.
- Low to moderate intensity cardio, preferably in intervals. Most people with chronic pain and fatigue, struggle with cardio because it often causes exhaustion. Start out slow, then increase your speed and intensity based on your body’s response. You may have a horrible burning, heavy sensation in your legs and arms. By doing intervals, you can back off when it becomes too much. Keep a rhythm so the cardio effect kicks in. Anaerobic activity causes lactic acid build-up that exacerbates the burn. Once you get into your cardio phase, about ten minutes into your workout, you will begin to feel better. Start with a 5-10 minute comfortable warm-up before increasing intensity. Try a five-minute moderate segment, then slow down for 5 minutes. Gradually work your moderate segment up while keeping your low segment down at five minutes. Cool down for 5-10 minutes, then stretch major muscle groups.
- Strength training is a challenge for many of us with chronic fatigue and pain but can be done. Joints hurt. Hands feel bruised or burned, so weights in your hands are like that slap on a sunburn. Muscles and tendons scream after the workout is done. Then you can’t sleep. Here are a few ways to alleviate your pain and fatigue with strength training:
- Wear weight gloves. I can’t emphasize enough the value of well-made weight gloves to someone with arthritis, fibromyalgia, or other chronic pain and fatigue issues. I wear Bionic full-fingered fitness gloves. They provide grip, support, padding, and compression.
- Use low weight, but do more reps. If you were used to chest pressing 50 pounds on the chest press machine for 8-10 reps, then you would drop down to 30-35 pounds and do 10-15 reps. You should feel like it is enough when you finish your set. Only do one set until you know how your body responds.
- Try bodyweight or aquatic exercise to control your exercise by your body’s responses. Bodyweight exercises are great because you only need a good floor mat. However, I always recommend TRX straps because you can easily adjust the difficulty of your exercise by how your body feels. Aquatic exercise is easy because you only need a pool, swimsuit, and aqua shoes. The difficulty depends on your speed and intensity. You keep a steady workout temperature without sweating. You also work opposite opposing muscle groups. This exercise format is by far the best for chronic pain and fatigue.
- Assess you did with your exercise by asking yourself if you hurt for more than two hours afterward. Also, did you find yourself down in bed the next day, or did you simply feel a bit of after exercise soreness. It will take about two to four weeks for you to see improvements in your sleep, energy, and pain levels.
I hope these tips help you get the best exercise outdoors with your chronic pain and fatigue condition. Share what helps you in the comments below.
May God bless you!