The Key to Exercising with a Chronic Illness

I recently started working out again. Exercising with a chronic illness can be difficult, especially working out with myasthenia gravis because it affects the muscles. 

After years of stewing on what my illness dictates I can’t do. I decided to focus on figuring out what I can do.

One of the first things on the list was figuring out how I can start working out with myasthenia gravis without ending up in the hospital in a crisis

blog graphic with exercising with a chronic illness

Exercising with a Chronic Illness

I used to ask my specialist every visit if I could start working out with myasthenia gravis. My symptoms were so severe; he strongly advised against it. I was devastated. 

Working out with myasthenia gravis can be extremely difficult and dangerous. My muscles easily weaken with repetitive movement. 

Imagine lifting a heavy barbell over your head and suddenly your arms give out. Or being on the Stairmaster at a speed of 12-15 and your legs giving out.  

The unpredictability of symptoms is what makes exercising with a chronic illness cumbersome. 

However, that does not mean that it’s impossible. 

Redefining Working Out with a Chronic Illness

I advocate for working out because of how I feel afterwards – invincible, strong, and empowered. Things that chronic illness life tend to strip from you. 

Yes, working out can transform the physical (which I definitely need after prednisone) but it also transforms the mental and emotional. 

I’m a lover of traditional workouts – running, jumping, lifting weights etc. I don’t want to be drenched in sweat or torturing myself. But a nice glow and those bursts of pushing myself to the limit is how I knew I had a good workout.

Removing those elements forced me to redefine “working out” with myasthenia gravis. Here’s what I landed on:

working out with a chronic illness

“Did you move your body today?”

That’s the new concept of my fitness goals. I may not be able to run a 5k or deadlift 50 lbs but I can move my body in some form or fashion every day.

I don’t need to work out like a professional athlete. Nor do I need to outdo myself every day. Some days I will be able to do more, some days will be less.

As long as I show up for myself by moving my body, I have succeeded.

I freed myself from those limiting beliefs and opened the door to options. 

Once I changed my definition of working out and gave myself permission to flow with my body, I began to explore lower impact activities for working out with myasthenia gravis. 

5 Spoonie Friendly Activities for Exercising with Chronic Illness

Here are a few chronic illness friendly activities perfect for those interested in exercising with a chronic illness:

Walking

I was a runner and at my core, I still believe I am. However, the combination of being out of shape and the impact of running on my body makes it 

The great news is that the first step to running is walking. Go as slow or as fast as you want. Walking is a great way to move the body and get the heart pumping. 

Depending on your weight, you can lose roughly 100 calories per mile (for 180lb person). 

Yoga

Don’t throw a chair at me. “Have you tried yoga” is a common response we get as spoonies.

But yoga is thought to improve stress, anxiety, and fatigue. So it may be the perfect activity for exercising with a chronic illness. 

My personal relationship with yoga is that it’s cool. I like the idea of being flexible and the stillness. It’s a great companion for mediation.

However, as a workout, it’s not my favorite because I enjoy moving my body and busting a true sweat. I thought about hot yoga but heat is a trigger for me so I’ll pass.

spoonie friendly workout

Swimming

I was possibly a fish in my past life because I have always loved the water. Swimming was the first low impact exercise I tried after diagnosis. The water helps support your weight so you feel like “heavy”.

I took a water aerobics class and also swimming lessons to learn proper technique. In all honesty, the only reason I stopped because I couldn’t figure out an ideal natural hair routine with going to the pool twice a week. 

Bike Riding

Biking similar to walking is a good low impact alternative to running. The great thing about bikes is that you can adjust the resistance to make it easier or more challenging depending on how your body feels on any given day.

Also, you don’t have to continuously peddle with a bike. Once you have momentum you can coast and give your legs a break.

There are quite a few types of bikes: outdoor bikes (like road bikes or touring bikes) and indoor stationary bikes (recumbent, upright, or dual action) if you want to avoid going outside.

Pilates

Pilates is a great activity for exercising with chronic illness (especially chronic pain sufferers). The movements are low impact and can be modified to fit your ability.

I wanted to try pilates before I was diagnosed with MG. When I wanted to start working out with myasthenia gravis, I started looking into it more heavily.

But the classes were out of my budget. 

However, if you have the coins, try it out. And if you have a buddy pass, let me know so I can join you. 

My Chronic Illness Fitness Journey

I was the most active of my life right before my diagnosis. I was in the gym 5 days a week and training for a half marathon when my symptoms first started.

Due to the aggressive progression of my symptoms, I was unable to workout. I could barely walk from the car to my door let alone run on a treadmill.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve tried multiple times to dip my toe into the fitness realm. Each time being humbled by my illness. 

Frustrating to say the least. 

Last year I was my most successful in terms of working out with myasthenia gravis. After a couple months of working out at home, without a flare-up, I decided it was time to get back in the gym. 

However, I wanted guidance and supervisor so that I wouldn’t overdo it. I hired a trainer.  A black woman and the cherry on top was she also has an autoimmune disease (PCOS). Shoutout to Moefit.

Without hesitation, I signed up to be her client. I knew in my bones she could understand the ups and downs of working out with a chronic illness while pushing me to be great and see results.

Finally, I was able to get back into the gym 3 to 4 days a week and not end up in the hospital. That came to a halt after I pulled my groin muscle and was basically bedridden for 2 months at the end of 2019. 

Then I had to do 2 months of physical therapy. I was finally ready to go back into the gym March 2020 and COVID hit. 

All of those setbacks could have been a reason to give up and just say I’m not able to workout. But I decided to commit to taking my body back.

how to exercise with chronic illness

Working Out with a Chronically Ill Body

In April I started doing short home workouts. It wasn’t the same as being in the gym but it was something right?

May I committed to a mile a day. My original goal was to work up to running it by the end of the month. 

But that didn’t go as planned. I talked about it in detail on Youtube but there were a number of factors like out of practice, form, shin splits, etc. 

With the lessons I learned in May, I doubled down and committed to 2 miles a day in June. I was seeing progress and feeling great. 

July I tapped out because it was getting too hot. Reverted back to indoor home workouts. But I’m planning to get back out there in September. 

The point is that working out with myasthenia gravis or exercising with a chronic illness isn’t black and white. You can sit out and make a plan that makes sense mentally but isn’t feasible physically. 

Flexibility is key but tenacity is paramount.

What is your favorite way to move your body? Any tips on working out with a chronic illness? 

Does anybody want to be accountability partners? I determined to drop a few pounds and be ready for whenever COVID is over. 

Fitfully yours,

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Morg
Morg

Morgan Greene is a Maryland chronic illness and holistic wellness lifestyle blogger. After years of struggling with her autoimmune disease diagnosis, Myasthenia Gravis, she decided to combine two of her favorite things…writing and informing others

IsWasWillBe.com was created to have unfiltered discussions about having a chronic illness. It has since become a place to inspire and create a sense of community among women with autoimmune diseases. Morgan loves trying new things and sharing with other spoonies how to live an ill life on their terms.

When she’s not blogging she is probably reading a book, drinking a Coke Slurpee or listening to music.

2 Comments

  1. Laura Shuman
    July 26, 2020 / 8:00 pm

    I was diagnosed in March of this year with Seronegative MG. Since starting IVIg, I have gone from very slowly walking 1/2 mile to now doing 3-4 miles. I walk every day now! I have even done some hiking. I can also do gardening/yard work in early mornings. My next plan is to get back to resistance training. I have a bowflex that we bought right before my symptoms hit in August of last year. Thanks for the encouraging story.

    • Morg
      Author
      July 26, 2020 / 9:14 pm

      That’s awesome! How often are you receiving IVIG treatments? Are you walking outside in this heat? I hope to get back outside in the fall- weather and body permitting.

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