Exercise: My Autoimmune Quality-Of-Life-Preserver

“There is no medication or nutritional supplement that even comes close to having all of the effects exercise does. It’s truly the best medicine we know of.”

– David C. Nieman, PhD, author of The Exercise-Health Connection: How to Reduce Your Risk of Disease and Other Illnesses by Making Exercise Your Medicine

Fuel For Healing

If there’s one practice that has kept me on the healing path, it’s exercise. Since I began to address my multiple autoimmune conditions through lifestyle changes a few years ago, exercise has become my quality-of-life-preserver. When I first adopted a regular exercise habit, I thought I would improve strength and endurance, and perhaps tighten up those upper arms (my children once derided them as “bingo wings”).

Exercise has definitely had an impact on my physical health – I’m stronger and more flexible than I have been in years. I feel abler and more energetic in everything I do – carrying groceries up stairs, walking briskly uphill, gardening for hours. Everything I do that involves movement is now a little easier.

Bonus: Exercise Improves Energy, Sleep & Moods

I entered high school miserable and socially isolated, but by the time sophomore year rolled around, with blossoming hormones, I was doing okay again. As my health issues plateaued, I started to rebel. I shaved one side of my head, dressed mostly in black, took up smoking, and partied with my friends. I was fine, until I wasn’t. 

Mid-junior year, I wound up in the hospital, except this time I didn’t want to go back on prednisone because of all that it had done to me in middle school. I stayed in the hospital for almost two months. At one point I had a staph infection and almost died. Finally, I gave into the prednisone, and sure enough, my hair fell out again. I hated my life. I felt out of control and I started engaging in more risky behaviors as high school came to a close. 

The summer of 1991 was a blur. I was partying all the time—making all sorts of dangerous choices—and then, I ended up in the hospital again. This time, I was suffering from a massive Crohn’s flare and dehydration. I spent over a week there recovering, taking prednisone and sulfas.

After this hospitalization, I decided to get my life together. I started community college where I met my first husband. Once I graduated, I went for my master’s degree and my husband went into the military. We grew apart, and the stress led to another flare. The doctor I saw told me I was “difficult” because I asked too many questions. He kept scheduling procedures—at one point my lower intestine was only a few centimeters wide due to scar tissue and inflammation—and recommended Imuran (an immunosuppressant), which I refused. Even so, I was on birth control, still smoked cigarettes and lived off deli food—corn dogs, chicken strips, etc. In other words, I was still a mess. I ditched my doctor and decided I was fine without one. I ended up in the hospital again with dehydration. In the ER they warned me I was on a path to self-destruction. I ignored them and checked myself out. 

Bonus: Exercise Improves Energy, Sleep & Moods

It only took a few months of regular exercise for me to notice other benefits. My daily energy levels increased and my sleep improved. But the real clincher for me is the impact of exercise on my mood. Regular exercise helps me build resilience both physically and mentally. I feel more optimistic, positive and easy-going when I’m exercising regularly. I believe regular exercise helps maintain the emotional strength I need to weather the ups and downs of autoimmune healing.

Exercising Outdoors With Friends is Key

I love getting my exercise done first thing in the morning – in fact, my 6am “boot camp” is called “Fit First”. I usually attend Fit First with about 20 other 50-somethings two days a week to focus on weight training. Our instructor leads us through a dynamic warm up, a variety of challenging free-weight exercises, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Our instructor also integrates balance challenges into our workout, and my balance has improved enormously.

I exercise almost entirely outdoors, and frequently with friends. I’m fortunate to live in a climate where we can be outdoors year-round. Being out with birds singing and the day brightening is much more enjoyable than I ever expected. Laughing and catching up with friends as we groan over another round of pushups or sit-ups actually makes it fun.

Strength, flexibility, and a positive outlook would probably be enough for people who aren’t dealing with chronic illness, but I also exercise to optimize my autoimmune healing.

“There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence confirming that exercise is a key player in disease reduction, optimal mental, emotional and physical health, and longevity. After reviewing 40 papers published between 2006 and 2010, researchers found that exercise reduces the risk of about two dozen health conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and depression.”

– Joseph Mercola, DO, author & health educator

Here are a few more good reasons to get moving. Studies show that exercise:

Reduces Risk of Dying

Exercise reduces the risk of death from all causes. (1)

Helps Your Mood & Sleep

Exercise reduces your risk of depression and may help you sleep better. Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week can give you these mental health benefits. (2)

Can Be Fast and Effective

20 minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is so efficient that it offers the same benefits as about two hours of standard aerobic exercise. (3)

Improves Quality of Life

For people with mild to moderate MS, exercise may improve mobility, fatigue, and health-related quality of life issues. (4)

Reduces Chronic Inflammation

Aerobic and resistance exercise have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation, which is linked to many diseases including autoimmune disease, heart disease and cancer. (5)

OK – I’ve been sitting too long – and you know they say “sitting is the new smoking!” It’s time to get up and move around. I hope you’ll join me!

Take good care!

P.S: Want my help reversing an autoimmune condition?

If you live in the continental U.S. and are ready, willing, and able to invest in your best health, I offer Functional Medicine Total Health Transformation Programs over Zoom in collaboration with a skilled naturopathic doctor (ND). Get on my calendar for a free 30-minute discovery call.  
Image Credit: Lucky Business/Shutterstock
1 Reference
2 Reference
3 A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms. Little, J.P., et al.; in The Journal of Physiology, 2010; Reference
4 Reference 
5 Reference




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Palmer is a certified Functional Medicine Health Coach who has helped thousands of people reverse autoimmune conditions based on her own two-decade battle to successfully beat multiple sclerosis (MS). She’s the author of the Amazon #1 bestselling book, Beat Autoimmune, which has a powerful foreword by Functional Medicine pioneer, Mark Hyman, MD.

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