Establishing Routines: Exercise

This month, we are going to talk about exercise.

Having your body move can help with a lot of things: mood, maintaining your wellness, and learning new skills are just a few. There are some really joyful things that we can engage in, and a wide range of personalized goals for us to work towards, when we take exercise for what it is. There is even plenty of evidence that gentle exercising can reduce inflammation, menstrual cramps, and joint pain if done right.

Unfortunately, we do live in a world where the very word “exercise” makes many of us cringe. It joins next month’s topic, diet, in a weight-loss industry that uses it to shame people’s bodies so that we will buy their particular brand of services. In the process, exercise has been framed as something that you must do, a chore, or you’ll be the exemplar any one of an assortment of negative (and “negative”) adjectives. We are influenced by people wielding these things for personal profit, instead of our wellness. And sometimes, we are made to wield it against ourselves.

It is a cultural set of emotional trauma that we all carry in the west, particularly when that “we” is narrowed further to women. It can be a difficult process to work through the feelings we have, but it is a worthwhile process to dissociate exercise from the weight-loss industry. We need to reclaim it as part of the many experiences we are entitled to rather than an obligation to be tolerated.

For me, it helps to realize that a lot of the rhetoric we hear from that industry will come out of weight-loss doesn’t come from weight-loss at all. When you get down to it, a lot of the studies out there have shown that it’s when we exercise that we gain a lot of those mysterious health benefits that we hear. And the confidence that comes from learning a new skill, like dancing or kayaking, can be so much more lasting than that we get from our appearances.

For me, it’s more than that. I have hyper-mobility, which means that my ligaments are too stretchy to prevent my joints from bending past what they were built for. The wear on my joints, as a consequence, is more extreme. The cartilage that normally protects the joint heads are not enough to cover all the places that are exposed, particularly when the surrounding muscle tissue is weak. From my medical history and my mother’s personal records, my hyper-mobility has been around for my whole life, but doctors told my mother that it would resolve itself. In my case, it didn’t.

I need to exercise if I want to retain my current level of mobility. Over the years, I pushed myself physically in ways I shouldn’t have, and avoided mentioning my pain as a teen when the physical therapy would have been more preventive, because of fat-shaming. I’ve been in physical therapy twice a week since September. While I’m getting stronger – and fall over less – the damage is still there. But if I don’t exercise, if my muscles get weaker again, they will be more damaged. More importantly, I will be in more pain. While I’m in plenty of pain between the myriad of medical conditions on my chart, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to be in more pain.

There are other people with other complicated issues as well. This month, I want everyone to think about a couple things as you come up with your routines. I want you to consider your relationship with exercise: what is it to you? What things have influenced how you look at exercise? Think about what you want from your routine around this. Do you have a goal, be it running a 5k or being able to pick something up, that motivates you?

Don’t forget about the things you are going to use to protect your wellness in this goal. Are there medical conditions that need to be supervised? What are your limits that need to be kept in mind? Whose advice should you seek on making this routine in order to meet your needs? Is your routine based on your wellness, or is it based on self-destructive behavior? Is there someone you should have supervising you, or is that something that is emotionally unhealthy for you at this time?

As for me, my routine goal is a maintenance one: to get into the gym to do my routine twice a week. This is the level I need in order to maintain my current mobility levels. Considering I went from being dependent on a cane when I started PT to only needing it for distances or occasions where I’m on my feet for extended periods, I think that I have a good chance of improving what I can do without pain as well. There’s a chance that in the next few months, they will have to discontinue PT, and after that point I’ll really need to have this routine set. I would also like to work towards being able to walk my town’s 5k in a few years, but that is more of a long term motivator to me.

What exercise routines are you looking at? Do you have any resources to share?

By Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone

Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone.

Advocate, Writer, Geek.
Multiply Disabled, Queer, and proudly Autistic.
Primary Obsession: Institutions, History of Care of people with MH/DDs
Also obsessed with: Social Justice, Cats, Victorian Romanticism, and Doctor Who.

8 replies on “Establishing Routines: Exercise”

I have always hated the idea of exercise – especially as it relates to weight loss. After a rough last couple years medically I’m really starting to appreciate my body more and I want to use it in ways I never have before. However I don’t have the stamina or muscle or flexibility to do the things I want to do. Which leaves me with a dilemma. I can not abide going to the gym because it feels very hamster-wheel to me. If I am going to exercise it has to be a secondary attribute, not a primary goal.

So I signed up for a gentle yoga class yesterday that starts next week. I’m pretty stoked to combine some meditation and flexibility routines in my life. I want to harness the power of my body and make it do all the things I’m imagining. I’d love to run, jump, play, kayak, hike and dance. Right now I can’t so I’m trying to ease my way towards that goal. Very nice and timely article.

Yoga and classes tend to be a pretty good place for people to start. You might love it, or you might want to consider another type of class if it’s the yoga (or the instructor) that is the issue. I have issues remembering to get to classes unless I have someone going with me, which is the big reason I am not taking a class myself.

I had the advantage of getting sent to Physical Therapy, with the physical therapist’s office having access to the YMCA’s fitness room. The sort of direct supervision and the knowledge of what a body can and can’t do in my condition was really beneficial. I wish that people could get PT covered in short bursts now and then just because they are dealing with basic difficulties that aren’t big traumatic events/crisis points in chronic conditions. (I was falling over a lot when I was initially sent.)

Also, I think of Exercise as self-directed physical therapy a lot, and I wish it was more acceptable to use that phrasing when we talk about exercise as something that we do for our personal wellness.

I just recently got back on the exercise bandwagon again. To reestablish the habit, I’ve told myself that if I exercise 5-6 days per week for a solid month, I will buy myself a Lush product I’ve been wanting but can’t really justify.

I actually feel really uncomfortable mentioning working out to people. I definitely don’t look like someone who is any good at it(even though I get beastly with regard to stamina and strength after about two months). I feel like that disconnect is..weird? Or that they’ll think I’m lying or something? I don’t know. It just makes me feel odd so I avoid ever saying anything about it.

I feel uncomfortable about mentioning it to people too, which kinda sucks because talking with people about it can be a pretty good way to build support structures around your routine. But yeah, I either get the “oh good you’ll loose weight” thing (which is followed by WTFs when I say that’s not my goal) or the “what are you doing here newbie?” thing unless the person in question is another regular at my Y’s gym. The regulars just tend to nod at me when they recognize me.

So important, as you mentioned, to keep goals related to exercise to be health based and not weight loss based. In my private practice I have found that when people exercise for losing weight and they don’t have the results they expect, they stop all movement. When clients choose activities because they are pleasurable and integrate them into their lives, they sustain the practice with or without results that can be measured by the scale. This is one of the tenets of the Health at Every Size (r) movement! Thanks for writing about it.
Warmly, Dr. Deah

Yep! I really have a lot of appreciation for the work you and others have done in this area.

Because I wanted to frame this in a way that would be safer for people who have conditions for which typical conceptions of health wouldn’t be attainable, I went with my personally preferred wording rather than using health even though using health would have more easily evoked the great concepts that are found in HaES.

Personally I use wellness, because as someone with chronic illness and a member of communities of people with chronic illness, the typical conception of “health” isn’t attainable. With this population, it becomes a similar issue when framed around health- after a while, the things that could bring wellness are stopped because they don’t result in the person becoming what people think of as “healthy”, regardless of size. I know that “health” and what Health means in the movement are different things, but I think a lot of people see the word and make certain associations that can result in some crappy self-talk, especially in people trying to establish what their new normal is. (And goodness is finding that a difficult process!)

This is so timely for me! I just found out that my company holds a 5K every spring. It’s 9 weeks from now, which fits perfectly with the C25K training program, so I’ve decided to give it a shot. I downloaded a helpful app that keeps me on track during the runs and can access my music. I’m hoping that having a goal will keep me on track for the next couple of months, and that by the time the 5K is over I’ll have a firmly established routine.

For years I battled exercise as a bad thing and said that if I could have the body I wanted without any exercise or diet, I’d do everything.

Now it’s a part of my daily life. Even when I “cheat” and do 10 minutes instead of 45, I notice the effects. I’m not going to preach, but I think a lot of people would prosper by any shape or size of exercise. Because your body and mind adjusts. Fast.

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