Anyone who’s faced chronic illness – whether your own or that of a loved one – will know how it disrupts life at its core. It causes stress and anxiety. It makes you feel tired. It affects your physical abilities, independence, and appearance. Even though the condition is long-term, you never really get used to it. As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t be forced to get accustomed to living your life half-way through.
The emotional and mental challenges of coping with a chronic condition are often even bigger than the physical ones. You need to get into a recovery mindset to overcome these challenges – and that will take time as well as a conscious effort. But that’s the beginning of finding relief and unveiling the strength within you to seek a happier, fuller life.
Both doctors and patients agree that nutrition and exercise will help you on this path, physically as well as mentally. In this post, we’ll talk about why these two are so important and how you can make them your best weapons for coping with your condition.
A healthful diet is the basis of a healthy life
Maintaining a healthy weight is difficult when you have a chronic condition such as heart disease or diabetes. To stay on the right track, you’ll need to follow your individual calorie requirements and eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables. A balanced diet will help keep blood pressure and cholesterol within target ranges, manage blood glucose levels, and prevent or delay various complications that can come with these conditions.
A diet rich in calcium and magnesium is vital for preventing or alleviating osteoporosis and arthritis; for those suffering from these conditions, this type of diet is necessary to ease the painful symptoms. And when it comes to certain autoimmune diseases, paying attention to your diet and avoiding inflammatory foods will help maintain gut health and prevent flare-ups.
We’ve learned by now that a balanced diet is a pillar of good health – but when it comes to illnesses, it’s your medicine too.
Diet and activity keep you in a good mood
Living with a chronic condition is mentally draining –– the toll it takes on your body makes it harder to enjoy the things you would otherwise love. It will often seem like there’s no way out, but that’s the exhaustion speaking. You need to pay special attention to your mental health and emotional wellbeing – and the foods you eat daily also play a vital role here.
Plenty of evidence points to a connection between diet and mood. For example, a diet high in glycemic load can worsen symptoms of fatigue and depression, while minimizing the intake of carbohydrates can do the opposite.
As for physical activity, exercising can be a terrifying experience for those of us who experience pain and discomfort on a daily basis. But when you approach it properly, it can provide relief and be a good long-term strategy for improving overall health and state of mind.
Tailoring your regime to the specific condition
Just as each chronic illness has its symptoms, each of them has different treatments and requirements when it comes to physical activity and diet.
For example, we’ve mentioned already that many autoimmune diseases are worsened or even caused by inflammation. The Autoimmune protocol diet (AIP) was created to specifically address these issues and help you determine which foods cause your symptoms to worsen. It eliminates all inflammatory foods at first and then slowly reintroduces them so you can observe how your body is responding. The AIP meal plan is simple to implement and follow, and once you get used to it, you’re able to enjoy all the foods that work best for you.
The diabetes diet, on the other hand, insists on nutritious sources of carbs and protein, heart-healthy fish, fiber-rich foods, and good fats. It all comes down to eating more veggies: fill half of your plate with vegetables, a quarter with protein, and a quarter with a whole-grain ingredient. Add some healthy fats, and you’re good to go.
If you’re coping with heart disease, besides keeping your serving sizes in check, also try to eat regularly, limit cholesterol, eat protein-rich foods, and avoid saturated and trans fats.
Depending on the details of your condition, you can consult a nutritionist to see which diet plan will work best for you.
Exercising in spite of a chronic condition
Being in a body that attacks and hurts itself is dreadful. You’ll often be tempted to give up and take the “easy way out”. When we’re in pain or feel weak, we might avoid exercise out of fear that we’ll have to face our limitations. And all of these are legitimate concerns.
However, the benefits of being physically active are numerous and can help mend both the body and mind.
Physical activity strengthens your heart. It lowers blood sugar levels, which can be an effective treatment for diabetes. It helps you build stronger muscles to stabilize your back. It reduces arthritis-related pain. It controls the frequency and duration of asthma attacks, and so on. Furthermore, many studies are proving the connection between exercising and emotional health.
Beginnings are always hard, so start slowly. For those of us who face constant weakness and pain, even the in-between days can be hard. So be flexible. One day you will feel capable and energetic. Another day you’ll feel terrible. Listen to your body and plan your workout schedule accordingly.
Living with a chronic condition is like living in a fragile house, tirelessly trying to strengthen its foundations and supporting walls. Only in this case, food and physical activities are your bricks and mortar. They provide you with strength and endurance. It doesn’t feel fair that you have to try harder than other people, but your body is the house you’re in. You can’t replace it, only improve it. Work on that and you’ll undoubtedly see results. The rewards might not be easy to reach, but they’re so worth all the effort.