If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, you might be wondering if it’s still safe for you to take part in exercise. The answer is yes – as long as you tailor your fitness regime to fit your symptoms. Being active can actually be a huge help in supporting your health by boosting your immune system and building up your strength and endurance. Here’s what you need to know about exercising with chronic Lyme disease.
It’s completely understandable that you might not feel a huge motivation to exercise (especially when your symptoms are flaring up). Because one of the major symptoms of Lyme disease is extreme fatigue, it might seem like it takes every ounce of your energy just to get out of bed in the morning and to make it through your day. Because this type of fatigue is not remedied by a quick nap, it’s easy to feel like you just can’t get your energy reserves back up. Because of this fatigue and general malaise, you’ll want to select types of exercise that are really easy on your system. Examples include yoga, tai chi, or even taking a short walk. As long as you’re able to get your body moving (even just a little bit), you’re taking the right steps. On days when you are feeling especially exhausted, you can try doing a little bit of stretching. This won’t overexert you, but it’ll still feel good to move around. Even just doing a few basic arm and leg stretches can help your lymphatic system to drain toxins – which can be a huge help to Lyme disease sufferers.
People who have chronic Lyme disease frequently experience joint stiffness and pain as well. This can also make exercise seem unappealing. Some people find that light exercise relieves a little bit of their joint issues. Gentle or restorative yoga can also help relieve some of the muscle tension associated with Lyme disease. If your joint pain has resulted in limited mobility, swimming can also be a great option. You can build muscle strength and endurance without stretching yourself too far. Try using flotation devices (such as a kickboard) to keep your legs active, or swim some laps to get your heart rate elevated. Spending time in the pool can be a more relaxing form of exercise, even though you’re still getting your body moving.
If you need some more convincing that exercise is a good idea (even with chronic Lyme disease), consider that physical activity can improve the lymphatic system (as mentioned above). The contractions of your muscles during exercise help to move toxins out of different parts of the body. In people who are inactive, the lymphatic system is unable to function as well, and the detoxing process doesn’t happen as efficiently. Exercise can also be beneficial as a way to improve your mood and sleep – two essential aspects of health if you have chronic Lyme disease. Physical activity brings about a release of endorphins in your body. These hormones, which are secreted in the brain and nervous system, can boost your mood and reduce perceptions of pain. Exercise also helps regulate your circadian rhythms, which can alleviate symptoms of insomnia. Getting more hours and/or more restful sleep can help you feel more well-rested and equipped to handle your day.
As you probably know, getting sick with a cold or flu can cause even more trouble if you’re living with chronic Lyme disease. Exercise can also help strengthen your immune system, hopefully resulting in you getting sick less often. Physical activity can help flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways (so you’re less likely to get a cold or flu). Even more impressive, exercise causes a positive change in antibodies and white blood cells – the cells that fight disease. It’s also believed that the brief rise in body temperature during and after exercise can possibly prevent bacteria from growing, allowing your body to fight infection better. Additionally, physical activity works to slow down the release of stress hormones, which can also protect against illness.
There are some things you should keep in mind when exercising, though. It’s best not to overexert yourself (especially when you’re just starting to develop a routine). Skip the hills on your walks or take a gentler yoga class. Before starting any new physical activity, it’s crucial that you talk through your plan with your physician first. The main reason for this is that you want to make sure you’re not going to be putting your body in any danger. There is a condition called Lyme carditis, which occurs when the Lyme bacteria in your body has reached your heart tissue. This can cause problems with your heart’s electrical system. Carditis can also lead to heart block, which happens when your heart is beating too slowly. There are three types:
- First-degree heart block: when the electrical signals reach the bottom chambers, or ventricles, of your heart slower than usual
- Second-degree heart block: when the electrical signals either fail to reach the ventricles fully or some of the signals can’t reach them at all
- Third-degree heart block: when none of the electrical signals can reach your ventricles
Symptoms of Lyme carditis can include dizziness, light-headedness, fainting, shortness of breath, and chest pains. The condition can typically be treated with antibiotics, but more severe cases might require the patient to get a temporary pacemaker to ensure the heart is beating at a normal rate. So to make sure you’re not dealing with any heart issues, get a full workup from your doctor before starting your exercise routine.
It’s generally a good idea to steer clear of strenuous aerobic or cardio exercise like running or lifting heavy weights, since this will just heat the body up and possibly release toxins back into the bloodstream. Pushing yourself too far will only result in you feeling even more fatigued than usual. You can also experience additional muscle weakness or more pain in your joints. Any exacerbation of the symptoms you already have is definitely not a good idea.
Exercise can be a really positive aspect of your overall health. Just stick to less strenuous activities and focus more on getting your body moving in a way that feels good to you, so you can get all of the benefits of physical activity with none of the risk.