chronic conditions care courage consistency coaching

Care, Consistency, Courage and Coaching

Chronic Conditions

Care, consistency, courage and coaching are my “4 Cs” of chronic condition management.

Care

There are different types of care. Top of the list is great medical care. You must have a good relationship with your primary care provider (general practitioner, GP). I’m not suggesting you be family friends who go out for dinner (that could be difficult) but you should feel comfortable that your GP “gets” you and that you trust their level of care. This is the medical professional on your team that herds the cats (your specialists) and keeps the information flowing, in a sense the gate-keeper.

Self-care is extremely important. Self-care isn’t all bubble baths and scented candles, although those are nice. Self-care includes doing the things you MUST do to maximise your health, minimise your pain. Making the time to do stretches, walk, swim, lift weights, sleep, eat well: “doing the hard yards” as my father would say. Yes, the other sort of self-care, the time-out, rest, relax: also very important.

Mental health care is extremely important. As I have written about that in “We Need Mental Health as well as Physical Health, I won’t say more here. Reducing stress is part of mental health care.

Being careful is also a form of care. One example I have written about before is changing exercises where necessary. My own example is I no longer do dumbbell chest press because getting off the bench irritates my spine.

Being careful with our body weight is important – for many, weight gain can mean increased pain levels.

breakfast
Breakfast

Consistency

Consistency is paramount. When we were healthy, our bodies could recover from a week or two of no exercise, a night on the booze or day of crap food. Sure, we may have suffered a hangover or the scales may have jumped a kilogram, but we easily recovered from the damage.

Once we have a chronic condition/illness/disease not only are our bodies not as resilient, we are likely on medications that, while doing very good things for us, may also compromise other aspects of our “internal workings”. My own example is my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) medication suppresses my immune system – logical when you think about it, of course, given RA is an autoimmune condition, my own immune system attacking me. This means I have to be super careful not to catch bugs/viruses, as I recently did. I ended up in ED with what felt like a ping-pong ball in my throat.

Exercise, such as stretching and resistance training, will stop your body deconditioning and greatly assist with pain management. However, the gains we make can be lost VERY quickly once our bodies are unwell. Consistency is vital to ensure we maintain our gains and keep building on our achievements. I have discussed exercise in more detail in Doctors and Exercise, so please click that link for a more comprehensive presentation about the importance of exercise.

de-conditioning

During a consultation with my endocrinologist he asked, “Do you take your meds?” Frankly, I was shocked – what a strange thing to ask, I thought, of course I take my medications! He asked because my thyroid was misbehaving again and my blood tests were not within the reference range – again. Clearly some patients don’t take their medications as prescribed.

Most medications for chronic conditions require consistency to be effective. If you feel the dose or the medication isn’t working as it should, TALK TO THE SPECIALIST before changing anything. You may do more harm than good. If the problem is remembering, set alarms in your phone. Some medications can take three or more months to reach the required level of effectiveness.

Be consistent. With medications, exercise, diet, rest, sleep, hydration.

consistent exercise
Consistent daily steps

Even if you have to dance to get there!

Courage

Yes, courage. It takes courage to start AND to keep up the fight. “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”. The treasure is maintaining quality of life for as long as possible. For some, the cave is MOVEMENT! It can be hard to think about movement when we are in pain. Or we feel we can’t “keep up” in the gym. Today is my swimming day. The predicted high is 13 Celsius. Do I REALLY want to get into my bathers and hit the pool, or would I prefer chocolate cake and a nip of Bailey’s Irish Cream? Consistency! Courage! Just do it!

leg press

The benefits are worth it. I have avoided a knee replacement and radiofrequency denervation of the lumber spine. Yes, I MAY need both some time in the future (distant future, I hope) but for the moment, I’m good. I’m on no pain medications.

Four years ago I started with four x 5 minute walks a day.

Now a gym session looks like this:

  • 4 sets leg press
  • 3 sets chest press
  • 3 sets shoulder press
  • 1 set body weight squats
  • 3 sets Smith Machine squats
  • 3 sets tricep extensions
  • 3 sets bicep curls
  • 3 sets lat pulldowns
  • 3 sets leg extensions
  • 3 sets pec dec
  • 8 minutes on the rowing machine

I got VERY annoyed recently when I lost muscle strength and had to drop my leg press weight down from 160 kgs. While we still don’t have a medical explanation, I am building back up again, so perhaps it was just a temporary glitch. We have temporary glitches.

I didn’t get to where I am now without care, consistency and courage.

Coaching

Professional athletes all have coaches. They have goals. WE also have goals (hopefully SMART goals)!

Perhaps we need to look at ourselves as endurance QOLs –  Quality of Life is the goal we strive for, not necessarily running 3,100 kilometres in 45 days! Our mental challenge can be just as extreme, even if our physical achievements are not. 8 Steps to Retain/Regain Quality of Life

People are all different, conditions vary greatly. Even so, the sooner you start managing your condition instead of your condition managing you, the better your chances of retaining your quality of life for as long as possible.

Sometimes all that is needed is help to get started. Sometimes a patient may prefer longer term support and encouragement.

Coaching helps the chronic condition patient take control. There is a fifth “C” – Control!

Too often patients feel they are “OK for the moment, I’ll worry about all this later” (when my job is not so stressful/the kids are older/the house is paid off). My advice is don’t wait. Start now to protect your future.

Contact me for a confidential chat as a starting point.

Note this article is intended for chronic condition patients who have a medical clearance or medical advice to exercise. This can be at any level from beginner.

Hydration Habits – Are You Drinking Enough?

Yes, the dreaded word – HYDRATION. Are you monitoring your fluid intake? Is it enough?

I, as an exercise professional, should have this down pat. Of course I drink two litres of water every day! Or do I? See if any of this rings true for you.

Yesterday I had a few minor disruptions to my day. Who doesn’t have disruptions? Driving home from the vet with my cat (THAT is a WHOLE other story!), I realised all I had drunk all day was three cups of coffee. One with breakfast, one after my manicure and one with lunch. It was now 6:30 pm. So I had drunk no more than 660 mls of white coffee. I’d had yoghurt on my breakfast, not even milk! I had thrown down the morning medications with some water, but what was that? 100 mls max?

As we get older there is an added problem – we tend not to recognise we are thirsty. Even before that stage of life hits us, we can think we are hungry when we are actually thirsty – and for those of us managing our weight in order to manage pain, eating instead of drinking is not a wonderful thing.

At my desk job I am good. As soon as I arrive in the office, I fill this water container. it is 900 mls and I finish it by lunch time. Refill, repeat.

When working out I am good! I may be a little too pink, but I’m good.

OK, you got me, two of those are protein shakers, but the shot does illustrate maybe I should try a change of colour next time. I DO have a dark blue water bottle as well. I’m not exactly short of water bottles: one permanently in the office, one permanently in my gym pack and a third floating about.

It is when I am home I find I am very slack. Why can’t I do the same thing at home as I do meticulously in the office and the gym, even at the pool? I do not know. I am working very hard on establishing better personal hydration habits.

It seems at home the water bottle is just never where I am. If I’m in the lounge, the water bottle is in the kitchen. If I’m in the kitchen, the water bottle is in the bedroom. Plus I have a tendency not to use a water bottle at home: I have a tap and glasses right there, after all!

It is spring in Australia, at least it is spring in the states that have four seasons! The blossoms are everywhere in Melbourne. In parts of Australia we are having a terrible drought, nothing is growing, in fact much is not surviving, let alone growing.

Like plants, we don’t do well without adequate and appropriate hydration. The Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council has good detail about our need for water. Please click on that link and read the detail. Emphasis added in the quotation below.

Dehydration of as little as 2% loss of body weight results in impaired physiological responses and performance. The reported health effects of chronic mild dehydration and poor fluid intake include increased risk of kidney stones (Borghi et al 1996, Hughes & Norman 1992, Iguchi et al 1990, Embon et al 1990), urinary tract cancers (Bitterman et al 1991, Wilkens et al 1996, Michaud et al1999), colon cancer (Shannon et al 1996) and mitral valve prolapse (Lax et al 1992) as well as diminished physical and mental performance (Armstrong et al 1985, Brooks & Fahey 1984, Brouns et al 1992, Cheung et al 1998, Kristel-Boneh et al 1988, Torranin et al 1979, Sawka & Pandolf 1990).

If you feel thirsty, you are probably already dehydrated. If you have a medical issue that compromises your ability to recognise thirst, you need to be extra vigilant.

Adult men need about 2.6 litres of fluid a day and adult women about 2.1 litres. This is over and above the fluid intake from food. More may be required depending on activity levels, climate and body weight. Medibank has a handy calculator based on age and gender, but it does not take into account climate extremes, exertion or body weight.

Around 50-80% of our body weight is water. The higher our lean mass, the higher the water content. We need water for most body processes including digestion, absorbing and transporting nutrients, disposing of waste products and keeping our body temperature stable.

Source: Medibank

It is said our skin looks better if we are properly hydrated. From my personal experience, I totally agree. Dehydration can add years to the face and who wants that? Not me!

Those of us with health challenges need to make sure we give our bodies all the help we can: hydration is important.

How are your hydration habits? Please share in the comments.

11 Tips for Dealing With Major Disruptions to Your Routine

I’ve been very quiet of late. There IS a good reason! Sometimes, despite the best laid plans of mice and men and women, our lives, our carefully planned routines, are disrupted.

A quick recap of the situation prior to the disruption. In 2016 I started part-time employment in a location that was a LONG way away from home. Relocating close to work was one of the lifestyle adjustments I made as discussed in Beat the Boom Bust Cycle.

This year, I had to move. As it turns out, this has been a GREAT change, but all of a sudden I was faced with home hunting, packing, organising the move, the paper warfare relocation involves and all the other bits and pieces that go along with moving. All on top of my normal daily commitments. Clearly, PACING was paramount if I was to come out the other side relatively unscathed!

I knew I just could not do it all without risking an arthritis flare or some other health set back. Writing was put on the back burner: it was one of the things that was, in reality, not a “Must Do” on the “To Do” list. Packing certainly was! Getting utilities connected certainly was!

The benefits? Beautiful leafy block (pictured above), quiet suburban street, cheaper and (best of all) GROUND FLOOR!

I didn’t come through it totally unscathed. Clearly moving is stressful at the best of times plus my rheumatoid arthritis medication is a immune suppressant. PLUS it IS winter! So I caught a virus about two weeks after moving day. I try to avoid catching bugs, but I think the body was ripe for invasion given the aforementioned circumstances! I was out for the count for several days!

Other life events that can be physically challenging include weddings (our own, or a family member), family holidays, community events we may be involved in organising, school fetes; the list is endless.

If it is a wedding and you are mother or father of either of the happy couple, the lead up is full of additional activities and you want to be in the best shape possible on the day.

Here are my tips for keeping our body healthy when we face a complete disruption to our physical routine that has the potential to cause us pain or a condition flare.

  1. Plan, start preparations early. Stop what you are doing if pain starts. Build rest periods into your plan.
  2. Accept help! My daughter and son-in-law helped me pack. A friend helped me unpack at the other end. If you are involved in the organisational stages as well as “on the day” or post-event clean up, make sure you do not say, “Oh, no I can manage”.
  3. Take annual leave if possible. I took a week.
  4. DO NOT be tempted to “help” the removalists on the day (if you are moving, otherwise adapt this tip to suit your situation). You organised help for a reason: whether they are paid experts or volunteers, resist the urge to throw yourself into the physical fray.
  5. Maintain your daily stretching regime. It can be easy to let such things slip when faced with exciting things going on. Your stretches are even more important now to counteract the pressure you are putting on your body.
  6. You may also have prescribed remedial exercises to do – maintain those too, for the same reasons.
  7. Ensure you get adequate sleep.
  8. Pay attention to your posture. With all the bending I was doing, I was diligent about hinging at the hip to ensure I minimised pressure on my spine.
  9. Do something appropriate to support your body during this time. For example, I booked a massage the second day after the move to iron out the niggles.
  10. Eat well, ensure you consume enough protein. Stay hydrated.
  11. If this is a big social event (rather than moving home), I strongly recommend continuing to wear your usual shoes on the day (in my case kyBoot shoes). While you might get away with “pretty” shoes or heels for an hour or so, any longer could well result in pain which could be very unpleasant on the day.

Every person is different, every person’s objectives and capabilities are different. If you are father of one of the bridal couple, your one burning desire for the day may be to walk your child down the aisle and maybe walking is your personal challenge. Plan ahead, practice, seek advice from your allied health providers well in advance. If necessary, consider adaptations: for example, at the recent royal wedding Prince Charles didn’t walk the full length of the aisle with Meghan.

Yes, I did resort to Panadol and a heat pack on my back the actual day of the move, but I have even impressed myself with how well my body coped (apart from the darn virus). The annual leave certainly helped, as I was not under pressure to rush. I could work unpacking for an hour, rest for an hour, do my stretches, get my exercises done; all without feeling as if I needed to hurry or as if I should be somewhere else.

Get back to your normal exercise routine as soon as possible. I took a day off from organising the new place to have that massage and go for a long walk.

My main objective, aside from a successful move, was to ensure I did not undo all the good work I have done to date. I did not want a rheumatoid arthritis flare. I was confident if I made sure I took my physical limitations into account, accepted or asked for help as necessary and took my time, I would be fine. Was my back a little stiff? Yes, a little, but at no time was I in excruciating pain or taking strong pain medication. I didn’t expect to come through it without my back grumbling a little, given the degenerative damage.

I have boxes that need lifting to the top shelf in the wardrobes: they are not hurting anyone sitting on the floor and that is where they are staying until someone better able to do it visits! Yes, it is tempting, but I’m NOT doing that to myself! Stick to your rules! Some of us are all too susceptible to striving to be “normal” and do what we used to be able to do. That is not a good idea! My study looked like this for several days (don’t tell anyone, but it still looks very similar) but it isn’t hurting anyone and I stay in one piece physically.

I ventured, for the first time EVER to Ikea and bought a small dining table and chairs that I assembled all by myself! This is a terrible photo, but I am proud I survived the move well enough to do this! It is an extension table, ideal for apartment living, so was more complicated than a straight table.

While unpacking, I came across this poem. Some days, like moving day itself, stuff just has to be done. But afterwards? Keep this in mind!

“Dust if You Must” ~ Rose Milligan

I painted my nails instead of dusting!

Last thought – amazing the things you find when you unpack stuff.

Here is me in a Melbourne publication in 1998.

Doctors and Exercise

I last wrote about incidental exercise, but what about a more structured approach to exercise? Many of us with chronic conditions would benefit from exercise. Most of us also probably have doctors in our lives, either general practitioners or specialists (called consultants in some countries) such as a rheumatologist.

Over the Easter weekend an interesting report appeared in the Medical Journal of Australia, “Exercise: an essential evidence-based medicine”. Naturally, I was excited to see exercise receiving coverage in the medical media!

Regular physical activity is highly beneficial for the primary, secondary and tertiary management of many common chronic conditions. There is considerable evidence for the benefits of physical activity for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, musculoskeletal conditions, some cancers, mental health and dementia. Yet there remains a large evidence–practice gap between physicians’ knowledge of the contribution of physical inactivity to chronic disease and routine effective assessment and prescription of physical activity.

There was a similar report last year out of the UK, “GPs in England ‘unconfident’ discussing physical activity with patients – report”.

Now a nationwide study has revealed that 80% of GPs in England say they are unfamiliar with the national guidelines, and more than one in seven doctors say they are not confident raising the issue of physical activity with their patients.

“Many people have described [physical activity] as the most cost-effective drug we have, yet we are not implementing it properly,” said Justin Varney, co-author of the research from Public Health England (PHE). “This is as appropriate as having a conversation about smoking,” he added.

The medical advice I was given when I became sick was, literally, “Get some exercise.” Not how, what, when, frequency, intensity – just “Get some exercise”. As we know, I did better than that, I went and got an exercise qualification. After that, I asked my rheumatologist what weight he thought it would be safe for me to lift on the leg press, without negatively impacting my condition. His response? “I have confidence in you, you’ll work it out”. Which, in my case given my qualifications and experience, is fair enough. To a patient that is an exercise novice, I know my doctor would not have said that particular phrase. He and I have known each other quite some time now and have a very good patient/doctor relationship. I wouldn’t be writing this article if he had not set me on the exercise path in the first place. I share these conversations to provide real world examples of the above two articles.

Exercise is not a discipline many doctors are trained in, which is fair enough – they can’t be experts in everything and I need my rheumatologist to be an expert in rheumatology! Apart from anything else, a medical specialist would be a very expensive personal trainer. I really do not want to pay his medical charge rate for exercise advice. Look at it this way: a specialist or general practitioner may also send you to a physiotherapist, but do you expect that doctor to BE a physiotherapist? No, you don’t. So we should not expect our doctors to be able to write us a tailored exercise program either.

A member of a chronic illness support group today shared a similar experience, having essentially been told to “figure it out” by one of her doctors.

I recently wrote an article titled “Preventing Tomorrow’s Pain”. I didn’t really write it – I recorded a video. NOW, some time later, when I look back at that video, I can clearly see the improvement in my demeanour/attitude before I walk (after sitting in a conference all day) and while I am walking. Yes, I was pain free the next day and I swam 1,000 metres.

If your doctors don’t mention exercise, raise the topic with them. Really, your doctors don’t need to be exercise trainers, they just need to reassure you and encourage you that exercise will help you manage your conditions. They need to give you a medical clearance to undertake exercise. People like me can do the rest.

The above two articles, from opposite sides of the world, provide clear evidence that just because your doctor may not have mentioned exercise does not mean exercise should be ignored. Exercise may be the best medicine for you, just not mentioned by your doctor. Another contact told me when she offered to do exercise, her doctor was so surprised and said “You’re prepared to do that?” giving my contact the impression maybe he’d just given up over time trying to get patients to exercise. Doctor was very excited, patient exercises and her body does not “turn to concrete”. On a side note, I love that phrase, as it explains so well how many of us can feel if we don’t MOVE!

I use this graphic often: this is what happens if you don’t move. No, you don’t have to be lifting weights, start with simple stretches. Just MOVE it!

de-conditioning

Patients can be reluctant to try exercise as medicine. After all, instinctively we know pain is a warning signal and we believe rest will make it better even though science shows the opposite is true more often than not. We may fear those first few painful steps. A friend said the other day, “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”. This, I feel, applies to exercise for so many people. We want the treasure: minimal pain, to be free of opioids, regain functional movement and retain quality of life. The cave is exercise and movement.

You may be reading this because you are searching for a solution. You are researching, perhaps. Do not be afraid to enter the cave. Ask your doctors, raise the topic of exercise with them. If they raise it with you, listen to them. Bear in mind the “how to” of exercise is not their specialty.

If you are ready and willing to try movement as medicine, call me or send me an email.

This article constitutes general advice only and may not be suitable in all situations. You should always seek a medical clearance to undertake exercise if you have medical conditions. Always apply the pain management principles of pacing when starting an exercise program.

Incidental Exercise

Never underestimate the value of incidental exercise. For many years 10,000 steps a day has been considered a desirable minimal level of daily activity for health. I’ve shared the video below in other articles, about the dramatic drop in activity from our active past to our now relatively passive present. Here it is again as a reminder!

I love that video because it illustrates so well the change in how we live. Our bodies were designed for the active past lifestyle but too many of us live the passive present depicted.

Back in 2014 I participated in the Global Challenge. Looking at the website for the 2018 event, I see it has changed since 2014, but the objectives remain the same. This is an annual event to encourage office workers particularly to get out and about and moving. I am proud to say I won all the trophies available, despite some challenges such as ending up on crutches due to a very, very grumpy knee.

2014 was the year I found out I was sick. Looking back, what I find interesting was my actual steps per day in early 2014, compared to that recommended steps a day number of 10,000. We received our pedometers well before the event started and several of us started wearing them to see how much of an improvement was needed. I found I was walking approximately 2,500 steps a day. I was shocked, as I had a history of being active, but, as they say, “life happened” and I had found myself in a very inactive phase.

To paint the picture of my life at the time, I was a senior manager with a company car. In the morning, I would walk out my back door, jump in my car, drive to work, park in the basement, take the elevator up to my floor, sit in my office or meeting rooms all day, at the end of the day repeat the journey in reverse. At home I was helping children with homework, cooking dinner – there was little time for me to take care of myself. I should have made the time!

Now I deliberately use every opportunity to clock up a few extra steps: my kyBoot shoes definitely help. Without the heels I can decide, weather permitting, to walk an extra 1,000 steps down the road from my office before catching the tram.

The photo at the top of this page was taken on just such a day recently. It was a beautifully sunny end of the day, not too hot, the trees provided such a pretty filtered sunlight effect and the evening birdsong was a lovely musical accompaniment: I really enjoyed just de-stressing from the office by stretching my legs.

I am extremely lucky in that the tram line goes directly from my work location to my home location with many stops along the way. I can easily walk part way, tram part way. Not everyone has such a convenient transport situation.

If you drive to work, is it possible to park a little further away from work? That isn’t possible for me, on the days I do drive to work my only parking option is the staff car park. This is one of the reasons I prefer to take the tram as it gives me more options for incidental exercise.

Cycling to work is great exercise already: my knees don’t like cycling, so it is not an option for me. Luckily my body doesn’t object to walking in any way, which is one of the reasons incidental exercise is so important to my welfare and the management of my rheumatoid arthritis and damage in my lumbar spine.

How many of us travel to the gym or the pool, to diligently undertake exercise, in our car? My swimming pool is only 1.5 kms from my home. I have reached the point now where walking 1.5 kms is easy. One issue I have to be careful of is exposure to the sun, so I can only do that walk weather permitting. I also need to be careful not to overdo it. I am well aware that a three kilometre walk and a swim may send me into the #spoonie Boom/Bust cycle if I am not careful. Pacing is paramount. My gym is located at work: I do the same incidental steps as on a normal work day.

I walk to my general practitioner’s clinic rather than drive.

As I am a person with chronic health conditions, I don’t get to 10,000 steps on a daily basis due to the energy/lethargy issues that go with my conditions. Yet. I am slowly building up and each month I am more active that the previous month.

Look at your daily routine and determine what adjustments you might be able to make to increase your level of daily activity. I am a firm believer that frequent movement is better for our bodies and our health than being stationary all of most days then working out like mad in the gym for 45 minutes maybe three days a week. I was very happy to have my belief confirmed when I did the Pain Management Program! The reality was brough home to me more recently when I spent a day in the Emergency Department (why is a story for another day) – my body almost turned to concrete through not moving. I was very stiff after lying on a hospital bed all day.

Yes, I certainly do work out in the gym because resistance training is very important, especially as we mature, but moving as much as possible is perhaps even more important, yet so difficult for many of us to achieve.

I know from my own experience with my conditions, the days I am not working in the office and move a lot more I get to the end of the day with no stiffness or little niggles anywhere. Days when I am more stationary I will end the day in discomfort. Not pain, but discomfort. Move more. Movement is medicine has become my mantra.

This is an edited version of an article I first wrote for Kybun.

Four Simple Tips

Sunglasses

I wear glasses. I also have prescription sunglasses. Eye protection is important and the Cancer Council has eye protection advice.

One problem with prescription sunglasses is situations where the ambient light changes instantly. Such as driving into an undercover car-park (work, supermarket). I go from protecting my eyes from the sun to not being able to see and risking poor Benji’s front guard.

I have found transitions lens are not ideal as they don’t actually go dark enough while driving, due to the windscreen reducing activation.

Very annoying. I found a solution. Sunglasses that go over one’s vision glasses.

Just like this.

No, not as much of a fashion statement as my prescription sunnies, but I can whip them off as the car-park boom gate opens. No fumbling around badly/madly to actually change glasses while also trying to change gears.

Opening Jars

Many people with chronic conditions find they lose grip strength. Grip strength is actually an interesting health metric.

Grip strength is related to and predictive of other health conditions, although the relationship is not stated to be causative [4,8]. Normal hand grip strength is positively related to normal bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, [9] with some researchers suggesting that grip strength be a screening tool for women at risk of osteoporosis [10]. Longitudinal studies suggest that poor grip strength is predictive of increased mortality from cardiovascular disease and from cancer in men, even when factors of muscle mass and body mass index are adjusted for [11,12]. Hand grip strength is negatively associated with physical frailty even when the effects of body mass index (BMI) and arm muscle circumference are removed [13]. Researchers have suggested that the factor related to frailty and disability in later life is the manner in which muscles are used, and this can be measured by hand dynamometry [13].

Source: NCBI

The scientific community, while clearly finding grip strength interesting to investigate, are not around when I need to open a new jar of marmalade. This wonderful little gadget is a life saver.

Can opener

As much as I resisted buying it because doing so made me feel old and decrepit, it is a marvelous little aid in the kitchen. I got it from one of those kitchen shops, I don’t remember which one. I can confirm these work brilliantly and I have yet to find a top that didn’t fit.

Vacuuming

Bending, technically flexion of my lower spine, is not something my back likes. My back reminds me of this in no uncertain terms every time I change the linen on the bed. Vacuuming is something that can result in us looking more like a cashew than correctly hinging at the hip.

I got myself an upright vacuum cleaner.

Upright the top of the handle almost reaches my armpit, maybe 5 cm short of my armpit. I’d measure it, if I had a measuring tape! Suffice to say it is much easier to stay upright when using this style of vacuum cleaner. Mine is a Shark, but I am sure there are other brands around. It also has fantastic suction, good for all the cat hair I invariably have to vacuum up every two days. Best of all, it wasn’t prohibitively expensive.

It has just occurred to me how to solve my linen changing problem – get a bed I can raise up to a height that allows me to stand upright! Not a lot of those around that don’t look like hospital beds though. But it is a thought! Seriously, I am going to focus on hip hinging when I do the bed.

Scalp Health

As I described in EXTRA Slip, Slop, Slap Needed, medications have resulted in skin issues for me. I know others suffer similarly. My situation does not exclude my scalp and I have a prescription lotion to apply. Entirely unrelated, my hairdresser sold me some leave-in spray to provide protection to my hair from the heat of hot rollers and hairdryers. It was suggested I could just use this as conditioner.

Interestingly, now that I no longer use conditioner in the shower, which of course actually gets on the scalp, I am using the prescription lotion far less frequently. Maybe once a month. It seems that in my case, even though I rinsed to the nth degree, conditioner may have been an irritant. Now using a product that only goes on the actual hair, I have seen a marked improvement. This may not be a solution for anyone other than me, but I thought it worth mentioning.

Yes, I know – my reflection is in picture of the bottle. I’m a personal trainer, not a photographer!

What simple tips can you share from your experiences?

Flu Vaccine

Get Your Flu Shot – NOW

No ifs or maybes. Just do it. Vaccinate, people, vaccinate. People with chronic medical conditions need to ensure they are protected. Many of us are on medications that suppress our otherwise over active immune systems. Other medications can suppress the immune system even if that is not the treatment objective.

Getting sick takes a bigger toll on those of us who are, well, you know …. already sick. Our bodies are already facing a daily battle. There is also a multiplication factor. One example is pain management. Using movement/exercise as pain management requires moving sufficiently EVERY DAY. Lying in bed for a week or more with tissues, blocked nose, headaches and fever is going to set pain management progress totally awry. While it won’t be necessarily back to Square One, there will be a loss of progress, perhaps a resumption of pain and/or stiffness. Not where any of us want to be. So not only will the flu knock us flat, it can set us back in other ways as well. I know if I spent a week or ten days unable to exercise, I would pay for it with increased stiffness and pain, plus we lose strength gains and muscle tone faster. It would set me back, and I don’t want that – for me, or for you.

Timing of the shot can be critical, as the Australian Medical Association highlights.

The Australian Medical Association has advised not to have the vaccination too early.

“Remember why you need to have a vaccine every year is the influenza virus rapidly and quickly mutates. It will be appropriate for some patients to defer having their flu shot until well into April,” he said.

Dr Gannon said people should speak to their GP about the best time to get the flu shot.

Source: Hold off getting the flu vaccine, AMA says

People with chronic disease are entitled to free flu vaccinations. Check with your doctor.

I received my first flu vaccine in 1999. I have had it every year since except one and I regretted missing it that year so much. My daughter, not vaccinated, became extremely ill last year – she WILL be getting the flu shot this year.

Get the flu shot people. Don’t take the risk. Last year’s flu season was very bad and this year’s may be worse. 1,100 people died last flu season.

Get the flu shot.

Meanwhile, for readers heading into SUMMER, remember your sun protection!

Additional References:

What you need to know about Fluad and FluZone High Dose, the new flu vaccines for over-65s

Doctors Best to Give Flu Vaccines

Australia prepares as US suffers ‘worst flu season in a decade’

Disclaimer: This is general advice. Every patient should check with their doctor to ensure correct timing for them and that there are no contraindications in their specific medical case.

Note: There is a contradiction in the ABC article linked above: a recommendation of May/June under the photo, while April is cited in the text. Check with your GP.

AprilMayJune

Note the title of this article has been updated to reflect the passage of time.

Codeine or Movement? Which Will You Choose?

There are patients whose conditions have progressed in ways many of us cannot imagine, despite their best efforts and the efforts of their medical teams. One such patient is Sam Moss. In 2010 Sam was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but that was just the start of her medical journey: she has since been diagnosed with other conditions.

12 months after my leg broke, my right femur was also showing signs of disease on MRI with bone marrow involvement so a rod had to be placed in that to prevent an imminent break and repeat medical emergency like we had with my femur break in 2014. I am constantly dealing with multiple foot fractures and none of my broken bones in my legs or feet will heal.

Source: My Medical Musings

Sam now runs a support group for those facing medical challenges, Medical Musings With Friends. It is a closed group, very supportive. If you would like to join, click the link. Membership of the group is also a rapid introduction to how severely some conditions can progress, even with the best medical care and patient tenacity in the world.

My objective, for myself and my clients, is to slow condition progression and manage pain where possible. Yes, sometimes our medical conditions do take control as described above, but many of us, in collaboration with our medical teams, can control our conditions, be the master of our medical destiny. We, as patients, want to ensure we don’t give those medical conditions any head start if we can help it. If, like me, you are lucky enough to have a choice, don’t waste that opportunity – there are many out there who would be very grateful to be in our situation. Chronic condition severity is a spectrum and we are all somewhere along that spectrum trying to do the best we can.

I support the recent rescheduling of codeine. I definitely think the change over could have been better planned, as it seems many where left without codeine OR any alternative. Those who ensured they had prescriptions found there was no stock available in pharmacies.

In the past I have used Panadeine Forte after having teeth extracted. I’ve used Tramadol (another opioid) about three times a year. I’m not against codeine per se, it has a place in medicine. Taken under medical supervision when appropriate it is a useful drug. Self-medicating with over-the-counter supplies regularly can lead to problems.

There is a reason why morphine and its equivalents feature on the World Health Organization (WHO) list of essential medicines, along with oxygen, steroids and penicillin. These are virtually irreplaceable in certain situations, including severe burns, postoperative recovery, cancer pain and palliative care. But there is no additional benefit of opioids over simple drugs like paracetamol and ibuprofen when taken for toothache, back pain, migraines, asymptomatic kidney stones, muscle sprain, fractures and many other conditions associated with chronic pain. Here, opioids are not just unhelpful but they can also worsen pain, apart from the fact that they are addictive and fatal. Therefore, it’s best to avoid them for all but a narrow range of conditions that you should discuss at length with your doctor.

Source: Ranjana Srivastava, The Guardian

Early in my journey, one of my problems was I was VERY stiff and sore when I got out of bed in the morning. I had two choices, A) try a pain killer of some sort or B) move. Back then I really had no idea what I was doing, I was on a learning curve. I found very quickly if I walked, even as little as a few dozen steps, the pain and stiffness subsided. Clearly, for me at least, moving worked.

Now, some years later and professionally trained, I am much better at linking my discomfort levels to what I have, or have not, been doing. This last week has been a classic. For whatever reason I had several days when by six o’clock at night I was out of energy. I mean totally out of energy. I’d arrive home from work and flop on the couch and be unable to move. Which, for me (and many others) is a very bad plan. The stiffness and pain returns. Just getting up of the couch, I was stiff and had to straighten my back. Not how I like to be. As anyone with chronic conditions knows, sometimes there are no obvious reasons for “flares” they just arrive unannounced. I had my thyroid function and iron levels checked, they were fine. I had again had a change to my routine, which my conditions do not seem to like very much, so that may have been the trigger. While understanding why is helpful to prevent future flares, I haven’t managed to detect a pattern (flares are rare for me), I just needed to get back on the horse.

Kyboot

When I ensure I move enough and keep my strength up I am pain free and have very little, if any, stiffness. A little discomfort every now and then if my lumbar spine reminds me “Hey, I’m here, don’t forget I’m here”. I reassure my facet joints I haven’t forgotten them, do some stretches and core strength work and they settle down.

Best-practice recommendations now are focused on self-management and self-support: moving away from opioids, prescription or otherwise, and focusing more on allied healthcare and other non-drug methods to minimise pain. Pain Australia has launched a campaign called RealRelief to help people move beyond codeine and take control of their pain. Their foundational idea is that most people with chronic pain can improve their lives without opioids or surgery as long as they are appropriately supported to do it.

The caveat there is the support. Hard to move beyond pain when you are by yourself and suffering.

Source: Making codeine prescription-only was right. Where do we go from here? – The Guardian

No, I do not take painkillers in these situations. I have an edge, of course: I did the PACT program. I know and understand the science behind the recommendations. I recognise it can be difficult for someone without that knowledge and support to resist reaching for the pill packet, which MAY give them some relief in about twenty minutes. I can walk 500 steps and be pain free a lot faster than the twenty minutes it takes the pills to work, without the associated health risks of codeine. I also stress the MAY (give relief). Anyone with chronic pain will attest to the fact sometimes the pain meds just do not even touch the sides.

What if I took Option A and reached for the pain killers instead of moving? What would happen? I’d get worse, that is what would happen. That is the cold, hard truth of it.

de-conditioningIf I reached for the painkillers, I’d then have a foggy head, so I’d lie (or maybe sit) down. I’d be doing nothing to actually strengthen or stretch my muscles or counter any of the negative affects shown above. I would progressively deteriorate over time and be on a downward spiral. Then my quality of life would suffer. Josh, another chronic condition patient, has written a very amusing story about having a couple of beers. Now, Josh is one of those patients I referred to in my opening paragraphs, he has done everything possible yet because of his medical situation he is on some pretty strong stuff. I may ultimately end up in a similar situation, but I’m going to do everything in my power to delay such a situation. I also do NOT see getting worse as inevitable for me. I like being able to have a nice wine or two over dinner or with co-workers on a Friday night without sounding smashed (to quote Josh’s wife).

I like driving, dining out, dancing and swimming. I want to keep my body as functional as possible for as long as possible. Don’t you?

driving

Once we start on that downward spiral, we find we have so many restrictions. Such restrictions may include:

  • Limited driving ability (no drugged driving, for example)
  • No alcohol
  • Progressive physical deterioration due to inactivity
  • Loss of social interaction
  • Reduced working hours or incapacity to work
  • Depression and/or anxiety

No, it is NOT easy to start the movement momentum. Sometimes it is not easy to keep it going. Yes, it does require willpower and resilience. Yes, it requires mental strength to take those first steps in the morning or after sitting for too long.

Yes, as a community we need more support. Refer again to the above article: “as long as they are appropriately supported to do it“. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the PACT program but there are not enough of those programs available yet and there are waiting lists.

Think about where you want to be in five years time. Do you want to have a body that can support the quality of life you desire or do you want to be staring down that spiral?

Talk to your doctors, ask them if movement as medicine is an option for you.

“It’s [resilience] vital to the process,” he explains. “I’ve seen patients who, under the circumstances, might want to just give up, but they don’t. In fact, they thrive. Their resilience helps them cope and keep moving forward to find a solution. They say, ‘I’m going to make it no matter what.’”

“We used to put patients on bed rest for pain. Not anymore,” says Dr. Tom. “Staying physically active is critical for pain management, as it releases endorphins which can improve your mood and even ease pain.” People who don’t move can get tight muscles, joint pain, muscle strain and spasms, which can worsen existing pain.

Source: 4 Resilient Ways To Cope With Chronic Pain

If you’d like to give moving a try, click on Contact and send me an email.

You CAN do it!

These last few weeks have reminded me of my early days. A quick summary of the process: I stopped my hyperthyroid medication on November 5 in preparation for the radioactive iodine treatment, the radioactive dose was administered on November 17, I restarted my medication on November 27 at half the previous dose. The radioactive iodine doesn’t work for about three months, maybe even six months.

I am starting to feel much better now, one month and one day after after having the radioactive iodine. Today I managed a 50 minute strength workout but I am still 60 kilograms down on my leg press from where I was. I could not complete the final set of hammer curls. The lats and hamstrings seem to have held up reasonably well.

The nausea attacks have been quite frequent and the heat intolerance has been through the roof. Sleep disruption has again been an issue, resulting in more than the usual level of brain fog and certainly increased fatigue.

Overall, similar to when I was diagnosed back in 2014. Even the emotions resurfaced. As I struggled to finish that final set of hammer curls today I felt the tears building. Using the mindfulness techniques we learnt at the Pain Management Program I sat and reminded myself this is NOT a permanent situation. With the principles of pacing in mind, I did not push myself given the circumstances. I let the frustration go.

Normally I walk about a kilometre after my strength session to cool down, but today it was 33 Celsius and I am heat intolerant! So the walking went by the board too. I thought to myself how easy it can be to just give up. The feelings of being physically restricted are not something I like. I was glad it was not a busy time in the gym today – no-one to witness my meagre efforts. Meagre? No, the truth is my workout wasn’t meagre given the circumstances. There are many patients who can’t yet achieve what I have achieved with my medical conditions. There is that mental battle to accept the limitations AND feel satisfaction, a little pride even, for achieving sufficient physicality to regain quality of life.

Today reminded me of those old emotional battles. You CAN do it! If I, a “senior” can do it (yes, I’m playing the “old” card to motivate YOU), you can too!

The difference is I am not newly diagnosed. I know from my own practical experience that exercise is so very beneficial. Those who are newly diagnosed or who have never tried movement as medicine do not have that experience to motivate them.

I know I will get back to the levels I was at prior to this little bump in the road. I will then continue to improve as I was before. I understand what is happening in my body at this time. Not completely understand because we do not yet have an explanation for my iron levels, but we are dealing with one thing at a time. The colorectal investigations were all clear (thankfully) so that isn’t the reason. Once the thyroid function is normal, we’ll revisit the iron question having already eliminated the worst case scenario.

I also know not to go at this like a bull at a gate (something my father always accused me of doing). I’ll keep working out, I’ll keep swimming, stretching and working on VMO activation! I will just listen to my body at this time, noting what small improvements I achieve over the next two months.

All of this has delayed me opening bookings again, for which I apologise. It is also a learning experience which will be of benefit to my clients.

Limber Up to Live Life!  Check with your doctors whether exercise will help you regain quality of life. Then call me. More than happy to have no-obligation discussions if you are interested in investigating adding exercise to your treatment plan.

Let’s Stretch

Stretching helps us get our movement back. We don’t have to do Olympic level stretches: to start, do what you feel comfortable with. Day by day you will improve. Your aim is to increase your flexibility and functional range, not run the marathon or climb Mount Everest. It can be discouraging when we see “everyone else” able to do things we can’t. It isn’t everyone else, though – there are plenty of people in a very similar situation to ourselves. We need to let go of the “everyone else” comparison because it does us no good at all.

Range of motion can even lead us to not buying clothes we like. I tried on a dress I loved. BIG problem: it had a full length zip up the back. I no longer have the range of motion in my shoulder joint to be able to zip that dress up by myself. So I had to buy a different dress. Still bugs me every time I think about it!

David Tom MD, an Arizona-based chronic pain specialist, says patients who are successful in managing their conditions see movement as medicine. I love that phrase. Movement is the one of the best drugs we can use.

What stretches should you do? This is will depend on your particular situation, but a good set to start is listed below. Hold each for three calm breathes, do each stretch twice. That is, twice each side where the stretch is a side-to-side stretch. Do stretches in a controlled slow manner, paying heed to your body. This is a not a race, the only aim here is to getting our body moving.

  1. Neck stretch 1 – simply tuck your chin to your chest.
  2. Neck stretch 2 – tilt your head to the side, turning your chin towards your armpit and your ear to your shoulder. Be careful not to lift your shoulder to your ear! If you are tilting to the right, you can place your right hand on your head to gently add some additional “pull” to the stretch.
  3. Shoulder rolls – rotate your shoulders in a circle backwards, with your arms at your sides. In gyms you may see people doing full arm rotations, forwards and backwards. This is not necessary to achieve your short-term objective. Do not rotate shoulders forwards, the body prefers backwards and we want to give the body what it prefers at this stage.
  4. Shoulders, chest, biceps – stretch your arms straight behind you. You can retract your shoulder blades if you are able, and clasp your hands behind your back but this is not necessary. Again, watch those shoulders – make sure you aren’t lifting your shoulders. Take you arms back only as far as you can comfortably.
  5. Side bend – sitting or standing is fine, depending on your current ability. I won’t describe this one in words as I demonstrate it in the video above.
  6. Back rotation – this can be done lying down or sitting. I prefer lying down. Lay on the floor arms outstretched, knees bent. Roll your knees to one side as close to the floor as you can, hold. Return your knees to the centre, roll to the other side. This may be too challenging, so the seated version is to hug yourself and rotate your upper body to one side, hold. Return to the centre and repeat the other side.
  7. Hamstring stretch – the hamstrings are the big muscles that run down the back of your legs. These can get very tight, especially if you haven’t discarded those high heels yet! That was a not-so-subtle reminder to check out my KyBoot recommendation. There are many ways to do a hamstring stretch, here are two.  You can sit on the edge of a chair and place one leg out in front of you, heel only on the floor, toe pointing towards you, straighten the knee and bend slightly forward at the waist. A second option is to lay on the floor and raise one leg at right angles to your body, your hands behind your thigh to gently encourage your leg towards a 90 degree angle to your body, knee as straight as possible.
  8. Quad stretch – quads are the muscles at the front of your thighs. My favourite place to do these is in the warm water gentle exercise pool with ankle floats. On land, stand behind a chair or beside something you can hold on to for support. Lift you foot up behind you towards your bottom. If you are able, you can catch hold of your ankle and lift the foot higher. You will feel the stretch in the front of your leg above the knee.
  9. Calf stretch – another stretch with options. Option 1 is to stand facing the wall, hands about head head height against the wall, one knee bent, the other leg stretched out behind you, heel to the ground. Press your heel into the floor and bend the other knee. Option 2 is to stand on a step on your toes and drop your heels below the step. The is my preferred version. You will need something to hold onto.
  10. Glute (the muscles in your buttocks) stretch – sitting in a chair, lift one your left foot up and place it on your right knee. You can push down on the left knee to increase the stretch if you wish, providing that is comfortable. Repeat for the other side. If this is too much, simply lift your left knee up and point it towards your right side. A more advanced version is to lay on the floor, bend your knees with your feet close to your buttocks, place your left ankle on your right knee then place your hands either side of the right left and pull your right knee towards your chest just until you feel the stretch in your left buttock.
  11. Thoracic Stretch/Snowangels – our upper back can get quite stiff when we are not as active as we should be or we spend too much time at a keyboard. You will need a long foam roller for this one. The pictures illustrate, I hope! Just laying on the foam roller is a good start. Snowangels add arm movements: start with your arms positioned at your sides, palms facing the floor, then take you arms in a wide arc to stretch out behind your head, palms facing the ceiling. This needs a bit of floor space as you may be surprised just how far your reach is when your arms are at a right angles to your body! This is not a “three calm breaths” one – stay on the roller as long as you feel comfortable. Perhaps start with 30 seconds if you’ve never done it before.

In the first image I have moved my arm so you can see the roller. In the second you can see my head is totally supported – hence the need for the long roller.

This is not the easiest to do and may be too advanced for beginners. Some readers will have difficulty getting on the roller and will need to build up flexibility and strength. The aim is not to hurt ourselves, so BE CAREFUL! I still prefer to hold onto something while lowering myself onto the roller. I love the way my upper back feels when I get off the roller.

Stretching daily is a very good thing. Build the time into your daily schedule and stick to it, even on the “bad” days. Design a simple spreadsheet and place it on the fridge, mark each day off as you go. Stretching isn’t the only activity we need, but it is a good place to start.

If you would like some help, Contact Limberation.

This article constitutes general advice only and the stretches outlined above may not be suitable in all situations. You should always seek a medical clearance to undertake exercise if you have medical conditions.