Are You Moving Less While Working From Home?

Working from home is with many of us, perhaps for longer that we may have initially envisaged. It is very important for all of us, but most especially those with arthritic and other chronic conditions where movement is beneficial, to ensure we don’t fall into the trap of becoming more sedentary! Most of us working from home are sedentary enough already, bound to our desks and laptops as we tend to be.

The good aspect is we now have the opportunity to put the commuting time to better use – we just have to make sure that IS what we do!

I am now balancing being back in an accounting role with my medical need to keep movement levels up plus the continuation of post-surgery knee rehabilitation exercises. What have I learnt already? I let my rehab exercises slip a couple of days, I ate at my desk twice and one morning I sat for WAY too long without getting up! Not good. For some inexplicable reason I found myself drinking more coffee and less water, so I’m being more aware of that now.

My daily physical activity commitments currently are:

  • 40 to 45 minutes of formal walking
  • achieve a total of 7,500 steps a day (limited due to post-surgery)
  • 40 minutes of rehab exercises

Swimming and weight training aren’t in the list as the gyms and pools are still closed in Melbourne due to Covid-19.

There is the need to avoid that dreaded boom/bust cycle and pace all of the above accordingly with working hours. These are not necessarily considerations for people without underlying health conditions: even so, worth bearing in mind!

Although the rehab routine is not tiring, the walking can be; especially if one has worked all day. Fatigue IS a symptom many of us live with. Mine is now minimal (thank you risankizumab), but I remember the days when I suffered quite badly from the fatigue. So rest time is important, it has to be part of the routine we establish.

I’m still at the stage of developing a daily routine. Finding what works for me. For a WFH day, I eat breakfast, walk for 25 minutes, then get ready for work (do my hair, pop on the lippy etc – all those video meetings!). Watch out for those back-to-back meeting days! The sitting time can easily extend to three hours. If you don’t have a sit/stand desk (mine is arriving soon!) this can be a trap. Watch your calendar: suggest different times for meetings if you have too many one after the other. Remember to take regular breaks from your desk.

Make sure to take a lunch break. This is important: move your body, stretch, sit in a different chair, break the mental exertion too. Do not eat at your desk.

I’m still working out the best time to do my rehab routine. If I do it in the morning, I need to get up earlier. If I do it after work, I’m becoming fatigued and I still have another 15 to 20 minutes walking to do. I’m thinking lunchtime might actually work best and will try that this coming week. The second walk is important because the one thing we lose while WFH is incidental exercise. No campus to walk around, no walking to and from the car park or tram stop. Those activities all add to our step count for the day. But we do have that extra time from the commute we no longer do, as mentioned earlier. It is finding the right balance.

Catching up on activity on the weekend is usually not an option for those with chronic conditions. Catching up just initiates a boom/bust event and none of us need that. So consistency is our friend. It is finding the right routine for each individual that is critical. What works, what doesn’t work?

Consistency is our friend

Weather can also throw all our plans completely out the window. I walk in the rain and in the cold – I can’t manage the heat. The heat intolerance that came with the hyperactive thyroid does seem to be finally abating: I found it much less troublesome last summer. I hope that persists! For others, the cold could be an issue. Weather is not related to WFH specifically, but working does mean we have less flexibility to juggle our physical activities around the weather.

Walking in the Rain

On days I physically go into the office (few and far between) I know I will get more incidental steps walking around the campus, to and from the car park, etc, therefore I don’t worry about a second formal walk on those days as long as I hit the 7,500 step count.

It is important to keep moving, get outdoors (mask up!) and not become glued to our desk and laptop. And on that note, I am now going to move, because it is Saturday and writing this is enough sitting for today!

Tiger Pacing

Pacing THRU, Pacing UP, Pacing DOWN

Pacing is very important in the management of chronic conditions, including chronic pain management.

A year ago today I wrote Pacing for Beginners, an article that essentially talked about pacing UP, In other articles, such as Beat the Boom Bust Cycle, I have referred to pacing, in the context of pacing THRU. What’s the difference? Isn’t pacing, pacing? Well, not really.

We need to understand the difference so we don’t get stuck doing one, when in fact the other or both may be more beneficial for our long-term condition management. We risk pacing DOWN.

Pacing THRU

Many chronic condition patients suffer fatigue. The degree will vary from day to day, the severity will be different for each patient. Natalie van Scheltinga has a very good description in Fatigue In Chronic Illness Explained, using “The Battery Analogy”. Some people find this analogy works better for their situation that the oft-cited Spoon Theory. Both are good illustrations of how the fatigue can affect one’s daily life.

We are all different. Both these images below are daisies, yet one has WAY more petals than the other. Think of each petal as a unit of energy. We could make this really complex and compare the size of each unit of energy, but let’s not delve that deeply today. Most chronic illness patients have a certain number of petals they can use per day. Increasing the number of petals, if possible, is a good thing.

White Daisy

Pacing THRU is about getting through the day with the energy we have. Yes, we DO have to be careful not to go overboard. Even now, as healthy as I now am, I am still technically “sick”. I know that a two hour commute to work would not be something I could do on a regular basis. On the days I do my strength workouts, the strength workout is the only major “task” I do that day. I am playing around with my routine currently, more on that later.

Pacing UP

Pacing up is used in clinical pain management settings. It is, of course, also used in sports, personal training and a host of other activities. I paced UP, over a four year period, from 5-minute walks several times a day to whole body strength work-outs and swimming. No-one runs a marathon without building up to it.

Pacing UP is not just about being able to walk further than yesterday or regaining the ability to sweep the floor. It is also about energy levels. As we improve our physical endurance and strength and reduce or eliminate our pain, we sleep better, energy levels improve, functionality improves. Our overall quality of life improves.

It should be noted pacing UP does not always involve movement. For example, if sitting causes pain, pacing UP may be used to extend the body’s tolerance to sitting. For the purpose of this discussion today, I am referring to movement.

Pacing DOWN

If we only pace THRU and don’t have a strategy in place to pace UP, we run the risk of pacing DOWN. When we pace DOWN we run all the de-conditioning risks I repeat regularly (some may say I repeat ad nauseam). We will get sicker, likely experience more pain, lose more functionality.

de-conditioning

Our quality of life will deteriorate, we risk losing our independence, our freedom and possibly our financial stability. Pacing DOWN is not good. As with pacing UP, pacing DOWN happens gradually. We may not even really notice it: until the day we realise we can’t do something we used to be able to do easily or we notice our pain has increased. Yes, for some this will be because of disease progression – for many others it will be the result of inadvertently pacing DOWN.

We are a little delicate, like the dandelion seed head. Remember as children blowing them? It doesn’t take a lot to blow us away either. Yet we are also stronger than we realise. Bring that strength to the fore, use it.

Dandelion

Pacing THRU and UP

It is a recipe. A lot of THRU and a little bit of UP to start. Mix gently and simmer over a low heat.

Most chronic illness patients will need to do both. Initially, more THRU than UP. The plan should be to reach a point where UP become easier and THRU becomes less of a concern. DOWN? Avoided totally.

Practical example from my own experience. For some time my routine has been two strength workouts a week, one  swimming session and daily walking. I’ve been pacing UP within those sessions; increasing weights, increasing swim set metres. This is where balancing UP and THRU comes into play. I have a target number of steps for the day, at the moment 7,500. When I am in the gym, I still clock up steps. When I am in the pool, I don’t, even though 1,000 metre swim is considered roughly 4,000 steps. So, if I were to increase my total swim use of energy, should I still aim for my 7,500 steps? I’d have paced UP my swimming, but I would NOT have paced THRU my day and run the risk of draining myself and paying for it the next day. Then I would possibly actually drop my activity level the following day, which is not to my long-term benefit. Sure, one day here or there is not a massive issue, but if a pattern develops, it becomes a problem as it can lead to pacing DOWN. Yes, my ultimate aim is to have both: increased swimming distance AND my steps target. I have to balance getting there.

The appropriate balance needs to be carefully planned out for each person, depending on their particular situation, conditions and degree of condition progression. Sometimes we can feel discouraged. Giving up, giving in, is not an option.

SMART Goal Setting

It is important to set goals to measure progress when pacing UP. Please click through to Make 2018 YOUR Year for SMART Goals, where I outline how and when to use goal setting to assist you. I know 2018 is drawing to a close, but the strategy remains the same!

I am looking at new goals for myself for 2019. That’s why I am playing around with my routine. When I moved from one strength session a week to two a week, I needed to be careful to not overdo any particular day. I increased my total for the week, but each individual session is less that my original single weekly session. If I increase my swimming, how much do I adjust my step target on those days? What will work for my body? So I’m trialing options at the moment. I’ve reached a stage of improvement where I can do that.

This article is of a general nature and does not constitute specific exercise advice for any individual person. For patients with particularly complex or advanced conditions, this may not be appropriate. If in doubt, seek professional guidance.

Contact me for a confidential chat as a starting point to pacing UP.

Main image “Pacing Tiger” Heather Ruth Rose/Shutterstock.com

Further Reading:

4 Resilient Ways to Cope With Chronic Pain – Huffington Post

Doctors and Exercise – Limberation.com

leg press

Change Your Exercises for Safety

The target audience for this article is those who are already gym literate. You know how to do a dumbbell bench press and load the leg press. Your technique has always been good and you’ve never hurt yourself in the gym. You are trying to pick up where you left off, but now you have the complication of our new partner, our chronic illness, or some degenerative change making things a little different.

Here are some personal practical examples to illustrate you can change what you are used to doing and still achieve your goals. No, not your old goals – your NEW goals! The ones you have now for regaining or retaining your quality of life!

Dumbbell Bench Press

As previously mentioned, I have a few problems in my lumbar spine: a bulging disc, a herniated disc and some very grumpy facet joints. I have always preferred free weights. I knew something I was doing in the gym was irritating my back, but I wasn’t 100% sure which exercise. I suspected it was the dumbbell bench press – not the actual exercise, but getting off the bench at the end of a set. Every time I finished a set, I felt a definite sharp twinge (that may be an understatement there) in my lumbar spine and I would suffer varying degrees of discomfort in the following days.

I stared at the chest press machine and decided I was going to have to give that a try.

The action of getting off the machine is not subjecting my back to any undue stress.

It works. No aggravation of my back as I step out of the seat. No, I’m not happy about giving up my free weights, but I’d rather adapt my exercises than not do them at all.

Much easier than getting off the bench!

In February I will under go Radiofrequency Facet Joint Denervation which will hopefully help: in the meantime I have adapted. If the RFJD works, then I’ll have time to work on building the muscles supporting the spine in readiness for when the RFJD wears off.

Edit March 2018: I avoided the above-mentioned denervation! Exercise rules!!

Loading the Leg Press

Those weights for the leg press have two handles – use them! I realised lifting and carrying a 20 kilogram weight one-handed was not something I should do any more. By the time I’d loaded six of these onto the machine, plus the top-up weights, I was feeling it. Then there is putting the weights away at the end. You DO put the weights away, don’t you? Yes, I knew you did! Using two hands feels a bit awkward at first, but better to use two hands than stop doing the leg press altogether. 

Some readers may have no difficulty with a mere 20 kilograms, I realise that. Some of us more mature souls, or those starting back slowly may be very wise to take things gently initially! Pace up!

Leg Curl

Prone (face down) leg curl is another exercise my back doesn’t like. Luckily my gym has a seated leg curl machine. I’ve found I can do my leg curls with no issues at all in a seated position. No, it doesn’t look as tough, but I no longer care about looking tough, I care about staying limber and strong-ish.

Leg Curl

General Tips

Remember to PACE! While you might be an old hand in the gym, are you new to the concept of pacing for medical reasons?

Make sure you adjust the seat heights (or anything else that needs adjusting) for your particular height. While we may all have been a little cavalier about such details in the past, it pays to be picky about such details now. I usually find tall people have been on everything just before me and I have to adjust every single thing! Your body will thank you.

I don’t recommend lifting to failure, unless you are well and truly on a path to remission or lucky enough to be in remission. I do, now (“now” being until my iron vanished into thin air), lift to failure, but it is something I’ve built back up to and I certainly don’t make a habit of it – besides “failure” is a lot less now than it used to be! Russian Volume Training is probably not a great idea for us either. We’ll end up in the Boom/Bust cycle again, if not with pain, with fatigue.

Slow and steady should be our mantra for the moment. All is not lost though: I know a young man who was diagnosed with reactive arthritis. Told he would not play professional sport again, he became a hypertrophy competitor, fitness professional and was one of our teachers. He is a pretty buff guy.

I hope this may give you some ideas. If you would like assistance, contact me.

Be careful and safe!

I’m done for the day!

 

Pacing For Beginners

Pacing in the context of managing our pain relates to our rate of activity or our performance progress. In this article I am using walking (that’s why the feet!) as an illustration, but the same logic can be applied to sitting, standing, resistance (weight) training or whatever activity it is that we are having trouble doing to the level we want to. The activity might be sweeping the kitchen floor, or sitting long enough to fly interstate. Walking is just the example here.

As I have shared previously, when I was first started on this journey, I walked five minutes at a time, four times a day. Five minutes was how long I could manage before I experienced pain. Slowly, by pacing, we can build up.

Please be aware pacing is only one component of condition management, it is not THE solution. This is a general introduction only, each person requires specific planning tailored to their circumstances.

Warning: Maths Ahead

Let’s assume for the maths that like I could, you can walk five minutes before you experience discomfort. It is very important to know your starting point. Smartphones have easy calculators: the keystrokes for the below example are 5 + 4 = 9 / 2 = 4.5 * .8 = 3.6.

The important point here is just because you CAN do 5 minutes, that is NOT the starting point.

    1. Take that five minutes as your Test 1 measurement.
    2. After a suitable rest, do a second Test. The Test 2 result might be four minutes.
    3. Add 5 + 4 = 9. To find the average of your two trials: 9/2 = 4.5 minutes.
    4. Now you need your baseline, your official starting point. This is 80% of your average. 4.5 * 0.8 = 3.6 minutes, or 3 minutes 36 seconds.
    5. Increase at a rate of 10% from your baseline. 3.6 * 1.1 = 3.96 minutes. Let’s just call it 4 minutes!

Each day (or week depending on the type of activity) you increase by 10%. JUST 10%. On your calculator that is “current time” * 1.1 = “new time”.

10% a day increase is reasonable at a 5 minute walk, but for longer durations and other activities, the increase should be spread over a week.

Putting Pacing into Practice

How does this work in practice? I did some timings on a stroll the other day. It took me 217 steps and 1 minute 48 seconds to walk from one tram stop to the next.

What is a tram, you ask? I’m glad you asked! This is a Melbourne tram. Terrific mode of city transport.

If you don’t have trams in your area, do you have an alternative?

Why was I doing the timings? Because we can use local infrastructure to our advantage. After a while you will get very bored with your backyard or walking around the same block. Tram lines are fantastic because we can walk, hop on a tram for a rest, get off further down the line preferably within one or two metres of a nice cafe, finish our rest over a nice coffee and then repeat the exercise back.

As we build up, we can use the distance between trams stops as stepping stones. Looking at my 1 minute 48 second walk between stops cited above, that is way more than a 10% increase from a 4 minute baseline. That would be closer to 50%, WAY too much. But later on it will be possible. You are not stuck on 4 minutes for long! As you build up you can walk just past a tram stop then back and still catch a tram to reward yourself with coffee. Over time you will be reaching the next tram stop.

A little reconnaissance may be necessary. This is the tram stop I was passing. In the middle of a busy main road, there are lots of steps up from the pavement, an over-bridge and then more steps down. This may not be ideal for those pacing up slowly! This is one of the tram stops you might want to zoom straight past – as a passenger!

Of course there are many alternatives: drive to a favourite park or beach, then walk. I don’t suggest the shopping centre, as it could take 20 minutes to walk from the car park to your store of choice!

The Rules

Rule #1: stick to the times. DO NOT be tempted to do more than you should, despite how great you might feel right that minute. You risk undoing all your hard work to date if you do that.

Rule #2: do it every day. Even if you don’t feel the best today, do your allotted time. Every day. Note this is for these small starting activites. I would NOT do a leg press every day!

Rule #3: Wear appropriate footwear. If it is sitting you are working on, ensure you have an appropriate chair.

Other Thoughts

I also apply pacing strategies to manage the fatigue, along the lines of how much I do on any given day. I’ve mentioned before I don’t do grocery shopping on days I do a strength workout. I don’t do strength workouts the days I work eight hours in the office. We work out rules for our individual circumstances.

Christine Miserandino (lupus and fibromyalgia) has written The Spoon Theory which is a great way to visualise the energy/fatigue situation. I found it very early on in my journey and it certainly helped me adjust to my new life. I do have many more spoons these days than I used to, but that didn’t happen overnight.