I abhor exercise! I don’t find it enjoyable in the least. I hate it that it takes up my time, and I hate it that it makes me tired (especially since I am already fatigued due to chronic illness), and most of all, I hate to sweat. I have a treadmill, an exercise bike, an elliptical, and a trampoline – and I hate them all equally. Nevertheless, I have exercised for many years now because of the mental and physical benefits I gain from completing a fitness routine. I have had to alter and reduce my workouts since being diagnosed, but I am still able to manage a little physical activity, unlike many of my friends who are simply unable to participate to any degree, and for that I am grateful.
Whether I want to or not (and I never truly want to), I arise every morning, make my bed, and head down to the many machines awaiting me in my exercise room. (Yes, I have a room, and it is my least favorite room in my house.) I used to walk outside, but my husband now fears that I might collapse from weakness somewhere along the road, so I confine myself to the indoors for his peace of mind. I begin with stretches. I have osteoarthritis in my back and hips, and I find that if I perform the basic stretches that my physical therapist recommends, it actually helps.
After stretching, I choose a machine and engage in around 20 minutes of heart-pumping activity. I was once able to run for about 45 minutes with no problem, but I cannot manage that level of activity on the minimal calories I am able to consume now. I tend to alternate among my various machines based on which body part aches the most and how bored I am with a particular piece of equipment, but regardless of which machine I use, I always end my workout with a few minutes on the trampoline. (A friend of mine recently informed me that trampoline bouncing increases oxygen circulation to your tissues, and it certainly minimizes stress on the joints, so I try to use it every day.)
I have found that though I detest exercise, in the long run, it helps me both mentally and physically. To begin with, there are obvious heart and circulatory benefits to working out. It also lessens my osteoarthritis symptoms and strengthens my bones when I can remain active. Most importantly, there is some evidence (and I am fully convinced of this based on personal experience) that it improves digestive motility. This is rather important for someone with gastroparesis.
In addition to the purely physical benefits, regular exercise also improves my mental health. It relieves stress, which I don’t completely comprehend, but which has something to do with the mind-body connection. Physical activity apparently causes your body to release endorphins that act as painkillers and can relax you, thereby reducing your stress. Though I don’t understand this well, I know it to be true because I have experienced it. Exercise also aids me in maintaining focus and concentration, which helps me to remain mentally alert. Further, though I hate doing it, once I have completed my workout, my mood has generally improved. Most of all, though, physical activity simply makes me feel better about myself. When I have done something that I know to be beneficial for my overall health, and when I have achieved a small goal that I have set for myself, I feel good about my accomplishment.
So, while I will likely continue to gripe and complain about how much I hate workouts, I will also likely persist in my routine for as long as I am able. I might have to alter my methods and reduce the amount of time I exercise to accommodate the progression of my illness, but as long as I can move, I will do so – and I will be thankful for this gift of motion.