We all have been told over and over again that daily exercise is good for us. And yes- it is indeed true. And it stands true even more for people with autoimmune disorders, as daily movement has been shown to have a major impact on the reduction of physical and metal symptoms of autoimmune disease and other chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia and lyme disease. (click here to read more on this topic)
However, all us of suffering from these chronic pain disorders know that we DO perform daily exercise, and that it doesn't always feel good. In fact, daily activities that require movement, like walking, climbing stairs, carrying groceries, all of these activities can cause pain. During my times of my most heightened symptoms, I learned that these daily exercise activities were hurting me, rather than helping me.
But the question is why? If daily exercise is good for us, why did I dread having to climb up the stairs to go to bed every night?
Well, the answer is that not all exercise is created equal. It is not just daily exercise that can make us better, it's the proper daily exercise that can make us better.
You see, we all have postural misalignment. It's inevitable in today's modern society- we sit at desks all day staring at computers, we look at our phones, we drive our cars- and all of these positions reinforce some muscles to be tight and others to be weaker. Eventually, the tight/weak muscles imbalance becomes one that is chronic and difficult to undo. And every time we move, we compound this tight/weak muscle relationship instead of undoing it. So, even going for a walk could cause or aggravate pain. This holds true for all people, but for autoimmune and chronic pain sufferers, the pain is greater, making even a gentle exercise like walking feel impossible.
So, while daily exercise is important, it is more important to use exercise to correct these imbalances. Once the imbalances aren't so major, the basic daily activities discussed above won't hurt so much.
There are many ways to work on correcting these imbalances. Stretching is the best place to start. You could get a deep tissue massage, which would release some of your tight muscles, or you could try a yoga class.
Here, I am going to give you my 4 favorite exercises to start bringing your body back into balance. Three are stretches, to work on the tight neck, shoulders, back and hips. The last is a butt booster- since our glutes and hamstrings- are often the weakest part of a person's body.
1. Neck Stretch: Sit or stand with a straight back. Place your right hand on your head, and use that hand to gently pull your neck towards your shoulder while you keep facing forward. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the left side.
2. Forward Fold: Standing straight up, feet hip width or wider, pull your belly button in, and raise your arms to the ceiling. Then start bending your body at the hips, folding forward. Bend your knees, let your arms neck and head fall forward and release. Hang for as long as feels good, and then slowly, pulling your belly button in, squeeze your bum and lift your body back up.
3. Hip Flexor Stretch: Kneeling on the floor (or on a yoga mat or towel for more padding), place the right foot out on the floor in front of you, knee bent. Sit up all, and lean forward toward the bent knee, and you should feel the stretch in your left groin and upper thigh area. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
4. Glute Bridge: Lie on your back on the floor, rug or a mat, with your feet on the floor and your knees bent, pointing to the ceiling. Lift you bum off the ground, pressing your feet into the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.
Here is the thing about these exercises: doing them once in awhile probably won't help. Your muscle imbalances have been there for a long time, and so it will take some time to undo their tension. However, if you commit to these three stretches every day, you should see, and most importantly, feel some change in your body. Stiffness and pain should dissipate, and ease of motion should return. And that is a good thing. :)
And for those of you who want video instruction on these exercises, sign up for the free trial here, and you will find these exercises (and many many more!) in the Autoimmune Strong program.