So the point of this blog is to try and inspire those who may not be able to exercise traditionally but who still want to try and keep active and healthy. I am specifically aiming this at people who may have Pituitary disease but it is relevant for those who may have arthritis, osteopenia, osteoarthritis, impaired strength in their legs/hips, or even those that just want to add some easy movement whilst in a chair.
I’d like to start off just by sharing my own experience with having Cushing’s disease and the remission (both times)! I was 23 when I had my first bout, I found my knees would hurt, my heart rate would go up loads and going up stairs was a little more tiring than it should be. However, I was young and otherwise fit and healthy, I kickboxed twice a week, went the gym 4-5 times a week AND saw a personal trainer. Post op although it took nearly 18 months before I felt ‘recovered’, I was back in the gym doing very light aerobic exercise after 3 weeks. From then on nothing else to report, I carried on as anyone else, got injured and enjoyed exercise (except running, which my spine doesn’t appreciate).
Fast forwards 9 years later and round number 2 of Cushing’s, slightly different story. I’m nearly 10 years older and managed to get pregnant at the same time – very much unchartered waters. However, I kept doing my usual training until my mucus plug broke at 24 weeks, then I had to stop, until I had my son at 27 weeks. I remember towards the end of the pregnancy that I was getting a little more out of breath and walking was becoming more of an effort than it should be.
From around 12 weeks post baby, the disease started to take hold properly. My joints hurt, I was constantly pulling, straining and spraining things. I could barely walk up stairs, I was so very tired even with a small being and a toddler in the house. But I carried on training. Post op 2 my recovery was a little slower this time. I took my time to go back to exercise around 3-4 months, my joints were still painful and walking upstairs was still challenging. A year and a half later, I still find I don’t seem to be able to tolerate cardiovascular exercise like I once did, but that could also be because I find it boring and avoid doing wherever possible! I still have excess fat around my abdomen, that just won’t shift. But you know what? It doesn’t always bother me.
So I can understand some of the frustration when people might tell you to ‘just go for a walk’ or ‘swim’. If you body and energy are against you, then just moving is not that simple. When movement causes discomfort and pain, why would you want to do it? All the latest fitness crazes usually involve high intensity, heavy weights, jumping around or lying on the floor. Well that’s all well as good but scrolling through social media looking at all those ‘miracle’ and ‘amazing transformations’ can feel like a real kick in the teeth when your own body just wont play ball.
I’m very lucky that I understand and am very in tune with my body. I generally know what all its niggles and twinges are and what I need to do with them to help ease them off, when I need to see my physio or when I need to drop my consultant a line. It’s taken me a long time, thousands of pounds in professional training and a broken body to understand mine – not something I would always recommend.
So where does that leave you then? If you can only sit, then lets start there. Hands are a problem or your limbs just feel too weak to hold onto anything? Fine your body is a great tool all by itself.
You can exercise your abdominals by just gently drawing them in. In Pilates we generally do this standing or lying when applying the movements. There is no rule that you can’t take this to a chair. Want to work your legs and challenge your core a bit more? Try lifting one foot off the floor for a count of 5 without leaning to one side. Now try sliding it out in front of you or taking your leg out to the side. You could add lifting the arms or doing opposite arm and leg at the same time.
How about upper body work then? Arms out to the side and draw some small circles, take the circles up to the ceiling and down. You could do some cross body punches. Not enough? Wear some wrist weights or use some really light weights (tins work just fine). You can then try bicep curls, shoulder presses and anything else you fancy.
Legs? I love bands, but if you have no bands then either your own hands or pair of tights or a stretchy pair of leggings might do the trick. Tie them around your thighs, above the knee. Try taking the knees out to the side- this is great for the old buttocks! Make sure you breath. You could then try lifting a leg, straightening the leg etc.
Alright but what about back/shoulder pain? Got it covered. So you know how a dog tucks its tail between its legs when it’s sad? I want you to do that! It doesn’t have to be big but remember to keep breathing. Hands behind the head and then lifting the chest up and forwards is also a great one to help open the chest and release tension in the upper and middle back.
How many and how often? In my experience (all 10 years of it!) I have actually come away from setting a particular amount of repetitions and sets. I have found that you may find it easier to commit to small chunks but spread out throughout the day. So for example you could do a few of the chair exercises in the morning, go for a 5 min walk even if it’s in the garden in the afternoon, do some upper back stretches a little later and finish with a couple of arms. Or not. I’m a big believer that the human body is happiest when it’s moving, we aren’t designed to be still for long periods, if we were we would probably be cats. I would recommend little and often. Do what makes you feel slightly challenged but doesn’t bring on any real pain, maybe start with 2 minutes and build up to 10 or 15. Then do that again later in the day. If you do a little stretch or an exercise every hour that is actually quite a lot and a great goal to work towards. But hey don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. Every little counts.
Take your time to build up the duration and effort. This applies to anyone who has had a baby, injury, surgery or a long time off training. Don’t be to quick to up your game. I see countless of injuries (usually running related!) where people have upped their speed, pace, weight too quickly. When the exercise feels easy consistently then it’s time to challenge it,
Do what you enjoy, if you don’t enjoy it, chances are you won’t stick to it. If it happens to be wiggling around in the chair listening to your favourite disco tunes, hey it’s movement, that’s exercise!
Be patient. Muscle takes around 6 weeks to adapt to anything you do. Weight loss is complicated when hormones and medication are involved see a nutritionist where you can, as this can help massively.
Below is a video demonstrating some movements you could try at home. Sit on the end of a chair with feet flat if you can, tall through the spine. Always work within your own range and ability and seek medical advice if you experience pain or are starting any new form of exercise.
Sian Fletcher Feelgood Fitness