Movement is not always medicine

As I’ve learned from experts the past two years, “movement is not always medicine.”

While many doctors are quick to encourage patients to exercise, there truly are some people who live with a chronic illness or health condition that don’t benefit from generic exercise advice. As a matter of fact, it can be a slippery slope for some.

Now, when told to “eat healthy,” we should all pay attention. I have not heard of any chronic illness or condition that does not benefit from healthy eating practices.

Some of my favorite advice while interviewing doctors for The Honest Migraine blog has been:

“Practice good health habits and in general, if you do, things will work out,” – Dr. Steven Nissen, cardiology expert.

“Avoid exposures (alcohol, toxins in non-organic foods, and acetaminophen) when you can, feed your detoxification system with foods rich in antioxidants…and hydrate,” – Dr. Nancy Klimas, expert in ME/CFS; Gulf War Illness.

“A healthy diet never did anyone any harm,” – Dr. Christopher Snell, expert in ME/CFS; Fibromyalgia.

Given the experts I’ve had the privilege of interviewing, sometimes I feel like I’m thinking one step ahead of some of my own medical providers. This doesn’t mean I let the “what ifs” take mental control over me or that I steam roll experts in medicine, but I want to ensure after establishing a new treatment program, undergoing surgery, or adding/subtracting something from my eating or total wellness and health management plan – that I have a solid grasp on the symptoms that may accompany it, the benefits to be expected, and the risks that are associated with it.

It’s important to me to play my best hand. I parallel it to going all in in a Texas Hold ’Em card game, because essentially I’m putting all my cards on the table in the medical office when I say “yes” to something. A personal belief I have is to not ever go into something with a confidence level of only 50%.

A level of confidence with 50% of unsurety can lead to a path of negative thinking, shifting blame, or lack of asking all the questions that I’ve thought of while taking the requisite time to decide. Before the process, during, and after the fact I can wholeheartedly say “I went all in” and that is something I’ll never second-guess myself over.

Things work out and things fall apart all the time in life. If you try your best and have good intentions and show it through actions, to me there’s nothing to be more proud of.

I know my weaknesses, strengths, and aspirations. Health is worth all the battles to me. I’m focused on keeping my head held high and living a sustainably healthy life. Key word: sustainable.

My eating plan is easy – easy at home, at a conference, and at a restaurant. My exercise plan is adaptable – in a hotel room, at a gym, or an off day. I am methodical and work hard in not overcommitting myself i.e. not running on fumes, and not indulging in things that prevent me from staying healthy.

When I wasn’t able to be physically active (like immediately following a treatment or surgery), I kept my mind moving. I grew up being so active that I feel like movement is engrained in me. But the type of movement has evolved over time, come to a halt, and is given thought to on a daily basis. Today, for example, I took a nap instead of getting exercise. My body needed the nap. Tomorrow’s a new day.

I’m pleased with the balance of my movement. There have been setbacks when I’ve been too ill. The decision to not move my body through a form of exercise has been made based on my inner knowing that I don’t have it in me that day. Other times it’s because a doctor has told me that I am not to exercise for “X” amount of time in order to recover from a treatment.

Within reason I like to feel post workout symptoms – increased heart rate, sweat, and the “burn” as it’s called. It helps me focus, de-stress, and fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.

What did it look like when I was removed from the exercise circuit?

When I don’t work out, my body languishes in the peace and stillness of my body. I like to find ways that I may not be physically moving my body, but mentally exercising. Sometimes I will read a chapter or two in a book, watch a Rom-Com, put together a puzzle, or play cards with a loved one.


Quality rest should not be dismissed! Maybe it’s on a sofa, in a recliner, or in your car during a lunch break. 

What did my routine look like after I was medically cleared from a recent sinus surgery that necessitated a no-exercise order for 2 weeks?

It was a slow start. We must start slow when exercise has been interrupted for a period of time.

I reintroduced myself to exercise with mindfulness. I incorporated in a new practice of more stretching before and cooling down after. I tiptoed my way back into fitness and lowered the levels of cardio and/or machines and split up my exercise into segments. I tuned into the channel my body was in at that moment in time. 

Case in point – there are different levels of movement for each body, and these can be dictated by our health conditions, life factors, and desire.

Just a few variances of movements depending on ailments are:

Performing chair exercises or seated exercises. Check to see if your local community center, senior center, or gym offers them. Or if you enjoy working out on your own time and solo or with a neighbor or family member – look them up on YouTube!

The NHS’s informational guide on “sitting exercises” state that they can be done at home and will help improve mobility and prevent falls.  A few of the exercises include a chest stretch, hip marching, arm raises, and neck rotation. 

Water exercises are something I’ve witnessed since I was a kid. At one of our local physical therapy offices, I noticed folks in the pool for rehabilitation purposes, others for a senior citizen-type water aerobics class. From an outside standpoint it looked like an activity to reap many benefits (socially, mentally, and physically)!

Depending on the condition you live with, it doesn’t hurt to ask your doctor what, if any, exercise could benefit you.

What I found in regards to Rheumatoid Arthritis was “most RA patients also suffer from an accelerated loss of muscle mass, a condition known as ‘rheumatoid cachexia.’”*

“Hydrotherapy (the use of water) has been shown to be very effective for RA sufferers.  As little as two 30-minute sessions for 4 weeks have been shown to significantly reduce joint tenderness, improve knee range of movement, and improve emotional and psychological well-being.”*

We each have a different genetic and overall health makeup so it only makes sense that management would be different. Whether its dietary advice, exercise-related, diagnostics or medication – when we couple up our trusted medical team with our experiences it allows us to find the right “movement.”


Coming next: Headache medicine involves various conditions

Please consider sharing this article with family, friends, neighbors, coworkers.  Let’s help each other reach optimal health.  

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