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All Pain All Gain: When Exercise Intolerance Means Working Out Is Hard

Exercise Intolerance

One of the things we struggle with over here at The Chronic Spoonful is weight gain and something called Exercise Intolerance. Kelli struggles with exercise intolerance, something she didn’t know much about until she got older–but like most people who took years to get diagnosed–it was something she later realized she’d had her whole life.

Exercise intolerance comes in many forms. It can mean not working out at all for some or it can mean modified workouts for others. Any way you look at it, though, it means that the person cannot tolerate working out for some reason. For some, like Kelli, it comes in the form of dyspnea (respiratory or breathing issues). It could be cardiovascular issues like tachycardias or neurological issues, and maybe it’s cancers, infections, arthritis, etc.

For a lot of people with chronic illness, it may be that chronic fatigue has caused us to be so deconditioned that we cannot even tolerate much exercise. And yet for others it may be our heat intolerance that triggers migraines so bad we fear exercising enough to make a difference. Still others may be on medications that make exercise difficult.

Going Beyond Lack of Exercise

All of these things create an exercise intolerance for Spoonies, which also adds to our litany of issues. Not only do we have to deal with potential weight gain, muscle loss, and potential impacts on our cardiovascular health from lack of exercise–but we also have to deal with our own guilt and people not understanding why we can’t work out.

How many times have you heard someone, including your own doctors, tell you that you’d just feel better if you’d get up and move around a little more? Maybe your friends tried to even tell you to try this exercise or that exercise–after all, it will make you feel FANTASTIC, don’t you just know??? Riiiiiiiight. Not that the twisty yoga will pop that rib right out. Or that super HIIT program will just send your heart into overdrive. Or jump rope is sure to cause some stress fractures in those bones of yours. Or that hot meditation–migraine central, here we come!

Yeah. Don’t even think about it.

What Can You Do About Exercise Intolerance?

So, what DO you do if you have exercise intolerance? First things first, always talk to your doctor about what you can and cannot do. Get recommendations for what would work for your body and condition. Every spoonie is different, even if you have the same condition as another spoonie. So it’s important to get that medical advice that is tailored to YOUR needs. Make sure you talk about what’s going with your body, your condition, your life, and make it about you, you, you.

Also have a real conversation with yourself. Look, we have real chronic conditions. Even if we have a good day, we have bad days, too. We can’t let the guilt on our bad days eat us up. So what if we can’t do that workout today? Our ME/CFS sucks, but it’s just part of us. We’ll get back to it when we can. We have bigger things to consider, like resting until this fatigue subsides.

We also can’t overdo it on the good days. So, sometimes Spoonies have this thing where we get soooo excited about feeling good on our good days that we forget that we have a chronic illness and “oops” we set ourselves back by thinking we can do too much. We get on those machines, and our exercise intolerance pops right back up. That can just get us good and frustrated–ruining a perfectly good up day or even go so far as to trigger a flare of our chronic illness.

Remember…everything is better in moderation and within our abilities. Talk to your doc and take it slow. Share with us in the comments your experiences with exercise intolerance. We’d love to hear from you!

1 thought on “All Pain All Gain: When Exercise Intolerance Means Working Out Is Hard”

  1. This article really spoke to me I’ve had fibromyalgia since I was thirteen although I was 18 when I was diagnosed I’m 44 now and I shy away from exercise due to the fact when I do exercise I end up bed ridden for a few days afterwards, also after I finish exercise I feel dizzy and naseus and my other conditions flare up such as chronic migraines pain in my lower back. Pain on my left side ribcage under my breast, hard time breathing just to name a few.
    My parents and doctors keep telling me I have to exercise they don’t understand when I explain to them the reason why I can’t.

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