When living with a chronic illness, what does it mean to be “healthy”? This question has stumped me for years. For the longest time my thinking process went a little like this: if I’m going to be sick all the time, why even bother trying to take care of my health? Everything related to health and physical fitness just felt like a lost cause. After all, if some days I can’t even move around, why concern myself with losing a few extra pounds or adding a little more muscle strength?
I recently learned that this actually means more than I could have ever imagined….but I didn’t get from question to answer so quickly. There were a lot of lessons learned while I went from point A to point B.
One of my biggest lessons (only recently) learned was that exercise and RA activity need not be mutually exclusive. Oh, this definitely does not mean that no matter how I am feeling I should power through my exercises or yoga class. (Trust me, on more than one occasion I learned all too well what happens when I do so…) It means that I can exercise…but depending upon the day, my definition of exercise sometimes has to change.
As I previously wrote here on my blog, after an extended leave I returned to the gym a little under three months ago. My goal at the time was to try to figure out how I could simultaneously manage my rheumatoid arthritis and my physical fitness. I had made great strides during the previous couple of years, but I was still following the either/or logic. Either I went to the gym when I was not in a flare, or I stayed home when I was in a flare.
I’m proud to say that I’ve had much success in finding that magical spot, where I hold back in some ways in order to protect my body, and where I push forward in some ways in order to improve my physical fitness.
During the past two and a half months, I have had numerous flares…some lasting for a few hours, and some lasting for a few days. I have been very careful in monitoring my exercise and any negative impact it might have on my body. What I have realized is that I actually feel worse on days when I don’t do any exercise. Even when my rheumatoid arthritis is flaring a little, but I manage to go to the gym and do a 20-minute workout instead of my usual 1-2 hour workout (30 minutes elliptical and weights, 30 minutes power abs class, 60 minutes pilates class) I always, somehow, end up feeling a little bit better.
Desired movement, when my rheumatoid arthritis is sending my body confusing messages that it might be a wise idea to completely stop all movement, can at times be even more powerful than actual movement. Some days, my most beneficial workouts are the ones where (physically) I do the least.
I’ve lost almost 25 lbs. since the beginning of July. While I’ve always carried around a few extra pounds during the past two years, I haven’t necessarily been particularly overweight. The funny things is that my co-workers and friends cautiously inquire about my health, and only then do they realize that this recent weight loss is actually healthy weight loss, and not related to my condition or medicines. And then they ask all the usual questions, such as how did you do it and are you on a diet?
I eat butter, not margarine. I consume chocolate much more than what is probably considered normal. I drink whole milk. And the list goes on…I’m not saying this to show off, but to share my philosophy when it comes to my food diet: high quality, real products…nothing artificial, be it sweetener or flavor, and nothing processed. One of my personal heroes is Julia Childs – I just love how she always used to throw extra butter and cream into the pan. Once Jacques Pepin suggested making a low-fat version of a dish. Of course, Julia immediately nixed that idea!
A couple of times over the past month I’ve pulled my crutches out of the entry corner, in order to be able to walk all the way to the neighborhood clinic for one of my anti-inflammatory injections. To me, these are the moments when my current weight loss is the most important. While moments like these are always difficult, this time around, putting one arm/crutch in front of the other and swinging my lower body in between was just a little but easier than usual.
So many years into my life with rheumatoid arthritis, I actually find myself in the most healthy and physically fit condition that I have ever been in. I’m chronically sick, yes, but I’m also chronically healthy.
Ironic, isn’t it?
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!