5 easy steps to doing exercise when you have a chronic illness

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One of the most popular posts on my blog is How to start exercising again with chronic pain. It’s clearly a topic that people are keen to learn about so I thought I’d post a similar article about doing exercise, that will hopefully help you build more movement and activity in to your day.

Disclosure/Medical advice: In no shape or form am I a medical or sports professional. I am someone who has lived with chronic pain and illness for many years and have slowly but surely built some exercise, activity and movement in to my daily routine. This article is based on my own experiences of exercising with my chronic conditions. Not everyone is fortunate to be able to do the things I can do. Make sure you seek advice from your own doctor or other qualified healthcare or sports professional before doing any new exercise. Ask questions about your own medical conditions to make sure what you are doing is right for you. This is particularly important if you haven’t exercised for some time.

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Why is exercise, activity, and movement so important?

Our bodies are designed to move and everyone knows that exercise and movement are great for our health and both physical and mental wellbeing. Any kind of exercise, activity and movement are going to help make you feel more energised, help keep your body working as it should, and help you manage your chronic illness better.

Depending on your condition, tight muscles can make existing pains worse, which only makes things harder to manage. So the more you move, the better it is for you.


Listen to these Feel Better Live More podcasts to learn more about the importance of movement and exercise:

Discover the Joy of Movement

How Exercise Changes Your Brain and Reduces the Risk of Depression

Why Waking is the Superpower You Didn’t Know You Had


1 Start slowly

Whatever exercise you decide to do, it is vital that you start slowly. The last thing you want to do is do more harm than good. Aim to do just 5 minutes a day for the first few days or weeks and only build it up when you are ready.

Many times I have said “I’ll do a 30 minute workout every day this week” and each time I never get past day 1 because it is just too much for me. My body reacts by causing additional muscle soreness and it puts me off doing exercise for a long time.

When I started doing just 5 minutes a day I found it much easier to do, it put less stress on my body, and I found it was easier to sustain for a lot longer than 1 day!

2 Do something that you enjoy

This sounds obvious, but many people try doing new exercises because they see other people doing it, or it’s the in thing and they feel they should be doing it as well. Wrong. You need to an exercise that you enjoy, otherwise you won’t want to do it. You want to make it as fun and as enjoyable as you can, not a session that are going to dread doing and that will feel like a chore or even torture.



3 Don’t be afraid to try new things

As well as doing things you enjoy, don’t be afraid to try new things, but the key here is that they must appeal to you in the first place.

I like the idea of doing some boxing, but I don’t have anywhere to use a punch bag. Instead I decided to buy a boxing reflex ball and I absolutely love it. Read more about this is the below blog post:

Click here to read my blog post A few of my favourite things that are helping me right now

4 Make sure you have rest days

We all know how important it is to rest when you have a chronic condition. It is also vital that you rest when doing exercise, as your body needs to recover and repair itself. And in simple terms, you don’t want to over do things and make it even harder to manage your chronic illness and pain. Even if you are only able to do short walks, it’s a good idea to have complete day of rest in between your active days.


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5 Track your activity

I find it useful to track my activity. It helps me understand how much movement I am doing and keeps me motivated. I like to see where I have improved and pushed myself, and I often set little challenges for myself that give me a sense of achievement and make me feel good.

Use a fitness tracker to understand your steps and how much exercise you do, or simply write down your exercise on a notepad.

A question for you

What exercise do you do? Let me know in the comments below.


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2 thoughts on “5 easy steps to doing exercise when you have a chronic illness

  1. Despite Pain says:

    This is a helpful post, as usual, Alice.

    I find the best and easiest exercise for me is walking. Some days, I might not manage any at all, but other days I can, and I can determine how much or how little I can manage. I agree with your first point about starting slowly. Even just five minutes is better than none at all. And two separate five minute walks in the day might be easier than one ten minute walk.

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