Self-Care for Chonic Illness: Research Round-up

Research Roundup

Part of being a health nerd means enjoying reading research. As a health nerd and a blogger I figured I should start a series of the most interesting recent research on chronic conditions. Learning about self-care has been an important part of my health journey, as well as a source of enjoyment for my inner nerd. So here is the first installment of my Research Roundup series, organized by self-care skills – Lifestyle, Exercise,  Attitude, and Nutrition. I hope this encourages you to make self-care part of your health journey! #SelfCareMvmt

  • Lifestyle: A recent Australian study investigated the most effective strategies for improving sleep among an elite women’s basketball team. The results may help you prioritize which strategies to try if you suffer from insomnia or poor quality sleep. The most effective bedtime routines were: turning off all electronic devices at least an hour before bed (that includes your phone), practicing mindfulness or meditation, and sleeping in a cool environment. These strategies were found to improve sleep and performance on the court.
  • Exercise: A New York Times editorial recently argued that moving more, not weight loss, is the cause of the dramatic health benefits of exercise demonstrated in hundreds of research studies. From arthritis, to cardiovascular disease, to Parkinson’s, to chronic fatigue syndrome, to depression, a massive meta-analysis found that exercise improved health and well-being among all these chronic conditions. It’s no wonder that the Academy of Medical Roil Colleges calls exercise a ‘miracle cure’. But moving more, as the editorial pointed out, does not require shedding blood sweat and tears. Instead, researchers recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. This could involve walking your dog or walking laps around your living room, cycling at the gym or gardening at home, doing seated tai chi by following an instructional DVD or vacuuming your house.
  • Attitude: Forgiveness can protect your health from the negative effects of stress, according to a new study. Researchers assessed 148 participants in terms of stressful life experiences, mental and physical health, and their tendency to forgive. As expected, high levels of lifetime stress correlated with worse health outcomes. Unexpectedly, a high tendency towards forgiveness eliminated the negative impacts of stress on health. In other words, forgiveness of yourself and others acts as a buffer against stress, eliminating the connection between stress and mental or physical illness. Interestingly, forgiveness is a trait that can be cultivated. Prior research has demonstrated that briefly praying or meditating on forgiveness can increase your ability to be forgiving in close relationships.
  • Nutrition: A new study weighs in on the debate about whether eating grains is good for you. You may be familiar with the paleo diet. Its proponents argue that the human digestive system has not evolved beyond the hunter-gatherer diet. Grains, they argue, are a modern invention evolutionarily speaking, and wreak havoc in the human body, whether through causing inflammation or exacerbating autoimmune conditions. On the other side of the debate, researchers argue that grains provide necessary nutrients, fiber and energy. This study comes down on the latter side of the argument. An international team found that a higher consumption of whole grains correlated with a lower risk of chronic disease and premature death from all causes. Three servings of whole grains per day (90 g/day) was associated with a 22% reduction cardiovascular disease risk, 15% reduction of cancer risk and 51% reduction in diabetes risk. It is important to know that no benefits were associated with intake of refined/processed grains or from white rice. (If you are interested in how to differentiate whole grain from refined grain products, follow this link).

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Photo by Lukasz Zajac

Shared to Fibro Friday Link-up at the Fibro Blogger Directory and Chronic Friday Linkup

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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

 

References:

OHSU. (2010). OHSU Research Suggests Yoga can Counteract Fibromyalgia. http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/about/news_events/news/2010/2010-10-14-ohsu-research-sugge.cfm

Moonaz, S. et al. (2015). Yoga for Arthritis. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. http://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/yoga-for-arthritis/

Gaiam Life. (n.d.) How to Choose a Mind Body Exercise. http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-choose-mind-body-exercise

 

 

 

Exercise DVDs for FM You Can Actually Do!

If you have fibromyalgia, you may be tired of reading all about how exercise will improve your quality of life.

There are zillions of articles on the internet citing studies that demonstrate how moderate exercise reduces pain and improves other FM symptoms. I don’t know about you, but the last time I went to try a yoga class, I spent the next three days in bed from a major flare up. Or the last time I jogged to catch a bus, walked in the snow, or did anything else remotely aerobic – it didn’t turn out so well.

So how exactly are we supposed to get this exercise, in a way that improves our FM, instead of triggering it? Previously I wrote about a tai chi dvd for arthritis with Dr. Lam, which is very gentle, yet therapeutic. However, sometimes you need several options to entice you into a work-out! Recently, I came across an excellent resource for FM exercise DVDS at www.myalgia.com. They are produced by the Fibromyalgia Information Foundation, a non-profit run by doctors and researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University. This means that all the exercise routines are designed by reputable instructors and approved by FM medical specialists from the University.

There are 4 DVDs in total: Yoga and Pilates, Stretching and Relaxation, Strength and Balance, and Aerobic Exercises. Here is the best part – along with the instructor, each video includes three FM patients demonstrating the movements. Each patient follows a program at a different level of difficulty, with modifications for more severely affected patients, to ‘medium’, to ‘advanced’ movements. I have tried the Yoga and Pilates DVD and really enjoyed it. 1 can pick which ‘level’ to do based on how I feel. Over time, I can feel myself improving and following the more ‘advanced’ level program more often. I hope to move up to the strength DVD. I previewed it – it is older than the Yoga DVD and has awesomely cheesy music! If you are looking for an at-home exercise routine (maybe to fulfill your New Year’s Resolution for 2015), I highly recommend these DVDS. They are reasonably priced and thoughtfully produced for FM patients.

* Please note this is an independent review, and I have no affiliation with the organization.