Do You Have Autoimmunity or Brain Inflammation and Suffer from Exercise Intolerance?

917 exercise intolerance

If there were just one magic bullet to feel and function better, it would probably be exercise. Countless studies show the numerous benefits of exercise. Our bodies and brain were designed for constant physical activity and perform at their best when we provide that. Exercise releases chemicals that boost your overall energy and dampen inflammation.

But what to do if exercise actually makes you feel worse? Some people battling autoimmunity or brain inflammation suffer from exercise intolerance and see their symptoms worsen after physical activity.

Many autoimmune and brain inflammation patients see multiple doctors before receiving a diagnosis. Most of these doctors will tell a severely compromised patient they just need to exercise more. This advice can actually worsen a patient’s symptoms until they start bringing their inflammation under control.

What is exercise intolerance?

In the conventional medical model, exercise intolerance is most often associated with heart disease, particularly from the heart not filling adequately with blood. As a result, insufficent blood is pumped out to the rest of the body.

However, in functional medicine we frequently see exercise intolerance in people struggling with autoimmunity and brain inflammation.

It’s normal to feel sore or tired after a tough workout, but people who suffer from exercise intolerance experience more severe and unusual pain, fatigue, a flare up of their autoimmune symptoms, nausea, vomiting, or other negative effects that go beyond normal muscle tiredness. Some “crash” for a day or more with flu-like symptoms, feeling unable to get out of bed or function normally.

Exercise intolerance can be very emotionally distressing for people who care about their health and are working to improve it. Afterall, we are constantly bombarded with images of uber athletes and messaging about intense workouts.

What causes exercise intolerance?

When exercise intolerance is related to autoimmunity or brain inflammation, exercise intolerance is a result of compromised mitochondria.

Mitochondria are known as the “energy factories” insde each cell, as their role is to take nutrients and oxygen and turn that into energy.

Unfortunately, mitochondria are also very sensitive to inflammation and will under function when the body is struggling with intense inflammation. This means the cells don’t function well, the brain under functions, and you generally feel crappy and fatigued.

How to exercise if you have exercise intolerance?

One of the most common mistakes people make is to push themselves too hard and over exercise. Over training spikes inflammation and can make an autoimmune or brain inflammation condition worse.

Also, when you have an inflammatory condition, you must realize your immune system is never at a constant. Stress, viruses, diet, and myriad other factors keep our immune systems in a constant state of fluctuation.

People with autoimmunity or brain inflammation must always tweak and adjust their activity level to not overburden their immune system or neurological health.

If you are used to working out a certain level and then suddenly notice your workout make you feel worse, it could be an outside factor flaring up inflammation. So you need to dial it down or even take some time off. Listen to your body.

For instance, someone who does high-intensity interval (HIIT) and weight traning four or five days a week suddenly feels fatigued and lethargic the day after each class. They may need to reduce the duration, the intensity, or the frequency of those workouts, or substitue in something that doesn’t push their inflammation over the edge, like a brisk walk.

Forget about cultural messaging around fitness

Managing autoimmunity and brain inflammation is highly individulaized; no two people will have the same protocol. You must always be tuned in to what your body says. This can be difficult in our hyped-out fitness culture.

After all, for some autoimmune or brain inflammaton folks, the mildest workouts can be triggering. The goal is to find what works for you and makes you feel good. When we stimulate blood flow through movement, it sends more oxygenation to our bodies and brains and triggers the relase of beneficial chemicals. If it feels good, it’s lowering inflammation and helping you manage your autoimmunity and brain inflammation.

Autoimmune appropriate exercises for building exercise tolerance could be walks, light weight training, gentle yoga or stretching routines, water aerobics — explore and find what works for you. You are the ultimate expert on what’s right for your body. As you start to feel better you will naturally feel inclined to take on more.

Start low and slow so that you are able to stay consistent and keep it up on a daily basis. Once you have established that, then gradually increase intensity and duration.

Ask my office for more advice on managing autoimmunity or brain inflammation.

Nine Possible Reasons Why You Can’t Lose Weight

905 9 reasons can t lose weight

For some people weight loss is pretty straightforward: They just need to cut out sodas and sweets and hit the gym regularly. For others, especially those with a chronic health disorder, weight loss remains elusive and weight gain happens far too easily despite doing everything right.

Weight gain and weight loss resistance are very common symptoms among people with chronic health disorders. Contrary to popular belief, an inability to lose weight or keep it off is not a sign of a character flaw but instead flaws in your metabolic, immune, or neurological health.

Fat shaming is culturally accepted, particularly in the alternative health spaces and against women. The truth is, overweight and obese people may have some of the healthiest diets and lifestyle practices you’ll encounter. They have to — should they dare to eat “normally” they would quickly balloon out of control.

Instead of beating yourself up if you can’t lose the weight or you have mysteriously gained it too easily, consider if any of the following underlying causes may apply to you.

Nine possible reasons why you can’t lose weight — none of which are due to being lazy or undisciplined

1. You are a veteran lifelong dieter. The multi-billion-dollar diet industry coupled with unrealistic cultural body image standards have turned low-calorie dieting into a way of life. That works great in your youth, but as you age your metabolism fatigues from constant famines.

The human body responds to famines by progressively lowering metabolism and increasing fat storage hormones. As a result, each low-calorie diet can make you a little bit fatter than the last one once you resume normal caloric intake. This explains why diets have such low long-term success.

This phenomenon was most poignantly illustrated in a study of participants from the The Biggest Loser reality TV show. Six years after participating in the show, researchers found they were burning 800 fewer calories per day and the majority of them returned to their pre-show weight and had to under eat by 400–800 calories a day just to not gain weight.

2. Your hunger hormones are out of whack

Conversely, if you routinely eat ample sugar and desserts and processed carbohydrates (breads, pastas, white rice, etc.), you likely have leptin resistance and skewed hunger hormone function that causes constant food cravings and hunger. Minimizing or eliminating processed carbohydrates and exercising regularly helps improve leptin sensitivity so your hunger cues and fat burning returns to normal.

3. Your thyroid isn’t working well

One of the most common causes of weight gain and weight loss resistance is hypothyroidism, or low thyroid activity. And the most common cause of this is Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and damages the thyroid gland. This is why many people do not lose weight even after they start taking thyroid medication. It’s important to address the underlying causes of Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism to improve your health and lose weight.

4. You are chronically inflamed

Chronic inflammation skews hormone function, metabolism, and gut health in a way that can promote fat storage and prevent fat burning.

Many people enjoy easy weight loss by following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. Nutrient-dense foods void of inflammatory triggers also manage pain, gut problems, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, depression anxiety, and other health issues.

5. You’ve had a brain injury or have compromised brain function

Many sufferers of concussions and brain injuries find they suddenly gain weight after their injury and are not able to lose it. Brain injuries cause inflammation in the brain, which can not only impact brain function, but also disrupt metabolic, hormone, and immune in a way that promotes promotes weight gain and inhibits fat burning. Brain injury victims also often struggle with fatigue, exercise intolerance, depression, and other symptoms that interfere with appropriate fat burning and storage.

6. You have mold illness

Mold illness is increasingly being identified as an underlying cause of many health disorders and symptoms, including weight gain and weight loss resistance. Almost a quarter of the US population is susceptible to mold illness. Toxicity from mycotoxins, the byproducts of molds, can seriously impact metabolic, immune, and neurological health leading to unexplained weight gain and weight loss resistance. This refers not just to the dreaded black mold but also the more commonly found strains of mold caused by leaks and water damage in buildings.

7. You were born with an obese gut microbiome

Research into the gut microbiome, our trillions of gut bacteria, show they impact virtually every aspect of our health, including whether we are more likely to be thin or heavy.

Studies on both mice and humans have shown that obese subjects inoculated with the gut bacteria of thin subjects went on to quickly and easily lose weight.

Factors that impact your gut microbiome “signature” in a way that promotes obesity include being delivered via C-section, being formula fed versus breastfed, and frequent antibiotic use in childhood.

8. You are a victim of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault or have PTSD

After more than two decades of trying to understand why most obese people regained the weight they lost, an obesity researcher made an accidental discovery — the majority of his study subjects had been sexually abused as children or sexually assaulted right before the time their weight gain began. This can drive complex PTSD and the genesis of a food addiction to cope.

Likewise, researchers have found a correlation between food addiction and PTSD in women.

9. You have a brain-based disorder that promotes food addiction and an eating disorder

For many people with weight issues, food becomes the source of torturous addictive behaviors that can then morph into eating disorders. It is increasingly being found that addictions and eating disorders are linked to brain-based disorders such as ADHD. Skewed neurological function triggers the obsessive thought patterns that lay the foundation for addictive eating and eating disorders.

Look for the underlying cause of weight gain and weight loss resistance to develop self-compassion

I hope this article helps you understand some of the factors that play into a chronic struggle with weight gain and weight loss resistance. Our society begs us to gorge on eat sugary foods and drinks through incessant advertising while a multi-billion-dollar diet industry and impossible pop culture body ideals value human worth based on thinness.

The result is millions of people, the majority of them women, internalize society’s fat shaming and develop shame and self-loathing around food and their bodies when the real sickness is in the society and not the individual.

The body is a miraculous machine that operates in constant service to us. You can learn to live and eat in a way that honors good health and function regardless of your size. Ask my office how we can help you.

Exercise and Autoimmune Disease : A Balancing Act

848 exercise and autoimmunity

Although autoimmune disease symptoms can vary depending on the tissue the immune system is attacking, most people with autoimmunity struggle with bouts of fatigue, energy “crashes,” brain fog, inflammation, and pain. These symptoms can throw a frustrating wrench in your exercise habit. Or if these reoccurring symptoms have prevented you from starting an exercise routine, take heart. Regular exercise can be one of the most effective ways to manage your autoimmune condition — you just need to heed your body’s fluctuating needs and tolerance levels.

Autoimmune disease is a condition in which an immune imbalance causes the immune system to attack and destroy tissue in the body. It is a chronic inflammatory condition that many people successfully manage through functional medicine protocols that include dietary and lifestyle strategies as well as helpful nutraceuticals.

Regular exercise is paramount in managing an autoimmune condition for the following reasons:

  • Done correctly, it produces anti-inflammatory compounds, such as endorphins and endothelial nitric oxide.
  • It improves circulation, which helps oxygenate body tissue, deliver nutrients to tissues, remove debris, and facilitate detoxification.
  • It produces chemicals that enhance brain function, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor; a healthy brain facilitates a healthy body.

How exercise may be different for the person managing autoimmune disease

Although autoimmune disease can feel like a burden, especially when you’re having a flare, many people report it has also forced them to live more balanced, healthy lives.

With autoimmune disease you typically don’t have the privilege of abusing your body to be more productive, to sleep less, to give too much, to say yes too often, and so on.

This also means you don’t always have the option of pushing yourself as hard as you’d like when you exercise. This can be hard on the ego, especially when it comes to exercising in a group situation. For instance, if you are involved in a team sport, group exercise class, or other situation that invites a competitive drive, your ego may want to do more than your body can deliver.

It’s important to pay attention to your body because while exercise has profound anti-inflammatory potential, over exercising will make inflammation worse and could trigger an autoimmune flare.

Likewise, if you’re new to exercise and afraid of triggering a flare, you may feel too intimidated by a group exercise class and looking “weak” or “lazy.”

Rest assured that’s just your ego talking and it’s best not to take orders from it if you want to prevent an autoimmune flare or excessive inflammation. Also, other people are too absorbed in their own workouts to notice yours.

Challenge yourself enough to release anti-inflammatory compounds but not so much you can’t comfortably return the next day

Many people with autoimmune disease find optimal results managing their autoimmunity by maintaining a consistent exercise schedule most days of the week.

Pulling this off means tuning in to your body to find the exercise sweet spot for autoimmune management — not too little and not too much.

Science shows using high-intensity interval training (HIIT) provides the most benefits for managing inflammation, boosting circulation and oxygenation, and improving brain function.

HIIT involves exercising at your maximum heart rate for short bursts of 30 seconds to 2 minutes, followed by a rest and recover phase, and then repeating.

If you’re new to exercise, even just a few minutes a day can start to deliver HIIT’s benefits. If you’d like to improve your fitness level, incorporate HIIT into a longer workout that also includes weight training and some endurance training.

It can be confusing knowing how to safely exercise to maximize its anti-inflammatory effects without going too far. Some great online resources exist that can help you figure out safe ranges using a heart rate monitor. Gyms such as Orange Theory Fitness also use heart-rate tracking, in addition to motivational coaching, to help you dial in your sweet spot.

The beauty of HIIT is that you can adjust it to your fitness level. One person’s HIIT may be sprinting up some stadium stairs while another person’s HIIT may be doing some push-ups from the knees. Both people benefit.

Keep these tips in mind when exercising with autoimmunity:

  • Find an exercise that is fun and enjoyable. Positivity is anti-inflammatory while dread and negativity are pro-inflammatory. Making it fun will be part of the health benefits. A group class or social setting may be healthy for the same reason.
  • Challenge yourself enough to get your heart rate up.
  • Don’t challenge yourself so much you trigger a flare. The key is to be able to do it again the next day. A consistent exercise schedule will deliver the most health benefits.
  • Pay attention to your body. If you are feeling so run down you can hardly get out of bed, that is probably not a good day to go work out. If you are feeling a little run down but can function, dial back the intensity of your exercise but see if you can still perform. Sometimes a light workout helps you recover faster than not working out.
  • If you are feeling really run down while working out, it may be better to quit early than to push through.
  • Capitalize on the days you feel good to challenge yourself a little more than normal, being cautious not to overdo it.
  • Remember, this is a lifelong condition that requires lifelong attention. Make each day of exercise about the long-range journey as much as that day’s session.

Ask my office for more information on managing autoimmune disease and chronic health symptoms.

Weight training offers the most benefits for seniors

827 weight training best for seniors

Weight training is not the first exercise choice that comes to mind for seniors. Instead we think of chair yoga, walking, dancing, or aqua aerobics. However, science shows weight training is one of the best types of exercise for aging whether you’ve been doing it your whole life or have never touched a barbell in 60-plus years.

Of the 57 million deaths worldwide in 2008, more than 5 million were caused by lack of physical activity. Roughly 80 percent of adults fail to meet recommended guidelines for physical activity.

For seniors in particular inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are dangerous, increasing the risk of health conditions such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Cholesterol issues
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Depression

There is a common misperception that the elderly should stay away from strenuous activity. It is important to use safe equipment, focus on correct form, and warm up and cool down properly, but using your muscles as you age isn’t inherently dangerous.

In fact, studies show that lifting weights — whether heavy or light — helps us in many ways as we age.

Weight training reduces the risk of falling by maintaining or even increasing muscle mass and helping maintain bone density. This makes the elderly much less susceptible to age-related and disabling bone breaks from falls or accidents.

This also helps stave off loss of independence, one of the greatest worries around aging.

Strength training can promote mobility and function and even help combat depression and cognitive decline.

An analysis of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) database found that adults 65 and older who strength trained twice a week had a 46 percent lower mortality rate. He also found strength training reduces all causes of death, including cancer and cardiac death.

Drawing from the data, the analysis outlined 78 science-backed benefits for seniors who lift weights. The main categories include:

  • Combat age-related muscle loss and sarcopenia
  • Burn fat and increase muscle mass
  • Support functional independence
  • Improve quality of life
  • Improve osteoarthritis and bone health
  • Increase cardiovascular health
  • Improve mental health and cognitive functioning
  • Reduce mortality risk
  • Fight Type 2 diabetes
  • Improve quality of sleep
  • Recover from hip fractures

The study showed that those who had lifted regularly for some time were protected against numerous age-related health issues related to neuromuscular functioning, sarcopenia, muscle force-generating capacity, cognitive functioning, overall functional capability and performance, and mitochondrial impairment.

Is weight lifting riskier in old age?

Lifting weights risks at any age, however, hundreds of studies have shown weight training to be safe, enjoyable, and beneficial as we get older.

Anyone can get injured when working out, so knowing how to safely use equipment, warming up and cooling down properly, and using proper form will keep you in action.

Before starting, have a medical checkup or ask your doctor for clearance. This is especially true if you haven’t exercised before or have taken a long break from physical activity.

What type of weight training is best?

Weight training is an activity anyone can start regardless of age. It doesn’t take lifting like a competitor to gain major benefits, and many of the benefits are immediate. As you train, your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness will improve, thus helping you to prevent injuries as you progress.

Whether you train using your body weight, dumbbells, systems weights, full Olympic style, or with some other style, focus on gradually increasing intensity and power.

A personal trainer can help you meet your goals with a form that works for you, plus teach you how and when to safely increase your challenges. Finding a weight training style you like will motivate you so you keep showing up for workouts — whether it’s at the gym or in your living room.

Before starting any exercise program, be sure to consult with your health care practitioner, and if you are uncertain where to begin, reach out to a local certified personal trainer who can guide you.