In October 2017, I turn 50! My sister recently asked me what I want to accomplish before turning a half century old. “I want exercise to be a part of my life again. I want to feel strong,” I said. Until six years ago, regular workouts had always been a part of my life. I wanted them back. I was tired of yo-yo exercising — starting a workout plan, stopping, and starting again.
Sharing this goal out loud somehow made all the difference in the world to me. I was ready. To succeed, I had to take some realities into consideration, such as the fact that I would be 50 soon and that I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I stopped working out years ago when my body started responding negatively to exercise. I had to find a plan that would work for my current body. It includes the following five principles:
1. Let go of past physical goals. My stubborn streak made it hard to accept that what worked for me in the past won’t work in the present. Part of my yo-yo exercising happened because I’d attempt to jump back into the workout world where I left off, pre-RA. Not surprisingly, these attempts always failed. The first step for me was to start off as a beginner and build myself up.
2. Choose activities that fit me. The second step was figuring out which activities wouldn’t leave me wide awake at night with hip or knee pain. When I was in my 20s and 30s, before I had RA, I loved high energy workouts. They left me feeling energized. Now, as I approach 50 and deal with daily reminders of RA, it is important that I choose activities that work with who I am today — bike rides with my husband, yoga, walks, and weight training.
3. I am worthy of exercise. Step three was figuring out why I didn’t feel worthy of regular physical activity. My current medications and menopause have contributed to a 20-pound weight gain in the last six years. I had convinced myself that working out didn’t matter because RA pain would most likely stop me, and the extra pounds wouldn’t go away anyway. Stating my goal to my sister,saying out loud that I wanted to bring workouts back into my life and feel stronger, helped. It opened my mind to the realization that I deserve to have a strong body despite RA, and despite the recent weight gain. Physical activity shows my body self-care, something I feel strongly about.
4. Set aside low fatigue days. RA has a way of sapping your energy, and one of the excuses I have used in the past is that I am too tired to work out. I needed to focus on which days of the week worked best for workouts; weekends and shorter work days wouldn’t require as much of my energy. Adding workouts to the calendar stops me from over-planning. My workouts are now a priority.
5. Be gentle with myself during a flare. As I went to bed the other night, I realized my knee was swelling. I had been doing so well with my workouts and didn’t want to miss out. Then, I reminded myself of step five: Be gentle with yourself. If I needed to alter my workout, I would. One thing I have learned about RA is that it has a strong voice. If I don’t listen, it will speak louder. Taking a day or two to care for my body is OK. During a flare, I can listen to my body and substitute my workouts with gentler activities, such as taking a bike ride, going for a swim, taking a longer walk, doing a simple yoga routine, and reducing or eliminating weights.
I have been working out four days a week for the last four months, in addition to daily walks with my border collie. I started training with light weights and feel proud as I build strength and can add more weight. Bouncing around isn’t my thing anymore, so while I can do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, I tend to follow the low-impact option. On the weekend, I like to go for a bike ride with my husband or spend 30-40 minutes doing a yoga or Pilates routine. As with past workout attempts, I haven’t lost one single pound, but I am okay with that. I’ve let go of that goal for now. Today, I want to focus on the fact that I am getting stronger and I wake up on workout days excited to do something good for myself.
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Cathy Kramer shares her positive voice as an advocate in the rheumatoid arthritis, chronic illness, and self-care communities. Her ongoing journey with RA can be found on her blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo. She often hangs out @cateepoo88 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.