When Chronic Fatigue Doesn’t Cooperate With Your Fitness Goals

Everyone Says We Should All Exercise, Right?

Who doesn’t know about all the benefits of exercise on mood, weight management, functional mobility, and short and long-term health? We all do.

Who finds it easy to live a physically active lifestyle and never drop off? Not many of us. Who has it hard because of a busy work-home life? Lots and lots of us.

Then there are those of us who want to be active but a chronic illness seems to get in the way no matter how many times we’ve started and really tried. On top of the usually daily responsibilities, we have a body that’s working against our efforts.

I am willing to bet somewhere along the line you’ve heard that you should exercise regularly to make your condition improve.  Sure, no problem! I’ll just go ahead and start that right away.  

Chronic Illness Makes it Not-So-Simple

I’m not going to tell you they’re wrong, but I get it that it’s not that simple.  Do an internet search for “chronic illness and exercise”  and you will find a seemingly unending list of sites telling you how important exercise is.

Research is all over the place that goes in this direction:

symptoms → exercise → symptom improvement. 

You won’t find much that goes this way:

symptoms → exercise → worsening of symptoms.

As a Psychologist, I worked with people living with a multitude of conditions, and without fail, I would encourage them to exercise.  All the while, I had an undiagnosed condition, and struggled myself to do what I was sure SHOULD help.

That’s because I figured my fatigue was all “in my head“, and I wasn’t finding anything out there telling me otherwise. Fast forward to 2017 and I received a diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome. From there, my journey really began.

In the past few years I’ve gone from pushing myself to lose weight, manage stress, and feel more confident, to crashing and burning. How did that happen? The perfect storm of an autoimmune disorder that’s not cooperating with my efforts, and severe life stress. Chronic fatigue that was always there began to consume me and made living my life next to impossible.

Feeling discouraged and starting to lose hope, I started digging around in the scientific literature. What I’m finding looks quite different from years past. For starters, researchers are finally starting to listen.

Times Are Changing (Thankfully!)

research about chronic illness

I still say exercise is necessary, even when you’re living with a chronic illness. Your approach to it needs to be different, though. Refer back here regularly, I will be sharing research about exercise and chronic illness to help you make good decisions (in cooperation with your physician, of course!) about how you should proceed. Before you read about health advice, I want you to know how to think critically about what you find.

As you look through the Physical Movement area of this site, keep in mind most of what you will find is exercise strategies for people without ongoing fatigue issues. As a chronic illness sufferer, you can adapt these tips and suggestions to fit your own situation. I recommend talking first to your doctor about how exercise affects you (if you’ve tried already), and discuss a plan to get started. Once you’re ready, come back often and keep in mind, slow and steady wins the race!

If you’re ready to start now, here are a few resources to get you going: Autoimmune Strong is a program developed by Andrea Wool, a nutritional therapy practitioner and certified personal trainer. She created it after her own battles with illness and fatigue and developed it to work with your body’s boundaries, at your own pace (disclosure, if you sign up for her program, I may get a small commission).

Count the steps around the house (free download)

“Build up your steps” guide.

Here’s a real take-it-easy “challenge” to get you started. You take it from there if you’re ready to do more.

Click here for a weekly goal sheet – download it as often as you like!