Letting Go of an All-or-Nothing Approach to Exercise in Favor of Movement for Healing

by Nicole Aivazoglou at The Living Fuel

Movement and exercise have been an important piece of my life for as long as I can remember. From a young age, I would run around my backyard from sunrise to sunset. Moving into my teenage years, I engaged in as many sports as my schedule would allow. Then, into adulthood, my love of exercise continued, and I pushed myself to go to the gym daily. Unfortunately, my workout routine became a bit of an addiction; I found myself cutting down on sleep to squeeze in an early morning session or pushing myself to do a second workout for the day even when my body was exhausted. My relationship with movement had become negative in a way—it was a chore, an item on my to-do list, and, at times, even a punishment. I saw exercise as something I had to do, and I became stuck in the mentality that exercise had to be extremely rigorous to count. This all-or-nothing approach to exercise ultimately was one of the catalysts that pushed my body to its breaking point.

Pushing Limits Too Far

On May 7th, 2019, I woke up early to head to my indoor cycling class. During the class, I became extremely faint and passed out on the bike. Nothing was ever the same after that class. Over the course of that week, my symptoms became worse and worse—I experienced numbness in my legs, memory loss, and extreme fatigue. Two weeks later, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Everything in my life was forced to take a complete pause. I went from working 9-7 and working out twice a day to being completely bedridden. My mentality around exercise was forced to change. I was physically unable to workout and, I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to let my body rest. In my mind, the word “exercise” was forced to change to “movement.” Exercise was no longer about spending hours in the gym, but, instead, became about just moving my body however it was capable of moving that day.

Starting Over—Low and Slow

As I started to just move however I could and regain my strength, I began taking very slow, long walks. Then, I pushed myself to start some light stretching and mobility work. I would only do this for 5-10 minutes to start and would stop if my body wasn’t responding well. Then, I started with very light and easy yoga flows. I found yoga to be very healing both physically and mentally. Then, one day, I felt strong enough to do some light weights. The following week, I got a little excited with my progress and jumped into heavier-weight strength training. Sadly, my body was not happy with that intensity yet! I felt symptomatic the next day, and although discouraged, I backed off to honor my body and give it the grace it needed to recover.

Healing My Relationship With Exercise

Now, my mentality around movement is all about listening to my body and being in tune with what it needs. Some mornings, I feel energized, and I run outside or do a short High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. On other mornings, if I feel low energy, I go for a long walk as my designated movement for the day. Letting my foot off the gas as far as exercise is concerned has definitely been a struggle but doing so has allowed me to heal and continue moving even when I am not feeling my best.

Tips for Incorporating Exercise into Your Healing Journey

Tip #1: Recognize that every day is different with a chronic illness, so don’t feel discouraged. Instead, ebb and flow with what your body really needs.

Tip #2: DON’T sacrifice sleep! Putting exercise ahead of sleep was a mistake I made for years. I see my clients making the same mistake too. Sleep is more important than anything for healing your body, though. Without sleep, the body and mind cannot repair and recover, and lack of sleep can dysregulate your hormones and hunger signals—making it actually even harder to achieve any weight loss or physical goals. So, if you feel like your body needs an extra hour of sleep instead of the morning workout circuit, honor that. Movement is stress on the body, good, hormetic stress, but nevertheless stress, and in an already sleep-deprived body, you don’t need to add more stress.

Tip #3: When in doubt take a walk! Walking is a staple in my day. When you are extremely low energy and symptomatic the last thing you want to do is leave bed, trust me I’ve been there! But if there is any way to push yourself to go on even a 5-10 minute walk, I promise you it will help. Walking gets your blood circulating and can be extremely re-energizing. Not to mention, you get some fresh air and time disconnected. Walking also oxygenates your blood which continues to promote healing.

Tip #4: For anyone still working through a chronic illness who doesn’t feel energized enough to do an actual workout, try to get your body moving in different, creative ways. I am obsessed with my rebounder (mini trampoline) and used it at the peak of my illness. It is an amazing way to get your lymphatic system activated and doesn’t require too much energy. Just a few minutes of jumping in the AM to energize your cells and get your blood circulating. Another tool for activating your body without a workout is utilizing an infrared sauna. Incorporating sauna bathing was a life-changing tool for me during my healing process! We love the therasage sauna (discount code: LIVINGFUEL10 for 10% off). It helps with circulation, majorly boosts detox, and also puts your body through a workout without you even moving!

Tip #5: Incorporate supplements that support hormones and energy production at the cellular level. Some awesome supplements that can help jumpstart your system for a workout are CellTropin—which is actually and homeopathic remedy, so is very gentle on the system, and Adrenal Boost to support the body during times of stress and high cortisol. Using targeted products will also help your body to maintain critical muscle mass even when you cannot exercise the way you are used to or with the intensity that you would like.

Tip #6: Embrace the low and slow mentality. I find that many of my clients with chronic illnesses do better with low and slow workouts. These styles of movement help keep your body in the parasympathetic state and out of that stressed fight or flight mode. These exercises include things like stretching, yoga, Pilates, sculpting, barre, or anything with low weights. My personal favorite is yoga because there is so much variety within it–Vinyasa, hot yoga, yin yoga, and lots more! Explore until you find a mode of exercise that resonates with you or maybe assess your energy levels each day and mix it up to honor how you feel.

Tip #7: Remember that you are in control of your workouts! Sometimes the thought of joining a workout class or committing to exercise can be daunting and scary with a chronic illness. Stick to online classes at home so you can do them comfortably and pause to take breaks if needed. My favorite at-home platform is obe fitness which has a huge range of workouts for any energy level.  If you do any sessions at a gym, know that you can always leave early or take it at your own pace, not the instructor’s. Showing up for yourself is all that matters!

Important Exercise Takeaways

Movement is a way to honor your body and give it love. It’s an incredibly healing tool, not only for the body but also for the mind. Chronic illness can be lonely, unpredictable, and frustrating. Use movement to release those emotions and as a tool to move forward in your healing. Our bodies were made to move, not to be sick and sedentary. It is important, no matter where you are in your healing journey, to give your body the signal through movement that you are alive and you are healing!

Your body is always communicating with you and telling you exactly what it needs. Listen to it, take it at your own pace, and create a plan that works for YOU. And, if you need help creating a custom movement plan or need help in your healing process, I am here for you! Here is my booking page – you can book a 15-minute free discovery call with me to see if we could be a good fit.

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