As many of you know, when the summertime comes, I usually try to do some sort of exercise. In addition, I keep a garden going as well when the weather gets warmer. So, since that time of year is coming around again, I am making preparations to exercise and plant the garden. In addition, because of the heart attack, my cardiologist has recommended that I begin some cardio-therapy, a.k.a. riding the stationary bike. Seeing as how I normally avoid exercise like the plague, I am dreading getting on the exercise bicycle at therapy. No matter what, though, my desire to be among the living for as long as possible supersedes all other concerns, so I will do my best to “sweat it out.”
This past week, as I jumped back into physical activity, it became apparent that I am extremely out of shape. I’m so out of shape, in fact, that I was actually getting a bit nervous on my first bike ride of the season. Along with two other weekend escapades into physicality, I certainly didn’t “feel the good burn” as my muscles and joints screamed for relief.
Exercising for arthritis has long been an acceptable treatment, believe it or not. Many patients with R.A. and other forms of arthritis swear by their exercise regimen and claim that without it they would not be as limber and pain-free as they currently are. On the other hand, there are patients like myself, who dread exercise. Now, this is not simply because I enjoy sitting on the couch and stuffing my face with chocolate covered pretzels dipped in deep-fried-donuts with a side of buttered fried chicken. Putting stress on my joints does often result in those joints hurting later in the week, and exercising puts a serious amount of stress on my joints. Also, it just seems counter-intuitive to me that using joints vigorously when you suffer from R.A. is a good thing.
Even though every cell in my body screams at me that more joint movement is bad, authorities like the Mayo Clinic recommend an exercise regimen for those with arthritis. They claim it can help maintain bone integrity, strengthen muscles around joints, help control weight, and generally improve your sense of wellbeing. In addition, they claim that not exercising will actually make joints stiffer and more painful. Now, this may be true for those with mild to moderate arthritis, but those like me whose bodies have been well and truly ravaged by the disease are not going to hurt more from not exercising. Most of us are always in pain anyway, so anything we can do to cut down on joint movement will help to curtail the discomfort we feel on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, as is always the case with my illness, I am now faced with yet another trade-off. Since I had my heart attack my ticker is working 20% less efficiently. In order to help prolong my heart’s life and give me a much better overall health picture, I now have to exercise the heart – mostly because it’s a muscle just like any other. Exercising a heart consists of increasing my pulse sufficiently enough for a prolonged period of time to give the old heart a good workout. Since I have not done this in, well, since ever, I have to start small – two minutes at first, then maybe three minutes a week later, and so on. Chances are I won’t be able to get to my goal of fifteen minutes of stationary bicycle riding until the end of summer. The ironic part of that situation is once I finally get to where I want to be, the cold weather starts again and it’s back to sitting indoors. Either way, though, it’s still a tradeoff. I have to walk a fine line between making my joints go haywire by riding a bike too long, and having my heart simply give out one day because it is so deconditioned — just another one of life’s wonderful choices, courtesy of autoimmune arthritis.
So, to begin my exercising with a kick start, this weekend I rode my bicycle to the local convenience store, spent five hours outside with my brother building a raised planter for my garden, and spent three whole minutes on the exercise bike. As you can imagine, my joints are not in great shape, and to be honest, my “overall wellbeing” isn’t super duper either. Everything hurts right now, and pain medicine isn’t doing very much to help it. As I said, I am seriously out of shape, and it is going to be a while before I can get myself back up to zero. Only then will I be able to actually begin building muscle. Right now I am just working to put back on the muscle I should have — muscle that I’ve lost over the last few years laying in hospital beds and sitting in my recliner.
So here I am, complaining to you, my faithful readers — mainly because no one around here will listen to my whining anymore and you guys can’t talk back. I’m probably just annoyed that I have to change my routine and put up with feeling crappy for a few weeks. I know, deep down, that this is for my own good, though, so I’ll probably keep it up. Who knows, I may even turn back into my regular, chipper, self before the summer is through! Anyway, it’s time to go now; I have to prepare my water bottle and towel for my bike ride to nowhere tomorrow at therapy… I may even hit four whole minutes before I keel over. Tally ho!