exercise

Exercising with an Autoimmune Disease

Having an autoimmune disease is tough. 

I mean, people know it's tough, but they don't know just how tough. 

With an autoimmune disease, you have to take in consideration everything, from what you eat, to how much you sleep, to how you exercise, to how to do your best without actually feeling your best. Doing too much or too little can make a huge difference in your day-to-day life. And that's why exercising is hard when dealing with autoimmune diseases.

First off, autoimmune diseases are finicky as hell. Too much sleep? You'll feel like crap the next day. Too little sleep? You'll feel like crap the next day. You ate dairy today? You'll feel like crap tomorrow. And to make it worse? Everyone is different. What works for one person with Lupus might not work for next. What works for someone with Celiac's probably won't work for someone with Hashimoto's. Therefore, people with autoimmune diseases can find it extremely difficult to find a balance.

And like always, what else is extremely hard for those with autoimmune issues? You guessed it, exercising. 

Exercising with an autoimmune disease is hard. I won't sugar coat it. Like everyone else, you really should exercise to feel healthy, but going to the gym might cause horrible flare-ups that don't really seem worth it. 

So what is a flare-up? In simplest terms, a flare-up is an outburst of many symptoms at once, normally caused by overexertion, poor sleep, stress, or almost anything else that affects the body in a weird way. And there's only one way to know whether or not something will cause a flare-up: trying things over and over again. 

So the only way to know that you're exercising way too much? To try and then see what happens. And then do it again but tweak it a little. Then again. And again. And probably again. This may seem like a daunting task but with time and effort, you can learn what your body needs to feel good and avoid flare-ups. 

Without further ado, here is my guide to exercising with an autoimmune disorder.

TAKE TIME TO WARM UP

You can't just jump into a workout! 

This is true for EVERYBODY! Not just those with autoimmune disorders. When you're exercising, your muscles are breaking down old muscle in order to create newer and stronger muscle. Then, the body starts to break down fat so it can have enough energy to remake this muscle bigger and better. When you warm up before a workout, your brain signals to the rest of the body to start preparing to work. For example, your heart rate gets quicker, which increases the blood flow into your joints and muscles so they have enough energy and elasticity to work out. This is why you're at risk for an injury when you don't warm up beforehand!

So what does warming up look like for someone with an autoimmune disorder? 

It's pretty simple. Just take five to ten minutes before your workout! Here's a list of my favorite (and effective!) warm-ups!

  • Stretching

  • Walking

  • Light yoga

  • Small, achievable movements

LESSEN THE FREQUENCY

Those suffering from autoimmune disorders generally should not work out as frequently as those who are not. A super common way that flare-ups occur is overexertion.

If you have a disease that affects muscles, bones, and joints, this is a big point! Exercising affects these areas the most, and if you overdo it, you could be left feeling swollen, stiff, and achy in the morning. 

However, exercising affects your entire body. For example, when you exercise, your body spends the energy it was using to aid digestion to build muscle and break down fat. Therefore, digestion is slowed down on occasion. To someone with an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system, this can really be a problem. 

But also exercise is important, right? You can't just stop exercising. To continue with the digestive system, exercising helps build muscle that can more easily aid digestion. Therefore, it's very important to exercise. 

What's too much exercise though? It depends (I know this wasn't the answer you were looking for!) and it takes time to learn what your body considers too much or too little. The only way to know for sure? Trial and error.

Want some tips to help you start?

  • Limit your workouts to a couple of days a week. If this doesn't seem like enough, do light stretching during your rest days.

  • Give your body time to rest. Autoimmune diseases wreak havoc on the human body. You don't want to have to worry about healing from exercise AND your disorder.

  • Know your body! Autoimmune diseases are often all lumped together, however, they are all so different. Do your research before you overdo it.

  • Listen to your body! If you're working out four times a week but feeling horrible every day, try lessening your workout days to three times a week and so on.

ONLY DO LOW IMPACT WORKOUTS

Don't listen to people who say that high-intensity workouts are the only workouts that have results. Some people can run ten miles, some people can lift fifty pounds of weights, some people prefer doing handstands in yoga. Exercising is exercising. Your body will appreciate any effort you put in!

With that being said, those with autoimmune diseases shouldn't judge themselves based on other peoples standards. Your joints might work differently than other people's or your stomach might be super finicky. When you do high-intensity workouts, your body increases cortisol (AKA the stress hormone), which can cause flare-ups and hurt your joints and muscles. If you only walk on the treadmill for fifteen minutes, your body will notice it, whether you can physically tell or not. Exercise is always better than no exercise. Always.

So have you thrown out the societal idea of high-intensity exercising? Great! Want to know my favorite low-intensity workouts? Here they are:

  • Light yoga

  • Pilates

  • Low-intensity weight training

  • Walking on the treadmill

  • Low-intensity stationary biking

Now, where should you start? Pick a workout and stick to it for a week and see how you feel, then adjust.

DON'T WORKOUT FOR TOO LONG

I know what you're thinking. Could this be any vaguer?

The truth is this: having an autoimmune disease sucks and it takes time to learn how to make it suck less. Therefore, you have to spend weeks, months, years, on perfecting your day-to-day habits. And another truth? It might change (even after all that hard work!) But there's nothing you can do but try and try again. 

With that being said, you (again) have to listen to your body on this one. Like I said previously, the main cause of flare-ups is overexertion. If you work out for too long, you might seriously feel it the next day. So instead of focusing on duration, focus on consistency. Twenty minutes a day adds up to about an hour of exercising if you do it only three times a week. And if you continue it the next week? And then the next? Your body will thank you, big time.

Not to mention, the longer you work out, the more likely you are to get hurt. At some point, your body won't be able to take it anymore, and you could pull a muscle, break a bone, or tear a joint. With those with autoimmune diseases, this can be a big deal. Hurting a muscle can ensure it will never heal or be right again. So the best thing to do? Avoid getting hurt. How do you avoid that? Limit your work out durations to something you know your body can handle.

So, here are my tips on figuring out the right duration for you:

  • Start at fifteen minutes a day, including your warm up. Do this for a week. If you feel the same (or hopefully better!) after the week is over, bump it up to twenty.

  • Take adequate breaks when you're working out. A twenty-minute work out can be bumped up to twenty-five minutes if you take five one minute breaks in between. 

  • When you do take breaks, drink plenty of water and make sure you're giving your body time to cool down properly.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

But wait! Isn't this what this whole article has been about? Yes!

I've said it before (many times) and I'll say it again. Listen to your body! The only way to make sure you're doing what is right for you is by keeping track of how you feel. If you've been hurting more lately, maybe ease off a bit. 

It can take a while to get to know your body. But it is well worth it in the end.

There are three main ways to alter your workouts and make sure you're doing what's right for you:

  • Duration

  • Consistency

  • Intensity

Monitor these and hopefully, you'll be feeling better in no time!

What else can you do?

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Eat well

  • Get adequate sleep

  • Warm up before workouts

I hope you enjoyed this article on how to exercise with an autoimmune disorder! Want to know even more? Check out the rest of my blog or feel free to comment down below! I'll get back to you as soon as I can!

Love, Molly

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Eating for Disease Prevention

Can we really eat to prevent the onset of diseases? Absolutely. Not some, but a lot! Yet, we still eat corn chips all the time. And drink sodas constantly. And we eat twice as much as we should. Why is that? Because we get uncomfortable and need to find things that help us cope. We live in a stressful world and need "things" to make us feel better. We also have very little time in our stressed worlds, so we go to the easiest options. I get it.

So, what do we do to stop this constant cycle? In my 24 years in this field, I have learned ONE important thing - you have to want it. I actually can see when that light comes on with clients. It may take a few minutes with me or weeks or years! But when it comes on, the real magic begins. 

If you want to change, then you have to find the strength from within your own self. Without that strength and determination, nothing will change.

Often the fear of a disease will kick start you to beginning a new, healthier lifestyle. I mean you feel decent, but you went to the doctor to discuss something and boom, you walk out with a new diagnosis. Like:

  • High cholesterol

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Autoimmune disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Thyroid issues

  • Heart disease

  • Arthritis

Or what is more important - you already know of a disease that runs in your family and you haven't made the decision to protect yourself yet. We want to feel our best. We don't want to take medications daily. We want to be physically able to do whatever we want! We want control of our lives! So, what's the next step?

I'm going to pick a few diseases and discuss your options. Don't worry, we don't have to pick the elusive fruit from a mountain in the rainforest. That would be fun to be on an adventure to find some ancient remedy! As long as I had an air conditioning hotel room at night! 

CHOLESTEROL

We need cholesterol in our bodies and it actually has some vital roles. But if we have too much, it will get caught in our artery walls, causing clogs. High cholesterol can be genetic unfortunately. Other times, it's from eating too much saturated fats (from animal foods) and not enough plants. Cholesterol also rises with age, although it doesn't have too! 

Need more help reading your results or want to test your cholesterol levels? Check these two options out: https://labtestsonline.org/ or https://carehere.com/ (if you are with Mercedes Benz, CareHere is your go to!) 

I'm your fitness and nutrition blogger, so let's discuss those two things. Of course, I am NOT your physician, so please discuss with them first! Sometimes, a lifestyle change is all that is needed for you to improve your cholesterol numbers. If that's the case, DO IT FOR HEAVENS SAKE. 

Diet: The goal is to lose body fat. Losing body fat can lower cholesterol, especially triglycerides. 

  • Add plants and/or fruits to each meal. Examples: Dark leafy greens, carrots, blackberries, blueberries

  • Look for whole grain options. Adding quality whole grains can lower your risk for clogged arteries by almost 30 percent. Examples: Wild rice, steel cut oats, sprouted bread

  • Add legumes. They are high in fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the digestive track. Examples: Beans, lentils, chick peas

  • Add healthy fats. Healthy fats aide in lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and aide in raising HDL (good cholesterol). Healthy fats have also been proven to improve body composition!

Exercise: Exercising can help you lose body fat (and blood fat in the process), help change enzymes that decrease triglycerides; and aide in reducing stress. 

  • Aim for 20-30 minutes of exercise (cardio and strength training) each day.

  • Begin a walking routine daily.

  • Add weights to your routine. Any size weights are better than nothing! Start with a small number, such as 10 reps and move up from there.

  • Add body weight training if weights aren't available. Or, add it anyway! Body weight training is an excellent way to build strength. Examples: Squats, lunges, planks, plank taps, side leg lifts, push ups

  • All activity will count! Play with your kids/grandkids outside. Walk your dog one extra time each week (your dog will be excited)! Park a little further away from the entrance. Turn on some music and dance while cleaning. Add a "commercial break" move (do one exercise for each commercial).

Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is characterized by obesity, cardio vascular disease, inflammation and muscle issues. Diabetes is a serious disease that must be managed properly. The good news? Diabetes (Type 2) can be prevented and managed! Diabetes is a major factor in heart attacks, strokes, blindness and kidney failure. Lifestyle changes are such a huge part of your treatment. 

Diet: Eating a diet of mainly fresh, whole foods is always my recommendation, especially with Diabetes. Having a healthy, less processed diet will typically allow you to lose weight, ultimately improving your blood sugar levels. 

*Discuss a full healthy diet with your doctor of course.*

  • Decrease carbs/starches. This will reduce blood sugars. (Notice I said decrease, not eliminate completely.)

  • Replace saturated fats. Replace saturated fats, such as butter and red meat with healthy fats. Examples: Fish/Algae oils, olive oil, sunflower oil, ghee

  • Add more plants. Adding more plant based foods will add much needed phytonutrients.

Exercise: Exercising is so important in monitoring and controlling your diabetes. Benefits: Losing body fat, improving insulin sensitivity, improving blood sugars, reducing stress, and improvement in cardiovascular function. 

Diabetes affects the way your body metabolizes energy as well. That's why disease management is so important. Follow your doctors recommendation on exercising. Considerations when beginning your program are medications, blood sugar levels before exercising, how your blood sugar levels react during exercise, what you've eaten prior to beginning, and what type of exercising you are doing. 

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can put you at risk for numerous issues. Just like diabetes, you can improve high blood pressure with lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, which can possibly cut your risk of future problems dramatically. 

Diet: Again, eating a diet of mainly fresh, whole foods is my recommendation. Maintaining a lower body fat percentage is the goal. 

  • Add more plants and/or fruits to each meal. Adding more plants will help lower sodium levels and will add much needed nutrients that are important to lower your blood pressure.

  • Add healthy fats. (I feel like I say this ten times a day!) Healthy fats have been proven to lower blood pressure. They have also been linked to improving body composition and depression. Examples: Avocados, olive oils, mixed raw nuts, coconut oils, chia seeds, fish/krill/algae oil, olives

  • Reduce processed foods. Reducing processed foods will help you maintain a healthy weight and will reduce your sodium intake.

Exercise: Maintaining a healthy weight is important and will likely keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. It will also keep your heart healthy! 

  • Begin a strength training program.

  • Add a low-intensity cardio routine as well.

  • Add yoga or a meditation program to monitor your stress levels. Stress will raise your blood pressure.

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases are unfortunately on the rise. They can be hard to diagnose, cause countless health issues and are extremely painful to deal with. Most are hereditary, however studies have shown that environmental and dietary factors may play a huge role. Some diseases in this category: Lupus, various Arthritis conditions, Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Eczema, Psoriasis, Fibromyalgia, various Thyroid conditions

Diet: A healthy diet is vital with an autoimmune disease. Each disease may have its own diet, so please consult with your doctor first. Its also very important to do an elimination diet to find the foods that cause you more problems. 

I do understand the symptoms and issues associated with an autoimmune disease. So often your diet and exercise routine will suffer and need to change daily. That's the frustrating part but you can successfully manage your disease. Keep a symptom diary so you can adjust if need be. 

  • Research your disease and the elimination diet. Research foods that trigger you.

  • Eliminate processed foods completely if possible.

  • Eat a diet of mainly fresh, whole foods.

  • Try the Paleo diet. Studies are showing that autoimmune diseases react well to this diet.

Exercise: This is a touchy subject! exercise is very important if you are suffering from an autoimmune disease. However, you must find the activity that you can tolerate and recover well from. Be careful and start slow.

  • Add small activities. Start with 20 minutes daily and add as you can tolerate.

  • Be careful with your specific issues and always allow yourself ample recovery time.

  • Try body weight exercises. Examples: Squats, Push-ups, Planks, Leg lifts

  • Add a core routine. Maintaining a healthy weight, especially in your mid-section is important. Begin with 10 minutes daily.

  • Add a stretching and meditation routine. Be careful, as some autoimmune diseases make your muscles more elastic.

Need more info on autoimmune diseases specifically, try this blog post: HERE or a core workout HERE.

With each disease outlined here, the main takeaways are basically the same. Eat a healthy diet for you and do your best to maintain an exercise routine. I'm not saying that you have to eat only that elusive fruit or compete in a ultra marathon to be healthy. Be the best version of you. And do it for you, not your family or society - do it for you. 

Eat a healthy diet for you and do your best to maintain an exercise routine. Do it for you.
— Molly

I encourage you to always find what helps you feel better and what helps you cope with your disease. Having a disease is a horrible thing and why not prevent that if at all possible? If you have concerns or questions about your health, ALWAYS fight until you are satisfied with the answer. I know I only touched a tiny tip of the information that is out there about disease prevention but I hope this sparked something inside of you to begin your research. 

As always, if you need nutrition or exercise recommendations specifically to you, please reach out to me. Best of luck!

Much Love,

Molly

P.S.- Here's some extra info!

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Reference: Precision Nutrition textbook, blog, etc.