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How to motivate yourself to work out with a chronic illness

A quote I posted on my Instagram this week touched on the internal battle those of us with a chronic illness or injury have to cope with on a daily basis: when to rest and when to push on. I often use the example of when a ‘normal’ person gets ‘normal person sick’ they are advised not to work out, to rest until the body recovers. However, when you are chronically ill, if we didn’t exercise on the days we felt ill, we probably would never move again.

But that means not only do we face the normal struggles of how to motivate ourselves to workout, we also have to battle against our body. Mine often says 'No, never move again, curl in a ball and re-watch all of love island on Netflix'. Pain, fatigue, nausea, fatigue, joint stiffness, fatigue and more fatigue can make it so hard to get on your mat.

The other risk is we can become so good at pushing past symptoms, and soldering on we can often start to ignore when our body is begging us to rest. Rest is vital, our bodies can live in a state of fight or flight and constantly ‘overdoing’ can lead to further pain and fatigue. A ‘boom and bust’ pattern can occur, where we overdo it one day, then do nothing for a few days while recovering. So even when you do workout, how do you know how far to push it? The fear is real not to overdo it and push your body into a flare which can make it EVEN harder to motivate yourself.

I struggle with this, I’m used to pushing my body and when I physically can’t I go to the other extreme and don’t like doing anything. This last year has been a big learning curve for me to listen to my body. My workouts are no longer about seeing how sweaty I can get nor about improving my abs. They have been a functional, low impact, slow and steady set of movements focusing on control whilst listening to my body.

These are my tips to work out when your body doesn’t want to work out:

  1. Think of movement as a positive for your body, rather than a punishment. It’s to make you feel good, not worse.

  2. Pick ‘easy’ exercises – start simple & you can always modify to make an exercise easier or harder depending on how it feels.

  3. Say to yourself I will start with 5 minutes…I almost guarantee you will end up doing longer. And if not, you still managed 5 minutes which is better than 0!

  4. Listen and adapt, if something makes you feel sick or causes you pain, stop and see if you can modify it. If not, rest have some water and try something else.

  5. Learn from how you felt immediately after and over the next few days, if you have no pain or symptom flares, next workout you can step it up.

Lots of love, Zoe xx

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