I am an advocate for working out or simply moving in any way daily, for mental, emotional and physical health.
I learned early that engaging in some form of daily bodywork does wonders for my self-esteem and also my mobility.
And the person who taught me this was my father. We started running together when I was a teen.
It was a great way for us to get some fresh air and bond. Now I’m the one running with my teen daughter.
I used to think that working out would make us invincible.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and polymyalgia rheumatica can hit anyone regardless of how much and for how long they’ve led an active lifestyle.
And it can certainly make the person feel powerless, especially when they were used to relying on physical activity to improve their mood.
I have friends who were professional dancers and athletes, who now suffer from different kinds of arthritis. It’s hard on them.
Some of them have switched from dancing to yoga, because they know that, as an article in the Mayo Clinic explains, exercise can improve strength and flexibility, and stronger muscles better support the joints.
My own dad was diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica a couple of years ago.
It all started with pain and stiffness that first led doctors to think maybe he had frozen shoulder.
But then his hips were affected.
While he always enjoyed long walks and going to the gym, simply standing up from the couch was an ordeal. Once he started moving, however, his symptoms subsided and he felt better.
It took him a while to decide to see a doctor about it. He’d already been through the nightmare of a quadruple coronary bypass a few years before.
He wasn’t fond of visiting doctors after that experience.
Thankfully, when the pain and stiffness was too much for him to bear, he visited a series of specialists, and finally got the diagnosis he needed and the subsequent medical treatment.
Both contributed to relieve his symptoms, and to once again lead a life of mobility. This improved his outlook.
Being pain-free makes all the difference for someone dealing with any kind of rheumatic or arthritis condition.
It improves one’s mood and the ability to once again engage in physical activities that are good for body and soul.
If I learned something from watching my father navigate his condition, is to enjoy my own mobility while I can, and to invite other people to keep their bodies in motion through activities such as walking and gentle yoga.
Doctors have told my father that his conditions would be a lot worse if he’d never exercised.
Now that he’s been housebound for weeks along with all of Spain, he’s found ways to stay active.
He walks up and down flights of stairs in his building.
He also tethers himself to a doorknob using exercise bands, to walk and run in place with resistance.
If he can, anyone can!
They also told him they need to monitor him because, as per John Hopkins Arthritis Center, “around 20% of patients with polymyalgia rheumatica are ultimately diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (because they can look so similar early in the disease course).”
To those experiencing such conditions or who have family members dealing with pain and inflammation, I can assure not only from the above statistics, but also from experience, that staying active can help deal with the physical and emotional toll these illnesses can have on the patient and their family.
Maybe it’s a small consolation, but please know you are not alone in this.