According to the National Academy of Sciences, 100 million Americans experience the suffering that comes with chronic pain. With pain often comes fatigue, a combination that makes gathering up the strength to work out a nearly impossible feat. However, there are some workouts that are especially effective for people who need an adaptable, manageable program to combat their chronic pain and fatigue. These five options are among the most gentle and adaptive, yet still offer plenty of room to grow and challenge yourself as you get stronger and gain more stamina.
Don’t let the advertisements showing young, lithe people twisting themselves into pretzel shapes scare you away. Yoga for beginners is gentle and allows you to take things at your own pace. Most studios are designated judgment-free zones, which encourages students of all shapes and sizes to participate. Plus, practicing yoga, even at the beginner level, cultivates balance, encourages circulation, and eliminate pain from muscle spasms and sore joints as you stretch and learn to move mindfully.
Swimming is a great option for people with pain in their joints, as the water supports the weight of your body and results in low-impact exercise. Whether it’s water aerobics or just a few laps in your community pool, you can start small and increase your goals as you gain in strength and endurance. Most swim clubs are equipped with instructors as well that will guide your movements and show you how to get the most out of this activity. If you never learned how to swim, there are adult classes available to you, or if you prefer, you can swim in the shallow end during your time in the pool.
Lifting weights or doing body weight exercises builds muscle, and the stronger a muscle is, the longer it can be used before it wears out. Although it seems like it may cause more stress on already tender muscles, strength training can help you combat your pain and fatigue by increasing your metabolism and improving your body’s ability to withstand muscle fatigue.
As with the other entries on this list, strength training grows with you. If you cannot yet tolerate a push-up, you can start with some light resistance work by pushing against a wall and build from there. Similarly, if you aren’t ready for lifting heavy weights, you can start out with 5 lb. dumbbells and gradually increase the size from there.
Some people with chronic pain become sedentary, hiring a house worker or asking relatives to help with chores such as house cleaning and yard work. But this could be doing you much more harm than good. The longer you sit and remain inactive, the more your musculoskeletal system will suffer, leading to more significant bouts of pain and fatigue. So rather than hire help, start out small by doing 30 minutes of work per week to get moving and keep yourself mobile. Make a goal to have one room completely cleaned per week. By the end of the month, your home will be clean and you’ll feel better physically and mentally.
As long as you have decent shoes and a safe path, walking is one of the best forms of exercise, toning your legs and working your cardiovascular system. Make a small goal – say, 30 minutes of walking 3 times a week – and then gradually increase it as your stamina builds. Don’t be ashamed to sit and rest at the midpoint of your walk, if you are feeling especially fatigued. As you get stronger, you may even decide to graduate to day hiking or urban exploration.
Chronic pain and the fatigue is causes can take a lot out of you. By taking up an exercise routine that is adaptable and gentle to your body, you can get back on the path to being stronger, having better balance, experiencing less pain, and having more energy.
Heather Lomax is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for Orangetheory Fitness. She writes for a variety of health blogs, and in her spare time, takes special interest in researching methods for achieving optimal fitness goals.