Note:Everybody who reads this should talk to their medical practitioner or some sort of fitness professional, like a personal trainer, before they get started with an exercise routine. This article is written both for people with typical health and those without, but the suggestions are easier to map onto your life safely if you don’t have as many medical quirks.
I mention some chronic conditions and how that can affect the kind of exercises you want to do, like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and general hypermobility in your joints or something more specific like Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. And if you’re a wheelchair user, here are some exercises that are specific to you! I’m sorry that I don’t write about you specifically, but I hope you will find encouragement here, too.
So, your new year’s resolutions include getting fitter or exercising more than you have been, and you’re wondering how to begin wisely. (Remember that there are tons of benefits of exercising that have nothing to do with weight loss.)
First of all, have you set S.M.A.R.T.O. goals? If you haven’t exercised at all recently, imagining that you’ll be able to do 60 minutes of cardio right away isn’t going to bring you success. If you just say “I want to exercise more,” how does that help you, either, because what does it look like to meet that goal and be able to incrementally raise it over time? What kinds of exercise do you want to do, anyway? There’s cardio, weight-lifting, balance, and flexibility, to name a few. I’ll talk a little bit about cardio and weight-lifting, but I hope you’ll look at making your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-sensitive, and aware of obstacles that could get in your way.
Let’s think about a few of these factors: achievable, relevant, and aware of obstacles (that’s where I’ll talk about chronic conditions and how they fit into the question of how to start). I think achievable may be the most important factor when it comes to fitness.
- If you have the money, get a session or two with a personal trainer so you know where you’re starting and where might be the first places you want to go.
- Start small in order to feel like you can go somewhere. If it’s 3-10 minutes of cardio (where you get up to about 150-160 bpm, depending on your age), start there. If it’s 5 reps of the smallest hand weights, start there, and know that you don’t need to do arm and leg exercises the same day. You will build up. If you overdo it, you will feel more than sore; you will feel pain, and you won’t want to go back.
- Where do you have the most fun and feel the best about yourself?
- Exercising on your own, with a friend, or with a group?
- Indoors or outdoors?
- What do you have the money for?
- A gym with classes? A gym without? No gym membership?
- No gym membership? No problem. Here’s 100 free ways to exercise.
- What will actually make you feel like exercising? Because that’s what’s important. It doesn’t matter if your friend likes cycling and you hate it. Do something you actually like.
- Hiking? Taking a walking path?
- Catching up on Netflix or listening to an audiobook or a great playlist while doing the elliptical or treadmill?
- When do you actually have the time in the day to exercise?
- Morning? During your lunch break? Afternoon? Evening? (Don’t exercise too close to bed – say, within 3 hours – because you’ll be a bit wired after that.)
Aware of obstacles.
- What do you consider embarrassing? Guess what: You’ll probably be sweaty and not look like what you’re doing, and you’ll laugh at yourself. And that’s perfect. But you’ll still be accomplishing your goals, so you’ll thank yourself and be proud of yourself, too. A little sweat (okay, a lot of sweat) doesn’t take away from a killer exercise-inspired, goal-achieving smile.
- What do you consider discouraging? If you’re trying to look like the people in magazines or stock photos, I will be someone to break the truth to you: You probably won’t. I don’t. And that’s okay. Who said you had to look like them, anyway? On a different note, if you start with fitness goals that are too lofty, you’re likely to be discouraged, too, which is why it’s so important to make your goals S.M.A.R.T.O.
- What limitations does your body bring to the table? I’ve created a list of products that help me with my wonky physical health, and here are some health conditions that I know a little bit more about and how they can affect your exercise. Know your body. Personal trainers know much less about these conditions (other than mood disorders) than they should, so you need to talk to a medical practitioner. They might even write you a script to see a physical therapist or a physiatrist, a kind of doctor trained in healthy movement. Take them up on it. I cannot tell you how helpful that has been for me, and now I have a binder of exercises that are safe and helpful for me (rather than doing the more general fitness regime that actually hurt some of my muscles – there’s a difference between pain and soreness).
- Fibro: Know the difference between pain and soreness. Similarly to chronic fatigue syndrome, you in particular need to set attainable goals to make sure that you don’t crash the next day. If you exercise within a reasonable range, you’ll get energy; if you don’t, you’ll lose it.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome: Since you have post-exertional malaise, it’s going to be extra important for you to set attainable goals and see how you do. Just as with fibro, if you exercise within a reasonable range, you’ll get energy; if you don’t, you’ll lose it. Even three or five minutes makes a difference.
- Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome: You may think you can’t exercise, but guess what? You can work up to it – and here’s how to safely do that. Best news ever.
- Hypermobility or Ehlers Danlos Syndrome: For the love of God, do not do yoga. Just don’t, unless someone extremely well-versed in this area tells you that you would benefit. Here’s an article specific to stretching in a way that doesn’t make things more difficult for you. Since you’re likely to have POTS, make sure to look at my POTS exercise article.
- Mood disorders like depression that can make you feel like an especially crappy person when you miss a day or feel like you’re not meeting your goals: Assess your thoughts and compare them to reality. Are you a bad person because you stepped away for a little bit? No. Will you feel better if you go back? Yes. Go.
Have fun, my friend. You’re going to experience so many benefits if you do this carefully: Better mental health, increased energy, a boost in your self-confidence, and possibly even a longer life.
And guess what? It won’t be perfect. There will be days that you overdo it or don’t feel well and either do a very shortened version or skip it for the day. The important thing is that you do it. Not every single day, not like how everyone else is doing it, but how you do it and feel your best.
Your mountain awaits – get on your way!