Monday, January 16, 2012

On Exercise

I was a very athletic kid. Most sports came very naturally to me and I loved them all. I was always outside shooting hoops or riding bike or playing something or the other with neighborhood kids. I played basketball at school through junior high and stopped playing only because I decided to focus more on music. However, I continued to be fairly active. In college, I could often be found playing frisbee. I also got into yoga and weight lifting.

My current, post-MS activity and exercise levels are very much lacking. A few years ago I joined a gym and had a very dedicated schedule. I worked out several times a week and pretty intensely. Then I had a neuro appointment, where I complained that my pain had been consistently really bad for quite a while. It took about two seconds for the doc to figure out why - the exercise. It's a troubling catch 22. Exercise is good for overall health and helps certain MS-related issues like energy levels and constipation. BUT for those of us with the delight of nerve pain, it very much exacerbates the problem. Also, exercising too intensely can cause overheating issues which can make all symptoms worse AND can make fatigue significantly worse. After that appointment, I pretty much stopped working out totally.

I used to LOVE that post-workout feeling after a really hard, intense, vigorous workout. It was hard work and I was worn out, but somehow also totally energized and felt incredible. Endorphins are awesome. This no longer happens, ever. If I work out at that intense, vigorous level that used to leave me feeling amazing, strong, and invincible, I now feel completely and utterly defeated, a limp noodle unable to even imagine doing any physical activity ever again. PLUS I'm in overwhelming, agonizing pain.

So, I'm in a tough place. I want to and intend to work out at a moderate level regularly, but I hardly ever do. I know that I need the various positive effects of the exercise BUT I am so terrified of making my pain worse. It's already bad enough too often. And I would love to experience an energy boost from working out, but I'm afraid of not finding the magic spot where I get this boost and instead get the total system shutdown effect.

in the pool with my niece and our hippo friend

My doc recommended getting in the pool as the very best thing I could do. Too bad I'm not a swimmer. However, I do currently live at a place with a pool and I have used it and find I can get a decent workout without exacerbating my problems too much. It's still not my natural habitat, though. I need to make it a consistent, regular habit to get in the pool. I also need to consistently lift weights and do yoga. A friend and I just started an accountability program where we check in with each other once a week about our progress in certain areas. For me, it's working out. My current weekly goal is lifting weights at least once a week and some form of cardio at least twice a week. This first week I only swam once, so there is definite room for improvement.

Any tips on how to make exercise a positive part of your life?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Magazine Monday: a poetic disease description

Today's Magazine Monday feature comes from one of my favorite magazines, The Sun (not to be confused with the British tabloid of the same name). It is completely ad-free, full of beautiful, wonderful writing on a large variety of meaningful and interesting topics. It's expensive, though, so while I just indulged in a free sample issue I cannot afford it right now. I hope to subscribe again at some point in the future, though, and I would love to be published in this publication someday.

In the essay Bruised, Joe Wilkins meditates upon the body and its fragility and meaning after getting elbowed in the face during a basketball game. Midway through this richly evocative reflection, Wilkins writes about his brother:
"People pass by us each day and read our bodies, marked like great ash trees - pearl bark ribboned with hearts and arrows and what all else - and wonder.
Consider my brother, who some years ago was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune disease, the sufferer's own immune system mounting a furious and deleterious insurrection, scraping away the myelin that insulates neuron connections in the brain. My brother woke one morning and was blind in his left eye, the whole left half of him gone shifty and slack."

The brother and his MS are minor, passing characters in this essay, but I think the above description is quite lovely. I'm a sucker for words well combined, even when they are describing something I don't like at all.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Book Review: 8 Weeks to Optimum Health

I've long been very intrigued with integrative and/or holistic medicine. It seems like the wisest choice - to consider health and healing from the perspectives of both ancient wisdom and Western knowledge. I particularly appreciate the inclusion of the spiritual and emotional sides of health and how they affect and interact with physical health. That said, I haven't ventured far in this direction in my own healthcare. This is primarily because I am very wary of many so-called practitioners of holistic-type treatments that aren't, to my mind, truly helpful and are just quack money-making endeavors. I would love to have an MD certified in integrative medicine as a primary care provider, but no such doctor exists anywhere near me.

Dr. Andrew Weil is a pioneer in this field and I've been aware of his work for some time and just finally found the time to read his book, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. Overall I found it a very interesting read. I was pleased to find that many of his suggestions are already a part of my mindset and behaviors. I also found several new tips to add to my life. Certainly, parts of the book I will likely not engage with, but ultimately I think this is a fantastic plan for improving your health in a natural way.

For each of the eight weeks in this plan,  Dr. Weil provides directions in areas of diet, exercise, mental/spiritual health, supplements, and other areas like news fasts, avoiding chemical and energetic toxins, and appreciating art and natural beauty. Among his suggestions I already actively engage in are eating lots of garlic and ginger (currently OBSESSED with ginger tea, especially Twinings Lemon and Chinese Ginger Revive Herbal Tea and Yogi Ginger Herbal Tea Supplement - SOOOOO GOOD!!) and regular use of breathing exercises. New things I will take away include tons of great-sounding recipes, further encouragement to try adding fish to my diet, further encouragement to be more rigorous with my vitamin/supplement routine, being more considerate of energetic toxins, and perhaps trying a few herbal treatments. This final item is one reason I really wish I had in integrative medicine doc to call my own, since I am hesitant to bring up non-traditional things like herbs or any type of CAM treatment to my doctors. I also hate the nuisance that it is to talk to my doc before trying something like this.

The book included several little vignettes of healing, wherein people who have integrated the suggestions in this book into their lives share how they have become healthier in various ways. Included are a few stories of MS patients. One such patients writes: "I now regard the diagnosis of MS as a blessing in disguise. It brought me to a much more spiritual path and reminded me that my task is to be a myself." Also an MD, this patient ended up studying Ayurvedic medicine and uses meditation, breathing exercises, a mostly vegetarian diet, Qi Gong, regular exercise and the herb ashwagandha in her self-healing endeavors.

I highly recommend this book. To learn more about Dr. Weil and his teachings, visit