As a Behavioral Modification Instructor all I had to mention in any of my classes to immediately see noses tip toward the ceiling and eyes roll sideways was to mention the word exercise. The word exercise, to most of us, is synonymous with WORK.
Exercise shouldn't be synonymous with work and yet when you are highly sensitive it can be just that. WORK.
However, exercise isn't an option. You can't just fire yourself from exercising regularly. Exercise is an absolute must, and there is a definite reason why, but there are certain rules to follow to ensure you are exercising safely.
And, there are also certain 'moves' that can help to boost your immunity.
The Best Exercise for HSPs
The absolute best exercise specifically for reducing sensitivity to stress and boosting your immune system is Yoga. Certain poses (moves) you want to incorporate into your routine for boosting you immunity are Mountain Pose, Standing Forward Bend, Forward Folded Arch, Lunge, Plank Pose, Yoga Push Up, Upward Facing dog, Downward Facing Dog and Prayer Position.
However, even when it comes to Yoga certain rules apply when you are experiencing a cold, the flu or any other virus, such as a herpes breakout. Your body can feel sick just like when you have a cold or the flu when you have an active breakout of HSV. Even if it doesn't, your immune system is still fighting a virus and rules for exercising change.
Too much exercise too soon or too much exercise in general when your immune system is actively combating a virus can be exhausting to an immune system already fighting a war. It can cause immune suppression, the spread of infection or the worsening of current symptoms.
If you have a breakout above the waist (a cold sore, a cold or some other respiratory illness) you can still perform moderate activity, such as a light Yoga routine or go for a walk each day if you have light symptoms.
Shingles, obviously requires more consideration and care. Your immune system will be work harder to fight off a shingles breakout than, say, a cold sore or a light cold. Shingles is a very painful condition, so you may not feel like exercising or even be able to exercise. However, if you feel up to exercising follow the same guidelines as above for exercising with a cold sore or a light cold. If your shingles breakout is severe, then follow the same guidelines as below.
If you have an illness below the waist (IBD (irritable bowel disease), a Crohn's flare up, or genital herpes, for example) your immune system is working very hard. Do not overdo. It's best to post-pone exercising until you are on the mend and even then be more moderate than usual in the beginning.
Regular Exercise in General
Regular Exercise Should Be About Your Core
Exercise should be all about your heart and core. Meaning, your objective should be to exercise your heart and tone your trunk for balance, strength and agility.
The 2 types of exercise everyone needs are aerobic exercise (oxygenating and fat burning) and resistance exercise (muscle toning), which includes Isometrics.
There are 4 motions your body needs to keep your muscles in shape, which are pushing, pulling, lifting and squatting. Keep these 4 moves in mind when choosing your exercise routines. Even if you have limited joint movement the muscle groups used in these 4 motions can still be toned with isometric exercises.
The 4 Types of Exercise to Choose From
Aerobic Exercise ~ Aerobic (breathing and fat burning) exercise increases blood and oxygen to every area of your body and tones the heart muscle. This is just what you need to make pain go away, as pain is caused from too little oxygen and blood flow. Walking, running and dancing are forms of aerobic exercise. The general idea is to perform the exercise and elevate your heart beat for at least 20 minutes without stopping. For this reason, it's beneficial to have a target heart rate in mind.
To Calculate Your Target Heart Rate
Subtract your age from 220. To find the lower end of your THR multiply your answer x 6. To find the upper end of your THR multiply your answer by 8.
Example: 220 - 60 (years of age) = 160 160 x .6 = 96 160 x .8 = 128 This individual does not want to drop below 96, or rise above 128, while exercising.
To determine your heart beat per minute take your pulse by counting how many heart beats you feel in your wrist (using the tips of your middle three fingers below the base of your thumb) in 15 seconds and multiply by 4. This will show you your number. If your number is lower than your lower THR pick things up a bit. If your number is higher than your THR slow down. You are hurting yourself.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to keep stopping to check my heart rate while I’m exercising, so here’s a tip. If you can carry on a conversation as easily as if you were sitting on a park bench talking to a friend, speeds things up a bit. On the other hand, if you are having a hard time talking and are huffing and puffing slow things down a bit. You want to be somewhere in the middle. If you aren’t sure, check your numbers.
An Easy Walking Plan
Week 1 & 2: 5 minutes per day x 2-3 days
Week 3 & 4: 5 minutes x 3-5 days
Week 5 & 6: 5 minutes x 6-7 days
Weeks 7: 10 minutes x 5-7 days
Weeks 8: 15 minutes x 5-7 days
Weeks 9: 20 minutes x 5-7 days
Weeks 10: 25 minutes x 5-7 days
Weeks 11: 30 minutes x 7 days
Keep increasing your time each week until you are walking up to an hour each day. If you ever experience problems, are sick for a few days, or on vacation begin again at a previous walking level than that which you stopped at when you do begin walking again.
Resistance/ Weight Training
Resistance exercise involves controlled muscle movements for increasing muscle tone. Typically, weights or bands are used in these exercises. You may use exercise bands, or very light weights (2-5 lbs.), but only after you can manage basic stretches in the same body positions without the bands and with no discomfort.
Perform full body resistance exercises only twice per week. Instead of two full body workouts you may break up your routine into four days by doing upper body twice a week and lower body twice a week. Just make sure you are rotating work outs (upper body one day, lower the next and so on).
Seek out a book on strength training from your library or bookstore. Then, choose at least two exercises for each muscle group. Don't eliminate a muscle group from your routine just because it is not a favorite or is too difficult. Just remember to start with very light weights (2-3 pounds), regardless of what the book may suggest. Then, move on to 5 pound or 8 pound weights when you are completely ready.
I don't suggest heavier weights than these. If you are comfortable with 8-10 pound weights, rather than increase the weight, increase your repetitions (how many times you lift it) instead.
Calinetics & Isometrics
Callinetics and Isometrics are exercises that use muscle-against-muscle resistance. Isometrics is an excellent choice of exercise if you have arthritic conditions or joint injuries. When using muscle against muscle, start out slowly. You want to focus on tensing and then releasing a particular muscle group for a certain amount of time before moving on to the next group. For example, let's say you want stronger biceps. Sit straight up in a perfect posture position, bend your elbows at your sides, like you are holding a rolled up rug, palms up. Now curl your fingers closed (make a loose fist). Keep your elbows at waist level. Now slowly pull your fist towards your chest. Tighten up your upper arms and give a squeeze that lasts 10 seconds and relax. Lower your arms. You shouldn't be feeling it in your shoulder. Focus on the biceps, your upper arm muscles.
Start with no more than 10 seconds of muscle tensing in each muscle group that you exercise. You can perform this kind of exercise with every muscle group (arms, legs, abdomen, etc.). Add 5 more seconds each week until you can hold the muscle group tense for 25 seconds before relaxing. If you experience any pain, stop, or don't tense quite so hard.
Once you are able to follow through on your aerobics, stretches and resistance exercises without causing yourself any damage there's a way to really stay in shape using 10 minute segments out of your day.
Interval or Circuit Training
Have you ever watched children at play? They walk, then they run like mad, then they walk again or plop down for a rest. A few minutes later they run like mad again for 20-30 seconds, only to slow way down again. Kids do this all day long, so do young adults. These short, intense bursts of energy that make the heart work hard for only 20-30 seconds keep the body's metabolism revved up all day long and keep growth hormone levels in abundance. This is called peaking. It’s also more reminiscent of how our ancestors lived and survived.
If you are really out of shape or haven't exercised in a while, don't do this until you have followed the other guidelines on this web page and they have become easy for you. Then, and only then, do your warm up routine, walk for 5 minutes at a brisk pace, sprint for 20-30 seconds, walk for another 5 minutes, and then finish up with your cool down stretches. Doing this 3 times each day is actually better for you than just walking for a straight 30 minutes at your target heart rate. Work up to performing no more than 8 of these segments in your day.
Exercise for Weight Loss
Aerobics burns fat. It's true. When you are involved in aerobic exercise, such as dancing or running, your heart rate speeds up and so does your metabolism over the next 24 hours hours. Meaning, your body is burning off more calories during that 24 hour period after exercising. So, you'd think you could just get on a treadmill and walk briskly or run for 30 minutes at least 3 times per week and see the pounds drop, right? Not true.
Weight loss also depends on what you are eating and, most importantly, how well you are digesting the foods you eat. It's not just a matter of calories in and calories out either. What kind of calories make all of the difference in the world as to whether you will see the pounds drop or not.
Exercising With Chronic Conditions
When you have Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue, IBS, Chronic Pain or any other stress syndrome, the only aerobic activities to start with should be light walking or gentle swimming. If you have no knee problems, you might try using an exercise bike. Stick with exercises that offer minimal risk of falling. This will help you to not overly jar your joints.
Fibromyalgia ~ If you have Fibromyalgia exercise will help you to lose weight, feel more energetic, and less depressed, but it will not take away your pain. It may even add to your pain if you are not choosing the correct exercises. It is important to begin exercising slowly and build up. Cut back, but don't stop all together if you experience delayed pain, which can appear days later. Often, when you have FS, delayed pain will disappear once you get the muscles moving again while exercising.
Arthritis & Degenerative Disks ~ As mentioned earlier, for arthritic conditions and injuries to joints, Isometrics is probably the best option, but speak with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
Chronic Fatigue ~ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is mostly a 'fatigue' type syndrome, where Fibromyalgia is mostly a 'pain' syndrome. They often overlap, with the deciding factor being whether you relate more to the pain or the fatigue interfering in your daily activities. If you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, with or without Fibromyalgia, you may have a delayed pain response after exercise. CFS sufferers may not feel the effects of exercise until 3-4 days later when they experience headache, back pain, or other aches. As such, they may not associate the pain they are experiencing to the exercise performed days before, since they felt fine at the time. Now they have fatigue and pain and don't understand why. This can become an ongoing cycle of frustration.
Chronic Pain ~ If you have chronic pain with a doctor's determination of no physical cause, you may be dealing with Tension Myositis Syndrome (emotional pain manifested physically) or Myofascial Pain Syndrome (tension knots in muscles). Exercise may make things worse if you are not also incorporating Trigger Point Therapy into your exercise plan. Trigger Point Therapy helps to get rid of those knots in your muscles that refer pain to other parts of your body. Without working on Trigger Points, you may actually make them worse by exercising too much, too soon, or by not warming up enough before working out. Even if you do warm up, without dealing with emotional pain, you will not be able to keep the Trigger Points from coming back.If you have exercise restrictions, due to arthritis, degenerated disks or injuries to joints, these types of conditions can be worsened by certain types of exercise. Isometrics works well for these types of conditions, but always speak with your care provider before beginning any new exercise techniques, even Isometrics.
Herpes Simplex Virus ~ The thing to keep in mind about exercise when you are living with herpes is that certain movements, positions and amount of force used while exercising can irritate nerve ganglia and produce a breakout. Meaning, exercise can be, for some people, a herpes trigger, so it is important to exercise safely.
For example, sit ups may cause Herpes Simplex Virus living in the nerve ganglia at the bottom of your spine to become activated while performing standard sit ups. And, if you are in to body building and straining your jaw to the max it could irritate nerves in the upper neck and jaw area and bring on a cold sore. Also, over-exercising negatively affects the immune system and can lower your resistance to infection in general. The idea here is not to stop exercising, because you need exercise to keep your immune system working in peak condition. The idea here is to become aware any exercises you are performing that are causing breakouts and to adjust them a bit to keep herpes in remission. For example, instead of performing sit ups with your back on a hard floor you might perform them on an exercise ball instead.
OK Pain and NOT OK Pain
Pain felt as a slow burn during repetitive movements while exercising is caused by the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles. This pain will stop as soon as the movement ceases. This is OK.
Another source of pain is delayed muscle soreness, the ache while the muscles are recovering. This is that next day ache we often feel when we've taxed ourselves or used muscles we didn't know existed. This is OK.
Actual pain on movement is NOT OK. Sharp pain, or any other extremely uncomfortable pain, might be caused by previous injury or some sort of damage. The best exercise for this type of pain would be Isometrics, as in that kind of exercise movements are controlled and slow, but always check with your doctor if pain persists or worsens.
How to Begin Exercising When You're Unfit
Choose basic exercises, plain and simple. Whatever the book or instructor says to do, start with only half that amount.
Visit the library for books on Stretching, Ballet, Yoga, or Pilates. Make copies of the exercises you might actually do.
Don't let yourself or others tell you that you are not doing enough.
Always have a small snack 15 minutes before warming up and exercising that includes a fat or protein, such as small banana and a handful of walnuts.
Wear loose clothing. Tight clothing can cause pain syndromes to flare up.
Warm up the larger muscles of the body first. Legs are great to start with. They warm us up fast. You should feel a pulling, but no pain. If you feel pain, at all, stretch more gently. Hold each stretch for 7 seconds or 3 deep breaths.
Stick with beginner exercises at first. As you get stronger, your 'beginner' stretching exercises will make wonderful warm up and cool down exercises for before and after exercising.
Perform crunches only on an exercise ball. The ball supports the back like nothing else can.
Work out in the morning or, if you work nights, after your normal sleep schedule). You'll loosen up tight muscles so you can relax better throughout the day, raise your metabolism over the next 24 hours, eliminate the worry that you may not have time to exercise later on in the day, and your self-esteem will increase due to your discipline and determination.
Learn Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qui Gong or to swim. They are the healing exercises.
Exercise or play with a friend or a pet.You can cheer each other on!
Cool down after exercising by repeating your warm up stretches to cool down.
Have a post workout protein snack within 15 minutes after exercising and cooling down, such as a smoothie with added liquid amino acids (protein) or Spirulina.
Take a warm shower. Taking a warm shower or bath after exercise is a good way to relax your muscles and keep them from grieving you later.
Set up a reward system for your effort and your progress for every 5 workouts completed, every 5 walks or every 5 pounds lost. Treat the little kid in you and buy yourself a gift.
The Mermaid Diet
The Captains Lady's comprehensive guide to eating genetically appropriate nutrition for wellness and weight management!