This post is the first of a three-part series on exercising with physical limitations.

When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I froze. Everything hurt, and I was convinced that moving would hurt even more. (In the short term, it can.) I would “over exercise,” and then end up hurting for several days. The less I exercised, the harder it became to do anything.

It didn’t help that my view of exercise to that point was “something that you do to stay in shape but no one actually enjoys.” In general, gyms seemed like giant fishbowls where people watched you torture yourself from the street. Gym clothes were utterly intimidating. Why would I want to do that?

I’ve found – with a lot of help and encouragement from professionals and some loved ones – that exercise can be fun and enjoyable. There are a wealth of reasons to exercise:

  • Feeling able to exercise can boost confidence.
  • Exercising is a great way of getting in touch with your body, which is essential if you’re trying to get into the whole “mind-body” way of life.
  • The more you exercise, the more you find you can do. It’s an “upward spiral” rather than a “downward spiral.”
  • It can be fun to “discover” new things to do as exercise. I recently started swimming again, which is both fun and low impact.
  • One day you will probably be showering and realize that you have new, sleek, firm muscles.

Notice that I’m not even getting into the weight-loss issue here. I’ve found that “exercising for weight loss” is the quickest way for me to lose interest. If I don’t lose weight right away, then it’s disappointing. However, if I’m exercising so that my body will feel better, then I’m likely to see immediate results.

The trick is to take baby steps, as with all things. If I were to try to go for a five mile run, I’d end up sore and swollen and tired and in bed for a few days.

When I first started exercising again after a long period of inactivity, I would go very gradually. Maybe I’d walk to the stop sign near my house and back (about 1 block total, if that). I’d gradually add more and more. It’s the same with any exercises my physical therapist has given me.

Even now, I’m having to re-establish my exercise routine. There was a really bad cold snap, which tends to make walking outside challenging. I’m still trying to find a good “back up plan” for when the weather outside is frightful. Then I got a really bad stomach flu, and was too sick to exercise. Now it’s back to exercising. The good thing is that since I’ve built up those muscles and health routines before, it won’t take me as long to get back to where I was.

Any amount of movement is good. Slowly increasing your activity with something you enjoy is a step towards a healthier lifestyle.

Here are some sample ways to begin: walk, swim, bike, drum, do laundry, vacuum, stretch, canoe, sail, garden, hike, dance, build a table/bookshelf/etc., do yoga, shop, play fetch with your dog, spend any amount of time with a toddler…

Pick something that you enjoy. That is key.

Note: Check with your medical professional before beginning any exercise routine.