No getting around it. I need more exercise. One weekly barre class is just not enough to stay in shape. Ever since Ginger died this winter, I haven’t been as good about taking a walk every day—no furry muzzle bopping my hands off the keyboard when it’s time to stretch and get out of the house. And I haven’t felt motivated to go to the gym. It’s chilly and impersonal and the three large flat-screen TVs broadcast an endless stream of bad news, too depressing.
But a visit with my cardiologist last week and my lead rheumatologist on Monday made it quite clear that I will feel a whole lot better if I move more. It’s critical for my longterm health and well being. (Not to mention body image—without Ginger’s nudging to walk regularly, I’ve put on five unwanted pounds since February—all below the waist.)
This has all been complicated by two issues: the fact that if I exert too quickly, I get short of breath due to some physiological complications of scleroderma, and the fact that my feet, despite all my efforts to find the right shoes, tire easily. They’re really sensitive from thinning fat pads, also due to scleroderma.
After long conversations with both trusted physicians, however, the bottom line is this: my body is high maintenance, but if I’m mindful of the boundaries of my endurance, the more I exercise, the more I’ll be able to endure.
So, I basically have to get off my butt and work out for a half hour at least three days a week.
I know I could listen to audiobooks or podcasts or music. But I’d rather read while I exercise. I have a backlog of books and New Yorker magazines. So my first strategy is going to be to try to read while I use the stationary bike. The treadmill is another option, but if I want to go easy on my feet, the bike may be a better bet.
Neither of these options sound thrilling. They don’t call it a treadmill for nothing. And a stationary bike is, well, stationary. But I can’t ride a regular bike anymore because of the pressure it puts on my wrists. So, I have to make the best of what I can actually do.
Another psychological obstacle to overcome: I will never look like all those pictures of buff, attractive people that decorate the fitness center, supposedly as motivation—”This could be you!” Nope. No way. In fact, I think those images do more to discourage me, because the ideal is so far beyond my reach.
But the reality is that striving for an ideal body is so not the point. This is about building endurance, feeling more flexible and confident. Trusting myself that, even if I have this damn disease, I can still be physically strong.
My cardiologist said I shouldn’t overdo it, and there’s no need to do big, strenuous routines on the bike or to run on the treadmill. Just listen to my body and do what I’m comfortable doing, to start, and work up from there.
They convinced me. I know I have to. And who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise myself and actually enjoy the gym. Stay tuned. . . .
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.
Photo Credit: Harry Pujols