How to Stay Active If You Have Chronic Pain

I’m sure every spoonie has heard this: “You’ll feel better if you’re active.” Which is so so true but, when you have chronic pain from Lupus or any other autoimmune disorder / chronic pain it can be hard to even get yourself out of bed! How are you supposed to be expected to exercise?!

This is something I’ve really struggled with over the past few years. Growing up, I was extremely active; I danced, hiked, and swam on a regular basis. So, becoming so sick and sore that just the activity of getting myself to work was a physical accomplishment was devastating. But, over the past few months, I’ve gotten to a point where I exercise at least 3-4 days a week! Granted, it’s not nearly as intense as my exercises once were, but all those doctors are right! You DO feel better if you’re active.

The past several months of my health journey has been transformative, and I’m sure every little change that I’ve made could have somehow contributed to my surge in energy and decrease in chronic pain. But, it’s important to figure out what works for your body! For the longest time I was following people on Instagram thinking that I should just follow what they do to feel better, but that is totally WRONG! Maybe some aspects of another person’s routine will work for you, or maybe it won’t, and that is okay. Listen to your body. 

But, I still wanted to share what I think has been the most impactful for me:

  1. Start When Motivated: Getting started was obviously the most difficult thing for me - I have been sore for years now and even walking up the stairs is tiring! But, one day I was feeling okay and I had a moment of motivation and energy. So, I seized it! I put on my shoes and I went for a long walk. Those moments of motivation started to come more frequently and I took them every time, even if it was 11:00pm. Taking advantage of those moments helped me get started! And the more I took them, the more they came.

  2. Start Slow: You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) go from 0 to 100. Start with short walks, then maybe start to lengthen them or walk faster. I really felt like I needed to be back at my old physical level right away, and that’s simply not going to happen. I found that if I just did some short low-intensity activities, it helped me get into the groove and truly did start to help my pain.

  3. Try Low Impact Exercises First: Speaking of, if you are ready for more than a walk, try something low impact. I LOVE yoga and going to classes really helped me feel more confident and build strength. Also, there are so many modifications that can be done if you’re in pain - there were a few weeks that my wrists and knuckles were incredibly sore and swollen, so I did everything on my forearms and elbows. I was still able to be active, while being mindful of what my body needed. Other low-impact classes that I’ve loved doing are gyrotonics and pilates - both are such great ways to get the synovial fluid moving in your joints and build strength!

  4. Make Sure You Are Eating Right: I was shocked at how hungry I was the first few weeks of going to yoga and lengthening my walks that I thought something was wrong, but I was trying to still eat the same amount as before. That was totally wrong! Once I started eating the amount that my body needed to build muscle and sustain my new activity level was when I actually started to feel good. This being said, it was important that I fueled my body correctly, not only being sure that I didn’t eat anything that might set my body off, but also being sure that I was getting all the essential vitamins and protein. I started writing down what worked for me and what makes me feel bad, which has helped me really hone in on how I should be eating.

  5. Phone a Friend: I’m really lucky to be surrounded by an amazing and supportive group of friends and family. So, as I started to become more active it was important that I also let my friends know. This way, they knew they could invite me to take a class with them instead of just hanging out on the couch watching TV. And, I also started to ask to make plans with them to go for a walk or go to yoga (or teach them yoga!). Not only does it feel good to be able to do these things again, it’s also a nice way to keep yourself motivated and accountable!