Walking with chronic illness is something I am very grateful to be able to do. I am very aware that it is a gift to be able to simply put one foot in front of the other and get out for some fresh air. Some with chronic illness aren't able to walk, while others find it a challenging activity.
A few years ago walking was something that scared me. Living with vestibular migraine meant I put off essential walks, such as to the pharmacy at the end of my street, because dizziness and balance problems meant it was just too much. Then of course, there is pain and fatigue to factor in as well. I'm fortunate that my symptoms are at a place where I can usually go for a walk, and I have been enjoying it so much the past month. But there are a whole host of other issues to contend with that others perhaps may not realise . . .
This post is written as part of the April linkup party hosted by Sheryl of A Chronic Voice with the writing prompts of springing, grounding, luxuriating, daunting and sustaining. Thank you to Sheryl for hosting, and go check out the other contributions!
I'm not sure whether we are springing into spring quite yet, the weather being as unpredictable as ever. One day it is 25C and I get to bask in the sun shine wearing a t-shirt on a walk, the next it is 5C and icy cold.
Now weather changes are definitely a factor in walking with chronic illness, there's no doubt about that! Aside from being either too cold or too hot, weather affects me in three ways:
Migraine - if you live with migraine you may find you are also a human weather forecaster. As the NHS describes, 'If you're prone to getting headaches, you could find that grey skies, high humidity, rising temperatures and storms can all bring on head pain. Pressure changes that cause weather changes are thought to trigger chemical and electrical changes in the brain. This irritates nerves, leading to a headache' (NHS).
MCAS - if it's too hot then my mast cells get grouchy (to put it politely), and if it's too cold they also get grouchy. They also don't like a lot of wind or humidity. So yep, they are rather troublesome and make walks tricky at times. I always go at the coolest part of the day in summer and stick to areas where there are lots of trees.
Dermatitis - this is a fairly new condition for me and cold weather seems to wreaking havoc on my hands. The icy wind seems to be to blame, despite gloves etc.
I think the takeaway is to recognise that weather is a huge factor for many conditions, and to try and work around it. If pressure changes are causing migraine attacks then perhaps wait for another day. And all the gloves / scarves etc if it's cold, and maybe hat, sunglasses and face mist if it's hot!
Walking is very grounding to me. It takes me out of head and all the chronic illness 'stuff' we have to think about such as medical appointments I've been trying to organise this month, pharmacy deliveries that seem far more complicated than they need to be and dealing with symptom flare-ups.
There is a lot of evidence on the benefits of walking for those who are able to do so. As the NHS describes, 'walking briskly can help you build stamina, burn excess calories and make your heart healthier'. Interestingly, Healthline discusses a study showing that walking helped boost immune function, as well as benefits for mental health.
After nearly a year virtually housebound due to the pandemic and being high risk so 'shielding' as part of the UK's initiative to help protect people, I am very much luxuriating in walking now. The sense of freedom is immense. Simply seeing the daffodils and magnolia trees has bought a smile to my face, and the warmth of the sun feels like a welcome relief from being within four walls.
One aspect of walking with chronic illness that is daunting? Living with interstitial cystitis for sure. Gone are the days of simply 'popping out' for a walk, only thinking about where my keys are and slipping on some shoes. No, these days my bladder is front and centre in the preparations . . .
It's not an exaggeration to say that I have to use the bathroom at least twice before leaving the house (three times is better). As it likes to not empty fully, my bladder has me hanging around until I am sure it isn't going to catch me out five minutes down the street, causing me to turn back and use the bathroom.
How is walking with chronic illness sustaining me? Gosh, in so many ways. It sustains my mental health, and makes me smile to see little dogs running around the park or birds jumping from branch to branch, singing away.
It sustains my confidence in my body, by knowing that my migraine symptoms are better than they used to be. It shows me the improvements that have come over time with lots of treatments and physiotherapy. It also shows me that perhaps more improvements can come in time.
Vestibular migraine (and dysautonomia) can be scary in a way, with the dizziness and feeling light-headed. So being able to go out for a walk on better symptom days really isn't something I take for granted. It feels like a gift that I can do it, and hopefully in turn it helps my body move forward in all kinds of positive ways.
Of course, this is just my take on walking with chronic illness. If you live with medical conditions then it may be very helpful to see a physiotherapist / physical therapist if you wish to start an exercise routine.
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