Getting serious

Twenty minutes on the recumbent bike, pedaling, pedaling and pedaling as I watched, on a flatscreen TV set high up on the wall, a mindless but beautiful couple blather on about Demi Moore and her mystery illness.  I moved on to the weight machines, set up in a circuit. Mike, the middle-aged fitness trainer, showed me how to use them and then encouraged me through 20 repetitions on each one.

“Tomorrow,” he said, “we’ll do this all over again, but work on breathing, too.”

I nodded, pleased with myself for having done all that sudden exercise without weeping.

“Have a nice evening. Eat carefully,” he said. “Drink a ton of water. Get a good night’s sleep and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

And with that, I completed my first workout at a gym about a mile from mom’s place.  It’s something I’ve been mulling over (instead of just doing) for way too long. This last year or so of caring for my mom—coupled with RA and hip bursitis pain—has left me fatter and much less fit than I was. So yesterday I finally gathered up all my courage and walked my blumphy self through the gym’s doors, where I asked Mike the trainer if he could help me, a 55-year-old, post-menopausal woman with rheumatoid arthritis, hip bursitis and osteoporosis, get fit.

Yes, he said, he probably could, as long as I was willing to do my part. I asked what it would cost, and to my surprise, discovered that I could just afford it.

Until the bursitis attacked a couple of summers ago, I walked for exercise, usually two or three miles three times a week. But when I went to physical therapy for the bursitis, I was told to walk only short distances or I’d make it worse.

I didn’t argue. I couldn’t even grocery shop without my hips aching, the joints feeling as if they were coming loose. Still can’t, most days.

So here I’ve been, living with and caretaking my mom, who loves cookies and candy and ice cream and, for most of the last year, who’s been ill and housebound. It wasn’t long before my willpower, never terrific to begin with, gave out and I was enjoying those sweet, carby things with her. My weight ballooned, and in February I got scared and went back on a serious diet, dropping 30 pounds over six months in spite of getting no exercise to speak of.

Then Halloween arrived. There was candy. Then Thanksgiving got here, filled with cookies, pies and cakes. In between were restaurant meals and fast food. And then there was Christmas. More candy. More cookies and pies and mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and dinner rolls…

Throughout January I told myself to stop eating crap—my clothes were getting really tight again. I told myself, but I didn’t stop. Mom bought bags of cookies; I helped her eat them. And then I had my rheumatology appointment. The nurse weighed me. I was shocked and appalled: I’d put all those hard lost pounds back on. No wonder nothing fit me comfortably anymore.

I went to the gym again today. It was a little harder—my muscles were a bit tired from yesterday—and this time, I broke a sweat. Mike told me to expect to be very sore tomorrow. “So when you come in, we’ll see what you can do. The plan is for the bike again, the machines, and then, if you can, the elliptical.”

Wow. The elliptical. I’ve never used one of those before. I hear they’re… awesome.

I’m looking forward to making exercise each day into a habit. I need to. I simply can’t afford to get heavier and put more stress on my joints. I need to build and maintain stronger muscles to support my joints, too. And now that I’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it’s vital that I do weight-bearing exercise to build up all the bone strength I can manage. Rheumatoid arthritis is hard enough when I’m at my fighting weight and fairly fit. If I’m obese and weak, I’m setting myself up for more pain and disability. And chances are, I’ll end up breaking bones doing normal everyday things like standing  up.

And frankly, setting my will on exercise is something I need to do for my self-image and my self-confidence. When I’m heavy and weak I feel unattractive and lumpy. But when I’m eating good, nutritious foods and moving my body, I feel better. I’m more positive. I have more energy, even when I hurt. I can smile easier and more often.

It’s not a walk in the park, this exercise thing. I’ve got to go to the gym early tomorrow morning, before heading over to my aunt and uncle’s place for the day. That means I need to push myself away from my laptop and get myself to bed. At the moment, losing those 30 pounds—and then, 20 more—again seems impossibly daunting. But I know I can do it, probably by June and maybe sooner, since I’m exercising this time.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll kill off the bursitis while I’m at it.


21 thoughts on “Getting serious

  1. I totally relate to what you are going through. In my case I am so limited in what I can do….no more treadmill or Zumba or tennis as my feet just are not up to it…no more yoga or tai chi as my joints cannot hold a position that long. no traditional weight training for the same reason….got so frustrated I was depressed….but through it all I could swim and did so and now I have totally expanded that workout so that I am “aqua jogging” and doing my strength training in the water along with my 30 minutes of laps….so despite the limitations you can always find a way to move your body. so glad you are “back on the horse” I have only lost 4 pounds so far but it’s a start and better to take 4 off than put 4 on! all the best. Nan


    • “I have only lost 4 pounds so far but it’s a start and better to take 4 off than put 4 on!”

      I LOVE that! Thank you for reminding me! It’s so easy to get discouraged when we’re faced with extra poundage along with RA, etc., but you’re so right. There’s always a way around the obstacles if we look for it. I had the same trouble with tai chi; I simply couldn’t hold the positions for long before my joints started yelling at me, though I liked the practice and the slow movement and stretching and, yes, mindfulness it offered. And I did look into water training. Around here, there are only cold water pools, and cold water makes me ache terribly. The closest warm-water therapy pool is a 40 mile drive away, so I didn’t try it. Gas costs would eat up what little extra dough I have on hand.

      Though it’s only my third day, so far this gym workout hasn’t caused any extra pain–even the bursitis seems to be all right. I’m hoping that it stays that way, and perhaps as I get stronger I’ll try some cold water work as well. We’ll see.

      Congrats on your success in the pool!


  2. Ooh Wren, I completely empathise with the candy problems! 🙂 I really admire you for not just doing something about it but actually braving the gym!! Fantastic. Well done. I wish I could bring myself to do the same.


    • You know, I have so little willpower when faced with Reese’s peanut butter cups and chocolate chip cookies. It’s embarassing. But make the decision to move my body has already helped me say no to the goodies these last few days. It’s odd how the mind changes so suddenly. Thank you for the sweet compliment. I’m sending strenght and warmth your way, dear Penguin.


  3. I love these sentences Wren. “When I’m heavy and weak I feel unattractive and lumpy. But when I’m eating good, nutritious foods and moving my body, I feel better. I’m more positive. I have more energy, even when I hurt. I can smile easier and more often.” I find the exact same thing to be true. Plus, the side effect of working out and eating well is that when RA is a strong force in your body, your body has the strength to help you in so many ways it can’t when we are weak and overweight. I am so happy for you!


    • Cathy, your encouragement means so much to me. You’ve done SO well this last year or so yourself, coping well with the RA while getting such great daily exercise and eating so well. You’ve long been an inspiration to me. 😀


  4. Oh, Wren, I am so proud of you. The first steps are always the hardest, but the benefits are so wonderful. My recent physical therapy has built my resolve to continue working out after my PT ends next week. Your determination is an inspiration to keep that resolution. Sending hugs and encouragement your way.


    • Oh, you’re so right, Carla. First steps really are the toughest, but so worth it. I’m glad to hear that your PT is inspiring you to keep moving, as well. I keep forgetting that even when we backslide, we can always simply start again–and I always forget how good it feels. Thanks for the hugs and the encouragement. I’m sending them doubled backatcha.


    • Thanks, Awamiba. I do my best in everything when I work to stay positive. I’ve been impressed with your efforts, recently, to do that yourself despite the hurdles you’re facing. I hope you’re feeling better right now. Sending all the warmth, care and peace I can muster your way. It will get better. 🙂


  5. (grinning) It’s comforting, somehow, to know that I’m not alone in my weaknesses, Squirrel. Thank you for your encouragement! I know from experience that I WILL see results sooner or later; they’re inevitable as long as I keep at it. Sending warm thoughts your way.


  6. You go girl! Exercising is such a feat for most of struggling with RA and chronic pain. I think that we let the pain interfere with our decision to be more active. Pain shouldn’t have a say but it often does. Just keep at it and you will be just fine. Good luck killing the bursitis! (Make sure you don’t get caught or else you will surely be arrested. 😉 )


  7. Thank you so much, Lana! I think you’re right–pain really does dampen any enthusiasm for exercise of any sort. So far, pain hasn’t been a deterrent for me, but it’s early on in my effort. It’s comforting to know that if I do have a flare, I should be able to continue to work any of my joints that AREN”T flared anyway. In the end, it’s a matter of determination and persistence. I’m going to do my best to stay that way.

    And if this exercise does away with the @!#*! bursitis, I’ll be DEE-lighted, believe me! 😉


  8. Could you send some of that commitment out this way. I’m usually ok with going to the gym but this year has been a hard go. Keep up the good work Wren! Once you get into a routine there will be no stopping you!!


  9. Okay Mary, brace yourself, here it comes!

    Thanks so much for the encouragement and enthusiasm. I think it’s just so cool that this online RA community–this group of friends–can empathize so easily and be so quick to offer moral support. It’s more than cool. It’s precious and vital.

    Here’s hoping that you’ll find an easy path back to the gym–or some other form of movement and exercise–soon. And as always, wishing you warmth, peace and comfort, Mary. 😉


  10. Wow, I am so proud of you! this is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I just can’t stay healthy long enough to do it. keep it up! I know when I lost the first 30 pounds (after gaining a ton on Prednisone) I felt so much better. I think having a trainer will help, someone to be responsible to. Good luck and tell us all about it! It might motivate me once I get this boot off.


  11. Way to go Wren! I need to take some of your commitment and apply it to my own life. I hope you enjoy your gym time and use it not only to get stronger (and kick bursitis in the butt) but also to give yourself some much needed “me” time. Keep us updated on how it goes!


  12. Go Wren! Managing your diet and exercising is hard work and takes a lot of willpower.

    Ellipticals and I don’t get along at ALL. I manage to do all kinds of funky things to my knees, ankles, and feet on them, because having something regulating the length of my stride just doesn’t work for me. I have injured myself pretty badly on them, much to the puzzlement of basically everyone I’ve told except my physical rehab doctor, who just nods and tells me not to do it (duh! I do love that doc, though, he’s awesome).

    With my Lyme on the run due to the antibiotics, I’m getting on my home exercise machine more and I want to nose around the local therapeutic riding place and see if it’s actually a good match. I used to be pretty good on a horse (I did some low jumps, arena work, trail riding, and a little bit of vaulting, which is a kind of trick riding), but I haven’t been on a horse since I really became disabled. The motion is supposed to be really good for a lot of things I have issues with, and part of me hopes to get into something like dressage where my disability shouldn’t be a major issue.



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