Move More: How I Actually Started Exercising with a Chronic Condition

Move More: How I Actually Started Exercising with a Chronic Condition

Does just seeing another article about exercise make you want to turn the page? It often makes me want to. When I got diagnosed with my chronic condition all the information about exercise seemed so out of touch with the reality of my life. If I’m already tired, sore and busy then I’m not going to be able to go to the gym. I can’t afford a personal trainer. With my back pain there is no way I can participate in the group yoga classes I used to take in university. Even more frustrating was the fact that all the research I came across proved how beneficial exercise is to health. I knew that I should exercise but I felt like I couldn’t.


But what if I could?

One day I came across an(other) article reporting on research that showed yoga could improve fibromyalgia, my chronic condition (OHSU, 2010). The results were impressive – pain was reduced by 24%, fatigued by 30% and depression by 42%. Great, I thought, another thing I can’t do that would help. But in this case I also found that two of the researchers were part of a nonprofit organization that produces exercise DVDs for fibromyalgia, including one on yoga and Pilates (link below). I ordered the DVD and skeptically waited for it to be delivered. I was surprised and excited to find that I was able to do the routine – which was shown at three different intensity levels so I could modify the poses as needed. I found that the at-home instructional DVD format was affordable, convenient and accessible – I could do it when I was able, for as long as I could and without wasting energy traveling somewhere and back.

Woman stretching arms behind back

Photo by Steven Depolo

During my health coach training I learned that yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and stretching are all range-of-motion or flexibility exercises. These types of exercise can also build strength and promote balance, but primarily focus on lengthening tight muscles and moving joints through the full span of movement they are intended to achieve. “Limited flexibility can cause pain, lead to injury, and make muscles work harder and tire more quickly (p. 92, Lorig et al., 2013).

My positive experience with the yoga/pilates DVD encouraged me to find other programs with a similar format. One of my favorites is the Tai Chi for Health series by Dr. Paul Lam (link here), especially the Tai chi for Arthritis program that was designed in conjunction with the Arthritis Foundation. This instructional video that takes you step-by-step through 12 lessons until you have the movement sequence memorized.  I enjoyed learning an entirely new way of moving and began to feel more confident that I could include exercise in my weekly routine.

I also started seeing a physiotherapist who put together a thorough stretching routine for me to do daily. Without doubt, this is the single most effective thing I tried to improve my health and well-being. My pain has decreased and my daily functioning has improved, along with my quality of life.

Many flexibility/range-of-motion exercises programs also share a second common feature as mind-body movement practices. For example, “Yoga is a set of theories and practices with origins in ancient India. Literally, the word yoga comes from a Sanskrit work meaning “to yoke” or “to unite”. It focuses on unifying the mind, body, and spirit, and fostering a greater feeling connection between the individual and his/her surroundings” (Moonaz, 2015). Greater body awareness, stress reduction, emotional balance, and improved energy are all benefits of mind-body exercise programs (Moonaz, 2015).

Flexibility/range of motion exercise programs are a great starting point for anyone who has not exercised for awhile, or who has a health condition that makes movement challenging. They are easy to do at home or you can find many classes offered in your community. Gradually incorporating these routines 2-3 x/week and practicing daily stretching is how I was able to actually begin to  move more. Below is a quick primer on what these kinds of activities are so you can pick the right one for you and a link to programs that I have tried:

Yoga: “Yoga involves directing your attention and breath as you assume a series of poses, or stretches” (Gaiamlife, n.d.).

Qi Gong and Tai chi: “The term qi gong (or chi kung) describes the complete tradition of spiritual, martial and health exercises developed in China. Tai chi is one of the most common of these. Practicing qi gong involves performing a series of movements while paying attention to the body and staying aware of the breath. The exercises are especially effective for developing balance, focus, coordination and graceful, centered movement” (Gaiamlife, n.d.).

Stretching: Poses to lengthen muscles and increase range of motion in joints



OHSU. (2010). OHSU Research Suggests Yoga can Counteract Fibromyalgia.

Moonaz, S. et al. (2015). Yoga for Arthritis. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.

Gaiam Life. (n.d.) How to Choose a Mind Body Exercise.





11 thoughts on “Move More: How I Actually Started Exercising with a Chronic Condition

  1. Caitlin says:

    This is a great post, I was given the advice to exercise 3 x a week by the Rheumatologist I saw and was so daunted as I could barely cope with life as it was. But I started small (swimming, 10 lengths) and built up from there. Exercise DVDs are a great workaround for classes because like you said you can do them whenever you can, plus stop halfway through if you need to!

    Caitlin – Chronically Caitlin

    • Katarina Zulak says:

      It’s so true that starting small and building gradually is the only way to move more with a chronic condition. There is a lot of benefit from water based exercise! I hope to get there one day soon. Thanks for stopping by and reading 🙂

  2. christa159 says:

    Yoga is great for people chronic pain. Another resource is Dr. Steffany Moonaz’s Yoga for Arthritis Program, On the wesbsite, she has a video you can order, a find a teacher section if you still need someone in your area and she’s writing a book about people’s transformational yoga stories. You might want to consider sharing yours. I’m a Yoga for Arthritis teacher so obviously I think it’s a great program. I’m glad yoga has benefited you and thanks for encouraging others to try yoga in spite of their health challenges!

  3. crazyruthie says:

    hi! i have fibro, too, and had exactly the same feeling you did. my pain dr, my rheumatologist, and my psychiatrist all say the one thing i’m not doing that would help is exercise. i hurt so much i look at them all like they’re crazy when they tell me to exercise because most days it’s hard to walk, even painful to sit. i’m sure you know how it is.

    after i read your post, i looked at the dvd site you recommended and it looks good! my husband goes to the gym 6 days a week. he does yoga regularly. i always feel envious! he’s so graceful. he likes to stand around balancing on one foot. lol

    i’d love to be more flexible and obviously in less pain. thanks for the info. nice to meet you btw!

    • Katarina Zulak says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! It’s always great to connect with another fibro spoonie 🙂 I hope the dvds might be a good starting point – especially the stretching and relaxation one or the yoga/pilates one from It’s hard to find resources for fibro! Let me know how it works out for you! xx

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