It's been a while since I've added to my Dysautonomia Blog Series: Things I Can Control That Help Me Feel Not Sucky. I've been having a bit of a rough go with my POTS which has attributed to the delay; "Sleep/Eating Schedule" was next on the docket, but I'm in the very early stages of trying to get myself reconditioned (for the eleventeenth time), so I thought blogging about exercise would be pertinent. ;)
First, I should let you know that four years ago, in June 2011, I embarked on what I called an Invincible Summer (inspired by the Albert Camus quote, "In the depth of winter I learned that within me lay and invincible summer"). I spent those three months entirely dedicated to exercising in order to see if would benefit my quality of life with POTS.
Since then, I've done my best to try to stick to a routine. Some months this is easier than others, of course, but generally I've been able to maintain some level of conditioning and my POTS has noticeably improved. Additionally, I have always been an avid athlete, and just feeling strength in my body and my muscles does wonders for my mood and my self-esteem.
With various changes in my world lately (all of them good!) I haven't been able to work out since October and it has taken its toll. Generally, my conditioning is always up and down because I typically fight a cold every month or so and am unable to workout while I recuperate. But after three months of no running/lifting/biking/anything, my POTS has crept back in more than it has in a while.
So, as I start yet another trudge up the mountain of conditioning, I thought it would be a good time to write about exercise and how it impacts me. (Blurb here that I am not a doctor and to please check with your doctor and all that good stuff because what may help me might not help you!)
I'll get into more personal specifics as time goes on, but I'll speak to what helped me during my Invincible Summer:
Music: I asked friends and family to put together CDs or name songs that they wanted me to hear as I worked out. This was HUGE for me. It was a constant reminder that I was loved and supported even though they weren't next to me, and it (they) helped me through many workouts when I wanted to stop.
Keeping track of my heart-rate: in the beginning, the trick was making sure my heart-rate stayed at a level where it was getting conditioned, but not being over-exerted. I can't remember the exact numbers I had, but I used this Calculator and then kept my heart-rate within a Level One or 50%-60% of maximum heart-rate (as I read from this site here). As I worked out and time went on, I could tell just by how my heart felt when it was overexerted (which is when I decreased my activity). And, by the end of the summer, I was running and able to watch my heart-rate stay around that of a "normal" persons. It was amazing.
Hang in there: It will be tough but, from my experience, it will be more than worth it.
Write that ish down! Do not underestimate the importance of writing down what you did. I already have a notebook drawn up for the reconditioning I'm about to start. It is vital for me to see my growth because that helps me have the courage to keep going. Day 1, maybe I can walk 10 minutes, jogging only for 5 feet (that's what happened in my Invincible Summer). But Day 6 I could walk 14 minutes and jog 5 feet, 4 times. For some, maybe on Day 1 you're only able to do 2 scissor kicks while lying in bed (because that might be where the exercise has to start). But maybe on Day 8 you will find that you're able to do 8! We MUST celebrate or steps even though they may seem insignificant. Honestly, paying attention to my little victories (in exercise, in daily life, in anything) is what helped me fight my dysautonomia.
Balance: With exercise and POTS, it is a very delicate balance of pushing yourself but not pushing yourself too much. I wish I had more to say for this, but it varies with each person. Listen to yourself. It will be hard on so many different levels at the beginning. But don't give up. Oh, and have patience. I was a soccer player most of my life and could run for days. Now I've been trying to do the Couch to 5k for four years -- I'm not exaggerating in the slightest. The farthest I've gotten is Week 2. Week. Two. But I can't focus on that. I just have to focus on my goal. I have to focus on the fact that, little by little, I will feel better and stronger and more like myself again.
Ok, I'm sleepy (see face-planting dog above) so actual exercises shall soon follow in Part 2!