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When I began GAPS at the beginning of 2015, I was completely sedentary.
This was awful for me. I have never been super athletic, but in June 2014, I could run a 5k in 27 minutes. Earlier in the year, I went from an 11 minute mile to an 8.5 minute mile in just 4 months. In July I went backpacking in Germany, and my legs were so strong upon return that when exercising, I would stop at 100 squats because I got bored.
Like I said, I have never been an athlete or very fit, but there have been times when I felt very good about my progress.
But in the fall of 2014, I lost all of that. It was extremely hard on me. I had been struggling, unknowingly, with a sluggish thyroid for years, and I crashed hard in the wake of graduation and my wedding. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t keep the house clean, and some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. Exercise, or even activity, was off the table. I hated myself as I felt my body weaken.
GAPS turned things around for me. Three weeks in, I had a ton of energy and I wanted to start adding movement back into my lifestyle. In fact, I really wanted to go for a run. But I knew I shouldn’t. My body was healing, but it was not strong enough yet for the kind of run I wanted. I needed to easy back into activity.
Adding Activity – Starting Steps
Here are the steps that I took:
1. Yin yoga once a week. It wasn’t much, but it guaranteed that I got out of the apartment, walked 5 blocks each way, and did something, however gentle, with my body each week. The meditative aspect of it was also great for my mental health.
2. Eventually, I was feeling good enough to want to start working out again, but I knew I was too weak to start where I left off. My body still had a lot of healing to do, and it had been 5 months since I last worked out regularly. Instead, I added in a session of restorative yoga. Then I added in a short session of traditional yoga. I added walks into my routine. I committed myself to using a standing desk timer.
3. Slowly I reached the point where I was doing some sort of gentle movement every day, either yoga or walking. I was making an effort to get movement throughout the day, as well as my 30 minutes of dedicated time. At this point, I decided I was ready to start something more. Something my body craved. After redeeming a free coupon, my husband and I discovered that we love rock climbing. It was an investment, but one that was totally worth it to go climbing 2-3 times a week, take classes, and even go on a weekend climbing excursion. Every week I could feel myself improving and getting stronger. It felt amazing.
Now, things weren’t perfect along the way. I had relapses, and struggles. Things picked up in the fresh spring, but depression in the summer kept me indoors. It was very, very difficult to keep things up at times, no matter how much I knew it would help me.
Adding Activity – Stick to It
So here are some tips that have helped me stick with adding activity (I don’t want to call it a workout routine, because that is so restricting and it’s never fun!):
1. Pay ahead of time. This is the only thing that got me to yin yoga and really helped me get to rock climbing. I bought 10 class passes that expire after 3 months for yoga, so I had to go every week. My husband and I bought a 3 month membership so that we could go rock climbing whenever we want, but we needed to go twice a week to break even on the entrance costs. When you are on a tight budget, prepaying for exercise can be a great way to commit yourself.
Prefer exercise that doesn’t cost anything? Set money aside that you can spend on something special for yourself once you reach certain goals. “Attendance” is better than performance!
2. Get a workout buddy. Over the summer, this was my husband. When I didn’t feel like climbing, he dragged my butt there. I didn’t have to go hard or be there all night. But going and doing something was better than spending all evening on the kitchen.
3. Do something you love. I don’t care what any of the blogs or fitness magazines say about what types of exercise are best. Doesn’t matter. Do what you like and that makes you feel good. That is what you will stick to, and that is what will be best for your body. Along the way, you can reevaluate what this means for you.
If you like to run, run. Use a Couch to 5k program to help ease in slowly. If you like strength training, do something like Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Fitness, which starts you at the right level for you. If you like sports like rock climbing, karate, or anything else, do those. Or if you just like to do yoga and walk, that is fine, too.
4. Be somewhere that encourages you to be active. This isn’t necessarily the most practical advice. After all, most people can’t just pick up and move to an area or start a job that encourages adding activity and movement.
We had luck in that, though. We moved in with our in-laws for a couple months. At their house, I gardened, spent time outside, and could walk or jog around the safe neighborhood. But what really helped is my least practical advice: Moving to Europe changed my life.
I mean, of course it changed my life. I moved to Europe. But it was more than that. The lifestyle changed my health. I am not 100%, I’ll admit that. Living on what I have been living on wouldn’t do that to anyone. I have digestive issues, anxiety, and depression here, too.
But this place, it is inspiring. The town and scenery are gorgeous, and almost everything we need is walking distance. I hit 10,000 steps most days without even trying, just by going to class and running errands. Two weeks ago I hit 30,000 steps (over 12 miles) on a Saturday despite spending over 6 hours on a train. How does that even happen?
Answer: European atmosphere and culture. We live in a place where we can walk all our errands, where you want to walk. I can’t explain that second part; it just happens. And it makes me feel amazing. I haven’t worked out since we got here, but I have energy and feel good about my body. I’m not gaining weight, even though I have had a few binges. I’m in better shape every day and I sleep well.
I think it also has to do with the same reasons Germans are so productive: time moves more slowly here. I mean, really. In addition to the 30k steps in less than 9 hours, the other day I went to the grocery store and the library, went home and made a snack (walking the entire way) in 45 minutes. And this kind of thing happens on a regular basis!
So overall, the best way to begin adding activity and movement into your life while healing from chronic illness is to take it slow and do something that helps you commit. It is not always easy, but it is possible, and a critical part of the healing journey.
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