Stories to Inspire
How I became inspired to work out at my own personal
best - and discovering that my body strengthened with time
By Kristen Mishler
Over the past couple of years, I've become increasingly interested in physical fitness and health issues related to longevity. Last fall, while looking through some books online, I saw Jillian Michaels on the cover of her diet and fitness book, Making the Cut. Jillian is one of the trainers on the TV show, The Biggest Loser. The book's cover has Jillian posing in a tiny sports top and low-cut sweatpants, showing off her well-toned arms and stomach muscles. I said, "I want to look like that!" My son, who was looking on nearby said, "Gross!"...but I wasn't deterred.
I am not athletic at all, but I had been exercising regularly for about a year and a half prior to starting Jillian's fitness program. I started Making the Cut seven months ago - just a few weeks after finishing my first weight-training program. I work out at home and especially during my first time going through it, I really felt like being at home gave me an advantage. I know I didn't do a lot of the exercises with the "proper" form, but I did them the best I could.
I probably looked pretty silly doing just about every exercise, and that's why being alone helped me: there wasn't anyone to laugh at me or tell me I was doing it wrong. I didn't feel inadequate next to anyone else; I just did the best I could. Of course, for safety, you should always exercise with the approval of your doctor and have someone at home should you need assistance. But not having other, more able-bodied people exercising alongside allowed me to focus on my own way of getting into shape.
For instance, if I couldn't do a particular move, I modified it. I still use my bench press bar as a support when I have to do jumps or knee kicks.When a move requires me to jump from one spot to another, I often end up taking two or three (or four) small steps to reach the goal. If my legs won't move, they won't move. All I can do is push them.
My family thought my MS was in a full relapse for at least the first two weeks that I devoted to my newest workout routine. For several days I could hardly move and I was having obvious difficulty walking every day. But I wasn't incredibly sore. The reason for this, I believe, is that a few years ago I had an exacerbation in which I lost feeling in my legs.When the exacerbation ended and feeling returned (mostly), I could do absolutely anything with my legs and not be sore.
Nowadays, I normally do get sore if I push myself, but my lack of soreness harkened me back to that earlier time and made me think that, maybe, the difficulty walking and getting around wasn't an exacerbation; maybe it was how my body coped with physical stress rather than the normal way of getting sore. And this really made sense, considering that I walked much better on rest days than on exercise days. I convinced my family that it was just muscle fatigue that was causing my difficulty; and they trusted me.
By the fourth week of the program, you wouldn't even have known I was working out. I had no symptoms of muscle fatigue or stress. Even though the workouts were getting more and more difficult, I had built up enough resistance and tolerance to the physical stress that I no longer had MSlooking symptoms. I say "MS-looking" because I don't think my symptoms were actually caused by MS but, rather, because I have MS, my muscle fatigue showed up in forms that looked identical to an exacerbation of the disease. In addition, any side effects that I had previously experienced from my medication were gone! No headaches! No sweaty, sleepless nights! I felt incredible.
The before-and-after figures that I received from a local trainer revealed a drop in weight from 155 pounds to 148 pounds, and a drop in body fat from 26 percent to 22 percent. All that in just 30 days! I was very impressed. I don't look like Jillian Michaels, but I'm satisfied!
At one point during this exercise program, I talked to my doctor about my trouble getting around and the program itself, just to make sure I wasn't making things worse for myself. Her response seemed very caring, cautious, and typical: "You don't have to stop taking the stairs; just maybe, instead of walking the whole flight, do half of them and then take the elevator." In other words, "Don't stress yourself so much that you have to deal with MS-like symptoms."
But what I have found is different; this program has shown me that if I stress my body this time, the next time it is stronger and more capable of standing up against stressors. If I'm completely exhausted after 20 minutes on the elliptical, that's okay. Either I keep doing 20 minutes every day, expecting to be exhausted every time and knowing that three weeks down the road, it will be easier; or, I knock it down to 10 or 15 minutes, bumping it back up to 20 in three weeks when I'm more capable. It's easy for me to say, "I can't do it." But that doesn't help me live a normal life with multiple sclerosis. In my own personal experience, I find that when I push myself physically, I get stronger and more capable; and that helps me live a better life.
At the beginning of most exercise programs, there's some sort of fitness test or assessment to make sure you're not overexerting yourself and that you have the correct level of workouts. Jillian Michaels' Making the Cut is a pretty intense workout and I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. I chose to do it for the challenge and because it was so exciting to realize that clumsy ol' me could be fit enough to do a workout as difficult as this one.
What I do recommend to everyone is to make a commitment to fitness, at whatever level is appropriate for you, to improve overall health. This might mean three minutes every morning and evening on the motor-driven exercise bike for a month, if that level is appropriate. By following a plan consistently, I predict that you will see improvement.
As you master each level of activity, you may be able to challenge yourself more and develop, or recover, even more strength and stamina.Whatever fitness level you're at, when you can consistently challenge yourself over a period of time, if you are like me, you will see improvement. This could be in coordination, in balance, or maybe in some other area. It has been revolutionary for me and I encourage you - under your doctor's supervision - to search out and find, through your personal experience, that you too are capable of pushing through!
Editor's note: Our "Stories to Inspire" column showcases articles written by our readers, all of which have some type of inspiring message. While certain diet and exercise regimens are appropriate for some individuals, they may not be appropriate for others. Please consult a medical professional before making any changes to your diet, activity level, medications, or any other part of your normal routine.