Friday, July 10, 2009

Exercise and Disability

If you passed me on the street, you probably wouldn't realize I have a disability. I walk more slowly than most people, but that's in part because I'm short and have shorter legs. However, there's more to the story than that.

As a child, I was pidgeon-toed. The treatment at the time was to make the child sleep in shoes that pointed outward and were attached to a bar. During the years that I slept in this contraption, I ripped a lot sheets my mother could ill afford. It worked, but it also set me up for serious problems later in life. I was no longer pidgeon-toed, but my knees, instead of facing forward, were also pulled out to the side. Today, when I stand looking straight ahead, my knees don't face forward. If I adopt a pidgeon-toed stance, my knees are straight. Combine that with being knock-kneed and you get a person whose finest physical trait is definitely NOT her legs!

I also inherited osteoarthritis of the hip from my mom. Her sister, my aunt, also had it, as does my aunt's granddaughter. To top it off, I was born with a very slight case of spina bifida. Putting the crooked knees and the arthritic hip together with the spina bifida and you get...three ruptured discs over a period of about 25 years.

I have had one back surgery and two hip surgeries (1 failed hip replacement, 1 that fortunately worked). I have been in the ER three times because of my back.

From November 2003 to November 2004 (in re-reading this post, I made a correction), I spent the better part of seven months on crutches, not allowed to put any weight on my right leg. My left, seriously arthritic, knee took a pounding.

In May 2007, I ruptured a disc in my back for the third time. I'm not sure of the reason--perhaps a combination of stress and the poking around behind my lower spine during a colonoscopy. The pain and ensuing depression were both horrible. Thank goodness I found yoga therapy.

And I have always been slightly to more than slightly overweight.

When I first discovered intuitive eating through Paul McKenna's book, I Can Make You Thin, I was thrilled. McKenna's approach to eating like a naturally slim person made huge sense to me and I began to put the principles to work immediately. The book also comes with a CD, which I listened to every day for several months. There's nothing subliminal in it, but his soothing voice tends to put you to sleep, or at very least into deep relaxation. One of the suggestions on the CD that I always consciously heard concerned exercise. He made a very gentle suggestion just to move more--no exhortations to lift weights, run marathons, swim laps, ride your bike--just move more. This was an idea that I was able to take to heart.

In conjunction with my new blog, I also started (somewhat obsessively) reading other weight loss bloggers and I realized that, for several reasons, I was in the minority. I was not on WW, not counting calories, not planning my meals, not eating "clean" (I believe I eat healthily, but that includes forays into all food categories except perhaps Twinkies and the like) and perhaps most tellingly, not exercising, shall we say, religiously.

Although I have come to terms with the "not dieting" part of my journey--and, I might add, strive to be totally supportive of whatever method people use to reach a healthy, comfortable weight--I felt myself "lacking" on the exercise front.

Then, I started thinking about the road that I have to take. And I had to come to terms with the fact that I am disabled. I have to be extremely cautious in how I exercise. "No pain no gain" is a phrase that only signals danger for me. Virtually all the pain that I feel is pain that indicates that I am in a danger zone. I rarely feel muscle pain. The kind of exertion necessary to bring on muscular pain would dislocate my hip or bring on another bout of sciatica (and I when I get sciatica, I end up in the ER) or further destroy what little cartilege is left in my knee.

As I read about weight loss bloggers' adventures in exercise, I began to feel really depressed, since aside from swimming (which is a poor time management option for me), heavy-duty exercise was out of the question.

Nevertheless, I did not give up. I took it upon myself to find a way to exercise more while avoiding "danger signal" pain. Recently, I discovered that using a knee brace (or sleeve) would allow me to use my beloved elliptical trainer. Before the brace, I would be in pain for several days after spending 2-3 MINUTES on the trainer. I am now up to 17 minutes, about twice a week. This may seem laughable to someone whose only physical limitation is excess poundage, but for me, it is a huge step forward.

I went to a physiotherapist (or PT, as we say in the hip-replacement blogosphere) and was prescribed one simple knee exercise that I do at least 5 times a week. I continue to make slow but real progress with my yoga practice. I use my pedometer religiously and manage to walk upwards of 10,000 steps, usually several times a week. I wear my light-support knee sleeve on walks and my heavy-duty, PT prescribed sleeve on the elliptical. I have yet to try the stationary bike. I'm not sure that my knee will react favourably, even with support, but I will try.

I'm writing this post not as a justification for my less than stellar exercise programme. I realize that I could do more, certainly on the upper-body front, without harming myself. And with time, I probably will. Rather, I am writing as a shout-out to my fellow bloggers who may also be slightly to more than slightly disabled and are doing their best.

Keep it up, my friends! Do what you can. Don't compare yourself to others and be proud of the sweat that you break--even if it's only from walking a few blocks or cleaning the kitchen or doing whatever YOU can do, not someone else!

You are trying your best and I salute you!


  1. Personally i think you've come a long way. I too do no where near what other can do, but i'm o.k with than and since i have arthritis i'm doing what i can.
    I had no idea what you had gone through. Wow what an eye opener!
    We're still going to meet you know :)

  2. What a wonderfully written post with a perfect message. I take my hat off to you for exercising despite these many health obsticles. You're so right about doing what YOU can do and not comparing your performance to someone else's regimine.
    When I started at 505, a quarter mile of walking would leave me feeling like I was going to drop dead. I can go much further-much faster after losing so much weight, but I had I not progressed at my own pace and tried to do like others, well...I'd probably be dead right now!!

    Absolutely fabulous for you!

    Best wishes always

  3. Even with a disability you exercise more then I do. :-)
    I make it about 3 minutes on an elliptical. Those things are murder! I applaud anyone who can go 5 minutes and here you are going 17 minutes!
    I think you're doing fantastic!
    We're all different in so many ways it just doesn't make sense to compare ourselves to what others are doing. I think that just sets us up for feeling bad about ourselves.
    Me? I'm happy with the way I eat and exercise because it works for me. I cant run 5k like some people can but I can do something healthy for me. Every little bit we do counts; emotionally and physically.

  4. Awesome post! It is so important for us to not compare ourselves to others. We have to do what works for us!

  5. I keep leaving long comments and then getting an error, so lemme try a short one: AWESOME post! Thank you!!