Running & Fitness

Keeping Fit with an Ongoing Condition

Kayleigh Herbertson
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If you have an ongoing condition then it is easy for it to consume your life. From asthma to arthritis, these conditions can make you feel weakened and afraid of your own limits. In the case of chronic conditions that arise suddenly, without warning, it is incredibly easy to become sedentary as a means of coping. And once you are ready to lead an active lifestyle again there is always a conscious consideration that you must now match it with what your body can handle. My name is Kayleigh and I have had a chronic pain condition called Tietze’s syndrome since I was 14 years old. This causes extreme pain and difficulty breathing; in fact, people have been admitted to hospital with Tietze syndrome thinking they are having a heart attack. It took me a long time to find a way to be active with this condition and I have burned out more than once, I hope I can offer some advice based on my experiences.

Tip 1: Know Your Limits, Be Conscious of Early Signs

Over the years I have become incredibly acquainted with my condition and it is taught me to look for signs that things might be going badly. If you test yourself then you may well find that your body will give you a nudge to stop doing what you are doing. Listen to it. It can be incredibly demoralising to have the enthusiasm to work out when your body will not play ball; but putting yourself through agony is likely to demotivate you further. I used to enjoy working out in a gym where the distractions were minimal, giving me the perfect way to really focus on what my body was telling me.

It is very likely that certain exercises will become  limits to you with your condition but I would strongly advise that you focus on what you can still do. I had a friend who had had major spinal surgery and bemoaned that he could no longer play rugby. I also know that I cannot take part in most combat training, as a blow to the chest will end in agony. Focusing on what you cannot do is a pointless exercise that takes time away from you getting out there. Experiment and try new things, you might be amazed by what your body can manage.

When you first get diagnosed with a condition, particularly a painful one, it is easy to retreat in order to reduce the amount of pain you encounter. Wherever possible, challenge this mindset and learn what your limits really are, instead of worrying about what they might be.

Tip 2: When Working Out Alone, Tailor to Your Needs

Working out alone takes a lot of motivation but can also make you feel less self-conscious. Whether it is jogging around your local park or purchasing a treadmill, you can create a place that gives you full control. It can be far more expensive kitting out your home in a manner that will compete with a gym but you can get weightlifting and even CrossFit equipment that will fit in a spare room.

If your condition requires you to be more gentle in your approach to fitness then there are plenty of options to be found. Walking as much as possible can have a great impact on your health; the NHS has a 10-minute home fitness cardio workout that can be really helpful for those wanting to train at home. Other interesting options can be fitness games, such as the Kinect. The Kinect connects to the Xbox as a motion sensor and this has opened the way for many fitness games that can track your movements. If you already have a partner or children who play video games then this could be a simple way to get a bit more exercise in.

Tip 3: When Working Out in a Group, Be Honest With Your Instructor

If you choose to join a club or group then I would advise telling your instructor about your condition as soon as possible. Making an instructor aware of your limitations allows them to tailor their approach to you and will also cut down on complications if you do find yourself having difficulties. But this is not just about getting them up to speed, as I have found that it is a good chance to measure your instructors response. If they are indifferent or enthusiastic then they are likely to have had experience with clients diagnosed with ongoing conditions. Either that or they are willing to learn alongside you about what you can handle. If they look uncomfortable or dismiss you then alarm bells should ring.

If you are paying to join a club or group then you have every right to demand consideration for your condition. It is not good enough for a coach or trainer to roll their eyes in annoyance if your needs change or if you have to leave a session due to your condition. Ongoing conditions are not a sign of weakness, they are a sign of impressive mental strength and you don’t need someone making you feel bad for something you can help. I had a very bad previous experience with a ju jitsu instructor who forced me to be thrown hard onto the ground several times until I was gasping for air. Being told I had an attitude problem because I grew panicked and upset only served to make me feel worse. I left the group and did not join any others for more than a year.

You are not being selfish or spoilt if you expect consideration from your instructor regarding your condition.

In Summary

  • Find a workout or fitness regime that works for you, mix it up and always be ready to try something new
  • Working out alone allows you to set the pace but can be more expensive
  • Working with a group can give you additional support but ensure that you have an instructor that’s willing to deal with your additional needs.
  • Finally, leave your pride at the door. If your condition has curtailed your ability suddenly then you’re going to need to re-learn your limits. If you’re trying to get fit with a pre-existing condition then you’re likely to be slower than others. None of this should matter when you’ve made the all important decision to do what’s best for your body. If people are paying attention to you in a manner that you deem inappropriate then consider whether they’d have the strength to train if they had your condition. No one knows each other’s journey and you should always be proud for your efforts to be more active.

Do you have a condition which limits your fitness? How are you doing your best to stay in shape? Share your story below!