I’m so excited to share this guest post with you guys. I was first introduced to Andrea on the Wellness Mama podcast. She was interviewed on a recent episode and so much of her story resonated with me. At times, I felt like she was telling my own autoimmune fitness story, so I just had to reach out to her to see how we could work together. I know a number of you struggle with autoimmune and chronic diseases, but also want to find a healthy balance with exercise. I totallllllly get that, so I wanted to share Andrea’s perspective on fitness. I hope you enjoy her guest post and check out her Autoimmune Strong program!
Hey there, I’m Andrea, founder of Autoimmune Strong. I have been an athlete all my life, and this is what I used to believe. But not anymore. And today I am going to tell you why.
Credit: Erin Long Photography
Now, let me be clear, let’s define “athlete” here. I wasn’t an Olympic athlete or anything. I ran cross country in high school, and I was pretty good, even coming in 4th at the regional state championship (but let’s be honest here- it was in RI, the smallest state in the country). But regardless, I loved to move my body. I loved to run, and would regularly go for long, 2h runs, which made me feel great. I even trained for multiple marathons (even though I got injured before the race every time). I loved going to the gym, doing yoga, and going to spin classes. The harder, the sweatier, the longer, the better. I loved that feeling of pushing myself to my limit, to see just how far my body could go. I loved the feeling afterwards, where my legs felt like jelly, my mind was empty, and I was exhausted but happy.
And then, I got sick. It wasn’t a sudden sickness- it came on slowly. I lived my life like my runs- I pushed myself in my work and in my social life. I worked hard and played hard. I worked long hours and traveled frequently for my corporate job. And then I got married and had 2 babies, all while trying to maintain this fast pace.
After the birth of my second son, I knew something was wrong. I was exhausted, to the bone, so tired it was hard to get out of bed. My body hurt, like I was on fire. My hair was falling out, and I was gaining, not losing weight. I was struggling to maintain even a tiny bit of my previous life, where I was such an avid go getter, an overachiever. Now, I was barely an achiever. And I had two teeny tiny people who needed me. I had to find a way to get better.
It took me 2 years to figure out that I had a number of conditions that were affecting my health- Hashimoto’s, Celiac and Fibromyalgia. I learned that what I ate played a big part in how sick I felt, and as I transitioned to a real food, nutrient dense, chemical free diet, I started to feel better. And during this healing period, I kept on trying to exercise- in the same way that I used to- pushing my body to the max. And every time, I would start a cycle that looked like this: I would feel ok, then go to the gym, work out, and leave feeling great. Next day, same thing. Continue for a week… until… the next week when I would wake up feeling so tired and weak and exhausted, like my body was on fire… and I would then proceed to skip the gym until I recovered, which could take weeks. Then, when I felt better, I would go back to the gym and begin again.
And here’s what I learned: that style of exercise did not work for me. In fact, it worked against me. By stressing my body out with intense exercise, I was aggravating my autoimmune disease and causing a symptom flare-up. I was making myself sicker and weaker, rather than healthier and stronger. I knew I had to find another way.
That’s when I had an idea. For someone as Type A like myself, what if what I actually needed was to slow down, and move my body more gently? So, I tried that. I started with a few core strengthening exercises, at home, for 5 minutes every day. It felt like nothing, and was so hard for me to consider it “exercise”. But I kept going, and introduced a foam rolling routine into my short, at home workout. And slowly but surely, I kept adding in one exercise at a time, increasing my 5 minutes a day to 10 minutes a day. And guess what- I found that I was stronger and healthier than ever. These short mini workouts gave me more energy for my day, helped me feel strong while doing everyday things, like carrying my groceries, doing housework, and lifting my little ones.
And the best part is that I no longer had the cycle of flare-ups! By choosing a shorter, more targeted exercise routine, I was able to be more consistent in my exercise, which actually helped reduce my pain and inflammation. The exhaustion disappeared and my body no longer felt like it was on fire. Instead, it felt nimble and strong and flexible.
So for those of you living with chronic disease who feel like the only way to exercise properly is to crush it at the gym- I encourage you to consider another way. Daily movement that is short in duration, targets the full body, focuses on both strengthening and stretching, and builds in difficulty and intensity slowly over time- this is the type of program you want to look for. Trust me, it changed my life. Now, I am able to lift heavy at the gym and go for long runs without experiencing flare-ups. And you can too.
If you want to see what a program that takes these tips into consideration looks like- check out the 7 day free trial of Autoimmune Strong. You get access to all the exercise videos and the nutrition information, and you can try for yourself the program that changed my life.
Andrea Wool is the founder of Autoimmune Strong, an online fitness membership service designed for people living with chronic pain conditions like autoimmune, fibromyalgia and Lyme disease. Her mission is to spread the word that not all exercise is created equal for all bodies- and that we need to find exercise that works with our bodies rather than against.
To learn more about Autoimmune Strong, or to get access to the 7 day free trial, go to www.getautoimmunestrong.com. You can also find Andrea on Facebook @autoimmunestrong, on Instagram @getautoimmunestrong, and via email firstname.lastname@example.org.