In my first Self-Care Challenge, I encouraged better and more sleep.
In my second Self-Care Challenge, I focused on nutrition and weight management.
This time around, I want you to join me in working on better exercise habits.
Exercise is essential for a variety of reasons, as we all know. My concerns are centered on the importance of building and maintaining muscle mass as well as ensuring optimal functioning of the lymphatic system. I’ll be chronicling my own progress with the MyJournal function of the Health Storylines app that I’ve been using to track my medication side-effects and remind me of my dosing schedule. I am not naturally inclined to exercise, at least not in any scheduled way, so having an app that automatically reminds me when things are due is helpful — and I like keeping track of whether or not I accomplished my daily goals in one place.
For purposes of this challenge, I am going to break the exercise down into two categories. The first is simple: just walk more. The second is weight training, but this does not have to be an aggressive regimen done at the gym. My plan is to keep it simple and not push my body too hard, but the load, of course, is up to you.
Most of us probably tend to do the same thing when we go out to the mall or grocery store. We look for the closest parking spot, the most convenient one, with the least amount of distance to the front door. I’ve watched cars loop around the parking lot three or four times waiting for a nearer spot to open up. So the first part of my challenge is this: park far away from your destination and walk.
When you have the option between an elevator and stairs, take the stairs. It’s amazing how easy it is to add a few extra steps to our day when we simply opt to use our legs rather than take a ride.
When I was on chemo, I realized that I had to push myself to do any exercise at all, and the easiest way to increase my level of activity was to choose walking whenever I could. It is easy, it is low-impact, and it is extremely good for pumping that lymphatic system. Every time that a muscle tightens, lymphatic fluid is pumped through our bodies, allowing the immune system to function. And, of course, it benefits the heart and all that good stuff, too.
When we deal with weight loss, it is often in the form of lost muscle mass. Being in cancer treatment, I am particularly aware of what it means to “waste” away. This happens when fat burns off and muscle mass is converted to fuel for the body and brain. It is one of the reasons that doctors monitor a patient’s weight so much. Keeping weight on is a sign that treatment is working — losing weight is often a signal to worry.
But just being sedentary is also a reason for lost muscle mass, and treatment for cancer — or any number of maladies — will often leave a patient inclined to remain on the couch (or chair or bed or propped in a corner someplace). Even when we get out and walk a bit more, which is good for our overall health, we are burning calories without really building muscle mass. To do this, it helps to pick up a few weights and do repetitive exercises.
While many people love to go to the gym to work out, I have never shared that predilection. In fact, I’ve had numerous gym memberships go mostly unused over the years. On the rare occasions that I did use my memberships, my body was in great shape. But there is plenty that can be done around the home to achieve the same results.
To begin, I have two pairs of hand weights to choose from, weighing 2.5 pounds and 5 pounds respectively. This does not seem like much — I used to have 15- and 20-pound dumbells that I used semi-regularly in my early 20s, which is to say, whenever I saw them and felt like picking them up. Back in my 20s, I also did lots of fingertip pull-ups on my bedroom door frame, until my fingers began to ache every time I touched anything. These days, I cannot lift my body very far even when hanging from a proper bar, but I hope to get back to the point where a pull-up or two is not entirely out of the question.
Gathering my light free weights, I intend to get the lost mass back onto my upper body. It is a rather big challenge for me, considering also that I have a lot of joint stiffness and some moderate joint pain left over from previous treatments. But I am going to give it a try and see where it goes.
You, naturally, will have to set your own limits and goals — but I do hope that you will consider taking me up on this challenge. If you do, remember to reach out to me and share your progress. I’ll be more inclined to stay on track if I have encouragement along the way. Funny how that sort of thing works…
In the meantime, thank you for joining me on this journey to better health!