My husband and I decided this week that we need to focus on regularly doing stress relieving exercise. We came to this conclusion after one of those pointless arguments that you have in the middle of a stressful week, when you aren’t really dealing with what is actually bothering you. One problem with having chronic pain is that every week can seem like an especially stressful one – flareups can interrupt like mini crises, causing a flurry of last-minute adjustments to make sure all the necessary things get done. Life can start to seem like a giant game of whack – a – mole (that carnival game where the ‘moles’ pop their heads up faster than you can hit them with the hammer). We realized that if we just keep trying to react to all those inevitable stressors faster and faster, from forgotten pill refills to unexpected financial costs to family demands on our time, the only result will be that we are burned out, not that our to-do list will ever stop growing.
I think we need to try to get a little bit of control by managing our stress better, not doing our chores faster. I have an upcoming mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course happening at my hospital later this fall, which I think will be really helpful. However, another important thing to include is exercise. This is difficult for chronic pain and fatigue patients, for obvious reasons. It can also be hard for our spouses and caregivers because they often don’t have time between working and doing the household chores to fit in some exercise. I’m very lucky to have a man in my life who is willing to do so much for me – but he sometimes forgets to take care of himself in the process.
I think that it is very convenient to have an at-home option for your exercise. Walking and aqua fit are great, but if the weather is bad or you don’t have the energy to trek out to a pool somewhere, it can often mean no exercise at all. I think a really good resource are at-home DVDs.
I was excited to find a resource called Tai Chi for Arthritis by Dr. Paul Lam . I had never done tai chi before I got this DVD and I have to admit that I generally associated it as an exercise that was most appropriate for elderly people. Like a lot of other things that I’ve had to revise, I’ve learned that this stereotype is just not true. This is a really good instructional video that takes you step-by-step through 12 lessons until you have a movement sequence memorized.
I particularly like tai chi because the entire program involves standing, not transitioning from lying to sitting to standing which other exercise forms like yoga tend to do. There is also a seated tai chi DVD available on his website if that is easier for you. It is entirely possible to take rest breaks if needed between lessons. The DVD also includes warm-up and cool down segments. It’s nice to be learning an entirely new way of moving – it feels like a new skill rather than a simplified exercise protocol. Although it is very gentle, I can feel afterwards in my shoulders and mid back that I have been exercising. Dr. Paul Lam is also a very Zen individual, and watching him is just in itself calming!
This program was specifically designed by the Arthritis Foundation in the US and Dr. Paul Lam, who is a medical doctor and tai chi instructor. Some of the health benefits discussed on the Tai Chi for Health Institute website include:
- Muscle strength is important for supporting and protecting joints. It is essential for normal physical function.
- Flexibility exercises enable people to move more easily. Flexibility also facilitates the circulation of body fluid and blood, which enhances healing. Many arthritic conditions such as fibromyalgia, scleroderma and spondylitis are characterized by joint stiffness and impaired physical function. Tai chi gently frees up stiff joints and muscles.
- Fitness is important for overall health and proper functioning of the heart, lungs and muscles. Tai Chi for Arthritis can improve all of these components.
Several studies of the program were completed and they demonstrated pain relief and improved balance for patients with arthritis. I’m going to focus on trying to do this program two to three times a week. Hopefully I will begin to feel more of the physical benefits, but especially the stress lowering effects of exercise in general and tai chi in particular!
My partner (who does not have chronic pain) is going to be doing a beginner yoga DVD by Rodney Yee which looks really good. It focuses on learning each posture correctly and then gives you a couple of routines to learn. It’s good to remind the people that we love and who take care of us to look after themselves once in a while!
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