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Probably one of the most profound things a doctor ever told me was that even small amounts of physical exercise are beneficial. The reason it stuck with me is that as an alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) patient because I have low oxygen levels when I exercise, so the very idea of physical activity scared me off. 

The reason I have low oxygen levels is that I do not exchange oxygen with carbon dioxide, a common problem among those of us who have struggled through this condition. For me, it was not only hard but depressing.

I used to think to myself, why exercise if all I can do is a measly 1-15 minutes of strenuous activity? I have tried to force my body to work harder, and I just ended up on the floor. 


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Another reason I still think about what he said is that I have a chronic pain disorder that is, from what I’m told, unrelated to AATD. Anyway, there have been several days in a row that I have found it too hard to exercise because I am too exhausted from all the pain, which is worse during physical activity. He said it takes time to build up your ability to exercise, so start small, 5 minutes a day if you want.

If I fall from the heights of being used to 15 minutes a day of physical activity, only to lose a few days of it and have to start over at 5 minutes, I haven’t fallen too hard. It wouldn’t necessarily be too difficult to get back to my max. I also discovered I can do a whole 30 minutes if I simply break it up into three 10-minute segments throughout the day.

His words ultimately gave me the freedom to choose how, what, and when I did it as long as I did exercise. So, therefore, I played around with it and found out I do better throughout the day if I start exercising in the afternoon or evening, or even in the morning on a good day.

Read more about therapies for AATD

As I have mentioned in other pieces I have written, I get intravenous infusions once a week to replace the alpha-1 I am missing because my body doesn’t make enough of it. So on those days, I don’t exercise because I need all the strength I have just to get up, get myself some water and food, and use the bathroom. Obviously, I can’t do much on those days.

Right now, I am exploring lifting weights as it doesn’t require as much oxygen (and, much to my nurse’s delight, makes my veins a little more visible and available to sticking). Because this doctor spoke about how to exercise when you have a chronic illness gave me the tools to think with more freedom about what I am doing to my body. Now I can enjoy each day for what it is.

I really do enjoy exercise; I used to run 5Ks regularly. But after a while, I just couldn’t do it anymore, perhaps because I also struggle with chronic pain. And I still enjoy my walks and occasionally other things.

I found cleaning my apartment counted as exercise. So when I realized that, the motivation to exercise was even more readily available, since I already enjoyed cleaning anyway. 

There was just something about how this doctor pleaded with his audience (the members of the church I attended at the time) that really motivated me to stop being down on myself about the whole thing. His empowerment was effective.

Pain, I have found, is quite sobering, and a good teacher. I often find that when I am at my lowest, that’s when I start paying attention.

I was at my lowest when that doctor showed me it really was worth it to try to push myself again. I haven’t seen him lately because of my job change, but his kindness showed through and I ended up using his encouragement to help the people I was counseling as a nutritionist. 

I have always wanted to be independent. So even though I may not be able to do everything, I can do many things. And it’s my job to be an investigator and find out exactly what that is, how to execute my plan, and how to enjoy every minute.