How to Motivate Yourself to Move When You Kinda Can’t (or Karen’s Adventures in Wonderland)
Chronic illness sucks. It’s hard to keep moving when you have no energy. If a walk to town will wipe you out for days then you most likely won’t and, honestly, probably shouldn’t. Equally, you don’t want to not move at all as you can seize up. Lots of exercise advice is aimed at people who are healthy and able, or at least able. Gradually building up activity doesn’t work if your energy levels won’t increase with it; you can be left feeling worse than you did and less able to move.
I’m not a medical professional; check with someone who knows more than I do and if it’s not working, chuck it out the window. But here are some things that worked for me.
A while back, I went on a virtual walk to Maccu Picchu – it counted the steps and showed me how far I was along the route. There were checkpoints to show landmarks on the way. I found this really motivating, especially as I got a medal at the end. I was averaging about 4 miles a day. I can’t do that this year. But the walks are very personalisable. Last time, I did it in a far shorter time and didn’t allow general movement – only walks outside. This time, I’m pacing it out to allow for days when walking just isn’t happening and bimbling around indoors counts. I’ve left myself enough time that I won’t overdo it, and can potentially finish early if things go well. This year it’s a walk through Wonderland. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Stretching / seated yoga
I don’t want to sit/lie for too long as it makes it all the harder when I do want to move. I’ve found stretched help. Speak to your doctor or physio to find things that will actually help you. I find my hip flexors and hamstrings get too tight, it may be different for you. I can do these in my own time, and repeat as needed. Seated exercises can be done at your desk or on the side of a bed. Some movement is better than none, and it’s low impact so you shouldn’t exacerbate any injuries. Again, check what’s right for you and listen to your body.
Balance fun and practical
You may need to pick up that prescription, nip to the shops, post a letter… It can seem like there isn’t anything left in the tank for fun. See if there are things you can outsource, delay or combine. If you can’t, do something to make things more enjoyable. Listen to music or a podcast, pick up a bathbomb at the pharmacy (if you have money) or find an alternative route, so it’s not so repetitive.
Dance workouts/rhythm games
I used to be a bit too into my dance mat and Just Dance and I love a Zumba session, but I’m not up to that at the moment. But dance workouts do have lots of advantages – like warming up and cooling down properly. Plus, you may well move in ways you don’t usually; when I ruptured some discs I realised how little I could move from a dance workout as I only usually moved in a few fixed directions.
Find a workout for beginners – even if you weren’t a beginner before. Some of them have modifications to make a little easier or harder and you can choose the level that fits. If you need to, you can stop early. Make sure you stop before you’re too tired so you can do a cool down – you don’t want to be exhausted and have broken yourself. Dance games can be fun, just make sure you start with an easier song and see what works for you. If you manage two songs before you need a rest, it’s two more than you did yesterday.
Workout with a friend
Meet a friend for a walk, play a game with your bestie or try a YouTube workout together via Zoom. Make sure it’s someone who understands your energy levels and, preferably, won’t mind if you’re just out of bed or have pulled on an old t-shirt. Neither of you have to be perfect, you just need to be willing to try it. Have your Spoonie Card to hand to play if you genuinely can’t do it one day. Focus on the wins, but acknowledge that the bad days do happen.
Take care of yourself
If you need a nap, then go for it. If you’re achy then maybe a bath. If you need a hot water bottle while you work then that just makes sense. Same for cushion on your chair, cool spray to hand, lights off… If you’re prone to over-doing it while working, then try to break things down. Consider doing pomidoros and actually taking proper breaks – you don’t have to stick to five minutes if you need more. You can’t sit cramped in an uncomfy chair all day and try to make up for it later.
So, you can (often) do a little more, or try new things. Work with what you can do now, listen to your body and take it as slowly as you need to. Ignore what other people are doing, even if they have similar conditions. No one else has walked in your shoes, or with your dodgy ankles or strange dizzy spells. Do what you can, enjoy doing it and stick something fun on your to do list every day.