Yesterday, one of my "skinny" friends was complaining about having gained 3 pounds recently and how disgusted she was in her eating and exercise habits...I nearly choked on the head of the chocolate Easter bunny I was inhaling! How dare she beauch to me, of all people, about her silly three pounds, when I am suffering from having just packed on 13 big ones from my recent steroid binge?!?
"Three pounds. What a light weight," I thought, as I listened to her skinny mouth rant on and on. I can gain and lose three pounds in one day just by binging or going to the bathroom...what was she so worked up about?
Eventually, after a brief bout of resentment, I was able to muster up some empathy for her situation. After all, proportionately between us, three pounds could feel like a lot of weight on her skinny thighs and hiny. And just because I now had 13 pounds to lose just to get back to being simply OBESE, was no reason to be offended by my friend's weight issue.
We eventually moved on to talking about exercise...and yes, the fat lady IS going to discuss exercise and its importance in Multiple Sclerosis. Being over weight should not inhibit me from speaking what I know to be true!
Exercise has become a dirty word to me in the past decade, but it was not always so in my earlier years. When I was in high school and college, I was actually an athlete and a well-trained one (believe it or not...I have photos to prove it!). But somewhere along the way I stopped exercising for reasons I can't really remember. I suppose once I stopped competing in sports, I may have lost my "drive" to force myself to exercise even when I didn't want to.
Whatever the reason I stopped daily exercising, I also continued to eat the same as I did in college and I even picked up a few other bad habits along the way. The weight began to settle around my hips and gut, but this didn't seem to bother me in the least...I was happy with my sedimentary life. I could much more easily change my ATTITUDE about my body than motivate myself to get out the door and exercise!
Once I was diagnosed with MS, I began a panicked soul searching into my dilemma over my unhealthy ways...3 years later, I'm still soul searching, but hopefully coming up with some ideas on how to curb some of the dysfunctional behaviors and promote other healthy ones. Exercise has been a major focus and topic during these three years.
Now I have to brag a little bit here because I DID walk the 1/2 Marathon in Seattle the year I was diagnosed in 2003...the 13.1 miles nearly killed me, however, from lack of appropriate training and I spent 2 weeks combating my exercise "hang over". I had walked the 1/2 twice before without much of a problem (and was over weight then, too), but had to come to terms with the fact the MS WAS going to limit some of my activities and I could no longer forcibly MAKE my body do anything like this again without proper preparation.
This year, a few friends and I are planning to do the 1/2 Marathon again in Seattle. It happens in November each year, so we have over 7 months to train steadily for the event. Before my recent relapse, I had already begun the weekly walks to build up endurance and distance. My dear friend and neighbor is walking with me, so forcing myself out the door was and is a bit easier because I enjoy her company.
But this brings me back around to the idea of the importance of exercise with MS (you thought I'd forgotten, didn't you?). What I HAVE learned over the past 3 years regarding exercise and my MS is, I DO feel better getting out and moving on a regular basis. I tend to sleep better, have a bit more energy, actually eat less, have less stiffness/spasticity in my joints and legs, and have an overall better sense of well being. SO WHY DON'T I WANT TO GET OUT THERE AND GO???
I believe I have developed a pattern of inertia in my life, which is a behavioral issue combined with a physical state of being. I have "trained" my body to remain still and I have "trained" my mind this is OK. A stone won't roll without a push and it rolls best if it's on an incline...this is a simple fact of physics!
I have found one of the best tools in solving my inertia issue is involving friends to help me with the "push" part of the physics problem. Having someone to meet or exercise with forces me to at least be responsible and call them to explain why I am not getting out of the house for our exercise date. And more times than not, I'm too embarrassed to say, "I don't feel like exercising today". I also enjoy the company of my friends, so scheduling walks with them gives me a reason to meet up and spend some quality time.
The "incline" part of the physics problem is a little more tricky to solve. Finding the type and amount of exercise that will help you roll more smoothly downhill can be a hard task, especially when dealing with some of the physical limitations of MS. It is true...some days my fatigue is too overwhelming to "get out there and go" or my spasticity is unrelenting in my lower calves and it might actually be detrimental to my health over all to push myself into a 4 mile walk. My advice to myself has been to start slow and give myself allowances for these days and to also have a back up plan of some type of exercise I CAN do if I wanted to on those days.
Recently my therapist and I did an experiment with the idea of inertia and exercise. We made a pact between us to try a plan for one month/28 days and to agree not to give up before then. Since we are both stubborn and strong-willed people, neither wanted to risk being the one who would have to admit they failed!
The plan we designed was to do some type of aerobic exercise every day for 12 minutes a day...that was all...just 12 minutes of cardio a day (This was based on ideas from the book, "Fit or Fat", by Covert Bailey). I even made up cute little calendars with fitness sayings and stickers to mark each day we had completed. The idea was to retrain our minds about exercise by forming a HABIT, thus retraining our bodies. I am happy to admit, it DID work...at least right up until my recent relapse it did. And we both felt physically better in the process, even adding time to our workouts as well as adding other types of exercise, such as yoga and free weights.
It was interesting, however, once I fell into relapse, I did not even try to maintain any type of exercise...frankly, for a long period, I couldn't. My leg was weak, the pain was overwhelming, and I was needing to rest and let my body heal. And, when I dropped out of the "plan/experiment", my therapist eventually admitted SHE did, too! The motivation aspect for her seemed to dissolve.
Now that I am mostly through relapse and returning back to work, I think it is important to return to my "plan" and get back on track with my training schedule for the 1/2 marathon AND my behavioral training plan with my therapist. Who knows...perhaps it won't take me twice as long to lose the 13 pounds of steroid weight as it did to gain it!
My advice to you (if a fat lady is allowed to give any about exercise!) is to do what you CAN do, but not to use your MS as an excuse to do nothing. There are many exercise options available for you, even if your mobility is limited. Staying flexible and limber can be just as important as giving your heart a cardio workout or losing unwanted weight. Focus your energies on attainable goals such as simply moving or stretching each day and NOT on having the body of Twiggy in a month...you'll only set yourself up to fail and sit like a stone in the road...you'll lose your inertia very quickly. Just MOVE in some way and don't let MS rob you of this primal freedom!