Movement and the Autoimmune Protocol
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The Autoimmune Protocol goes way beyond just food. In these next few posts we’ll dive into the other aspects of the protocol and discuss how it all comes together to create an entire healing lifestyle. If you’re just addressing the food you’re eating, that’s a great first step, but your healing will eventually stall out. Next up? Movement.
Most people use the words movement and exercise interchangeably. I however think those two things are very different, mainly because of the desired result. Exercise is for improvement in physical fitness. It is actually defined as “activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness“. Movement on the other hand, is anyway you are moving your body. It doesn’t have to be performance-based, like exercise. It can be taking a walk, playing with your kids or weeding the garden. Personally, I like the idea of movement, I feel it is much more inclusive.
So how exactly does movement fit into the autoimmune protocol? Is there one specific way of moving that is best? Should it be avoided altogether? All these questions exist on a broad spectrum. I find that the answers exist on an even broader spectrum.
Movement benefits and drawbacks
Movement has many benefits, from increased muscle mass, release of endorphins, better bone health, improved stress management and sleep quality, it’s no wonder that movement is a recommendation for most everyone, including those with an autoimmune condition. However, if you’re in that camp of “having an autoimmune disease”, then you’ll need to pay close attention to the INTENSITY of your chosen movement.
High intensity movement has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years, and with good reason. Short duration, high intensity movement has been shown to be great for energy, body composition and conditioning. However, this type of activity can also lead to over-training quite quickly. Over-training can create a chronic stress response situation in the body and lead to negative hormonal responses. These negative hormonal responses can be exaggerated in an autoimmune body. While one person without an autoimmune disease might be able to recover quite quickly from intense exercise or a bout of over-training, a person with an autoimmune disease might spend several days or weeks recovering. Or in the worst case scenario, it might induce a flare.
So.. is movement still a possibility for individuals with an autoimmune disease?
There are many options to choose from when looking at movement. Obviously there is high intensity, which we just discussed, low intensity, moderate intensity, strength training, cardio, the list could go on for days. Finding what is right for you can sometimes be a bit of trial and error. But if navigated correctly, it doesn’t have to be and doesn’t have to set you back on your healing journey.
The majority of the literature points to either low to moderate intensity movement as being a sweet spot for the autoimmune population. This provides the most positive health benefits for all areas of our bodies. You still receive the benefits of movement that we discussed earlier, but without the negative hormonal effects that high intensity movement can cause. To get a little more specific, it has been shown that low intensity strength training has a profound effect on all bodies, autoimmune included.
How does movement exist for YOU on the Autoimmune Protocol?
This is where that “trial and error” I mentioned before comes in. First, you need to recognize where you’re starting from. Movement will look very different for someone who has never done regular exercise or incorporated movement into their lives versus someone who regularly moved. And that’s ok! There isn’t a “one size fit’s all” approach to any of this!
If you’re just starting out: I recommend starting slow, listening to your body and going from there.
(But what does that actually mean??)
That means starting out with walking, yoga, stretching, Tai Chi for 15-20 minutes (or less), and then taking the rest of the day to see how you feel. If the next day you feel the same or better, proceed with the chosen movement. However, even if you’re feeling like a rock star the next day, I’d still take it easy the day after your “test movement”, just in case. Our bodies have a funny way of reacting, and it can be delayed at times. But, if you feel good after a day or two, try the same movement again. Your body will let you know when you have done too much, just like it lets you know when you’ve eaten something you shouldn’t have. You’ll feel tired, sluggish and you might have an increase in pain. That doesn’t mean that all movement is bad for you! That just means you hit your limit for now. So take some time off, then try, try again. Eventually you’ll be able to add more time, and more activities to your list of “approved” things you can do!
If you’re not new to the movement game: I recommend starting slow, listening to your body and going from there.
(Um…. is this a typo?)
Even if you’ve been at this movement thing for ages.. adding in a diagnosis of an autoimmune condition can change your bodies equilibrium quite a bit. I still recommend starting out slow, listening to your body, then increasing activity from there. That might look like starting with walking, or maybe a bike ride, or a small weight circuit. Whichever activity you choose, I’d still recommend trying it out for a short duration of time, then seeing how your body responds for a few days. If no noticeable reaction, then try it again. If you feel unusually sore, tired or achy, then you might need to back the activity down a bit.
Need some ideas of Movement to get you started?
I’ve mentioned a few already, but here’s a bigger list.
- Include movement breaks into your day: Set a timer (there’s a few apps for that) to go off every 45 minutes or hour and get up and move around. Throw some stretching or yoga poses in there too!
- Incorporate movement into your work environment: Use a stand up desk or get a desk cycle. Both of these can encourage more movement than sitting alone.
- Make housework/chores part of your movement regimen: Cleaning your house totally counts as movement! Maybe instead of doing it all in one day, you split it up so you do a little each day.
- Yoga/Tai Chi/Stretching: Incorporating gentle forms of yoga, Tai Chi and stretching are fantastic ways to start healing your body and include movement into your day.
- Swimming!: This is a great way to move and keep it low impact. Often times swimming can be very helpful in rehabbing injuries as well, as it maintains conditioning, but doesn’t stress your joints. This can be sneaky though, and can be a lot harder than you think! So go slowly here.
- Trampoline/Rebounder: Trampolines are NOT just for kids anymore! Small, household trampolines, often called rebounders, are great for healing. They improve circulation and lymphatic fluid flow.
- Invest in resistance bands: These are FANTASTIC tools to start resistance training with. They are wallet friendly, space friendly and user friendly. Try out a few moves for a few minutes and see how you feel!
This is obviously not an all inclusive list, but a few things to get you started, and more importantly, most of these things you can do without making a purchase!
Having an autoimmune disease doesn’t have to keep you out the movement (or exercise) world. You’ll just have to go about it a little bit differently. Jumping right into something new might not be the best idea! Taking it slow, testing out new activities and giving yourself plenty of time to recover are great strategies for managing movement and autoimmunity. After all, movement is an important piece of the AIP puzzle!
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