STEP 21: BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

STEP 21: BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

I have spent two years, studying the work of experts in the field of autoimmunity and have combined what I’ve learned, in 24 steps.  I’ll be sharing one step every week for the next 24 weeks, on my website and social media platforms (starting Monday 18 May 2020).  This is step 21 of 24.

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STEP 21: BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

Physical activity improves your body’s ability to use oxygen and also improves blood flow. Both of these changes have a direct effect on your brain. Exercise also increases your brain’s production of endorphins. Endorphins are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that are responsible for the coveted “runner’s high.” This is the sense of well-being and euphoria that many people experience after exercise.

Physical activity can also help take your mind off your worries. The repetitive motions involved in exercise promote a focus on your body, rather than your mind. By concentrating on the rhythm of your movements, you experience many of the same benefits of meditation while working out. Focusing on a single physical task can produce a sense of energy and optimism. This focus can help provide calmness and clarity.

Some people notice an improvement in their mood immediately after a workout. Those feelings don’t end there, but generally become cumulative over time. Chances are, you will notice increased feelings of well-being as you stay committed to a consistent exercise routine.

In addition to having a direct effect on your stress levels, regular exercise also promotes optimum health in other ways. Improvements to your overall health may help indirectly moderate your stress levels. By improving your physical wellness and heart health, you’ll have less to feel stressed about.

Among some of its additional benefits, exercise can help:

  • strengthen your muscles and bones
  • strengthen your immunity, which can decrease your risk of illness and infection
  • lower your blood pressure, sometimes as much as some antihypertensive medications
  • boost levels of good cholesterol in your blood
  • improve your blood circulation
  • improve your ability to control weight
  • help you sleep better at night
  • boost your energy
  • improve your self-image

But be careful. Exercise causes stress on the body and a temporary increase in cortisol (stress hormone). For people with autoimmune conditions, the increase in cortisol can be too much to handle and might trigger autoimmune symptoms or a flare-up.

What is The Right Kind of Exercise for People with Autoimmune Disease? 

The idea of a right kind of exercise for people living with an autoimmune disease is a little misleading. The goal here is to reap the health benefits of exercise in terms of managing your autoimmune disease and symptoms while dialing in the following factors to avoid exercise-induced symptom flare-ups. Almost any exercise program can be tailored to be the right kind of exercise. There are four factors to keep in mind when determining the right kind of exercise.

1. FREQUENCY
This refers to how often you exercise. In order to reap the optimal benefits of exercise, you must exercise consistently over time. Ideally, this should look like daily exercise with rest days incorporated- but if this is too much, in the beginning, you can work up to it. The most important thing is to be consistent, so if that means that you exercise 1 day and rest 2 days, then you need to make sure you get back to exercise on day 4 and repeat.
2. DURATION
This refers to how long each exercise session should be. If you are consistent with your exercise, it doesn’t need to be that long. A lengthy workout session has more of a chance of overstimulating cortisol, so keeping it short is best. However, how you define short depends on your level of fitness. If you are someone who is newly diagnosed, or new to a fitness regiment, short should mean 10 to 15 minutes per session at the most.
3. INTENSITY
This refers to how hard your workout is, and how much you push your body. Generally, the rule of thumb is that people living with autoimmune disease should keep the intensity low to moderate, especially when starting out. However, it is important to note that the right kind of exercise is one that is progressive, and builds in intensity just a little bit, slowly, over a long period of time. This progressive nature is what helps us adapt over time to the pain response.
4. TYPE
This refers to the style of exercise. Generally, any style of exercise can be adapted to follow the rules listed above. However, a note of caution: exercises that really ramp up cortisol, such as HIIT training, spin class, and Crossfit WODS, as well as any kind of cardio such as running or elliptical should be done with extreme caution. These types of activities are significantly more likely to stimulate an exercise-induced flare-up.

Feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to know and do?  The good news is that I’ve created a 6-month online program called the Autoimmune Way.  In the program you are gently guided through the many steps you can take to fight your disease.

Learn more about the program here.