Diet and exercise are so often wrapped up together that they become one word—”dietandexercise.” Surely if we’re following a healing diet like the Autoimmune Protocol, we should be able to exercise harder and longer, right? And for that matter, isn’t exercising harder and longer always the goal?
Well, not exactly.
Exercise can be a wonderful way to focus on self-care (see3 AIP Ways to Focus on Self-Love This February for more!)
But for those of us dealing with autoimmune disease, exercise is often fraught. In this post, we’ll explore exercising while on the AIP and offer some of our favorite accessible solutions for every level of healing.
The short answer is yes.
You’ve probably heard that theCenters for Disease Control recommends adults get between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate exercise each week, and that even more exercise might yield additional health benefits.
Exercise can be helpful in your healing journey for a variety of reasons.
Itregulates our hormones, improves sleep(which in turn speeds healing), andhelps manage blood sugar. Exercise is alsogreat at reducing stress at a physiological level—particularly helpful if you’re experiencing a lot of stress due to chronic illness.
However, exercising with autoimmune disease can be a tricky proposition. We must be careful to exercise in a way that doesn’t produce negative effects byelevating the stress hormone cortisol,damage our gut health, or increase our physical pain.
Perhaps you’ve experienced the unhappy cycle of feeling a burst of energy, expending it at the gym, and paying for it with fatigue for days afterward. Those of us with autoimmune sympotms know this feeling all too well!
In order to strike the delicate exercise balance between helping and hurting, we have to pay even closer attention to our body’s cues. Some obvious signs that you’re overdoing it with exercise might include a flare of your autoimmune symptoms or extreme soreness.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for subtler symptoms, too. These might include trouble sleeping, disrupted digestion, or fatigue.
The bottom line: exercise in a way that’s appropriate for your current level of health, not how healthy you think you’ll bebecause you’re exercising. Check in with your doctor, your healthcare team, and yourself often.
It might also be helpful to remember that “exercise” doesn’t have to be long and intense, and more is not always better. Exercise is a form of stress, and when that stress overloads our bodies, it can impede your healing.
According to our co-founder Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, The Paleo Mom,“it’s more important to be active than it is to exercise in ways that are too strenuous or acute.” We love this perspective because it takes away the pressure of “exercising enough.”
When we instead focus on moving our bodies regularly and in ways that nourish us, we can begin to shift our mindset around exercise.
It’s undeniable that movement improves our health. As we’ve established, the movement doesn’t have to be vigorous to be beneficial. Just adding a little more movement each day can yield big improvements in how we think and feel.
If you’re looking to work exercise into your routine but don’t want to overdo it, some great options include:
Light walking.Walking counts as moderate-intensity activity and can be a great way to work a little movement into your routine. When you walk outside, you’re getting all the benefits of time in nature and sleep hormone-regulating light, too! Up the ante and tend to your social life by walking with a friend or your partner. You might find you’re more likely to make it routine if others are relying on you!
Yoga.Yoga is a wonderfully adaptable way to incorporate light weightbearing exercise into your routine. You may choose a gentle restorative session when you’re feeling low-energy, or explore a Hatha or Vinyasa style to experience more strengthening postures. Yoga is easy to practice online with follow-along videos (we loveYoga With Adriene!), but you shouldn’t be intimidated to take a public class, either. Just let your instructor know your limitations so you can work out modifications and leave feeling your best.
Stretching or foam rolling.Stretching regularly throughout the day, and especially as we’re adjusting to getting more exercise, is a low-stress way to approach exercise. It may also be an important way to make continued exercise sustainable. Foam rolling or using other props to break up the fascia under our skin can increase our range of motion and improve the physical pain that often accompanies an autoimmune disease.
Shift your mindset.If you’re in the midst of a flare or finding difficulty with even light movement because of pain, fatigue, or other autoimmune symptoms, we encourage you to remember that this state is not forever. Your body has a fantastic capacity to heal itself—that is, after all, why you embarked on the AIP, to begin with!
Focus on the improvements you’ve seen so far and trust that you are where you need to be.
In this post, we’ll talk about the principle of nutrient density and a simple exhortation for including more of it in your AIP: eat the rainbow!