05/28/2014 12:24 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

10 Ways to Stay Active While Coping With Illness


When you don't feel well, the motivation to do something active can be nonexistent. It is much easier to turn the TV on, check out and give into your symptoms. However, with chronic illness, this isn't always the best thing to do.

Staying active, even in a limited capacity, can speed recovery, keep your mind sharp, help retain mobility and possibly ease symptoms -- the same symptoms that would prevent being active in the first place.

It is important to find balance between exertion that helps and exertion that wipes you out. Work with your health care team and use trial and error to find the level of activity that is right for you and your diagnosis.

Being active doesn't always have to look like heavy physical exercise. There are even things you can do even from bed on days when symptoms prevent mobility. Give yourself a nudge and experiment with these 10 ways to stay active:

  1. Walk: Maybe marathons are out, but walking has a myriad of benefits. Start with short 15-minute strolls around your neighborhood or a local park.
  2. Yoga: You can get gentle yoga DVDs to start a practice right in your living room or join a local class. Many yoga studios offer gentle yoga or yoga for people coping with health issues. The meditative aspect of yoga will also reduce stress.
  3. Water Aerobics: The decrease in gravity is easier on sore muscles and joints while still improving flexibility and cardiovascular strength. You do not need to be a strong swimmer, or hold your breath to participate.
  4. Work With a Trainer: A trainer who specializes in chronic illness will be able to offer a workout routine that is tailor made to your abilities. A good trainer will keep you motivated and accountable, even when your health wants to let you slide.
  5. Go to Physical Therapy: If your diagnosis involves a loss of mobility, talk with your primary care physician about seeing a physical therapist. They can help you retain the mobility you have and regain flexibility and strength. They will also teach you simple exercises you can do at home to stay active.
  6. Get Outside: Just 15 minutes in the sun enjoying the breeze and view will deliver essential vitamin D and boost your mood. If you're feeling adventurous go for a drive in the country or a relaxing boat tour of your local harbor.
  7. Refresh: Even if you are planning to stay in bed for the day, take a shower and change into new clothing. Before you climb back into bed, sit in a chair or on the couch in a different area of the house. This can be especially important to ease back into movement after surgery.
  8. Make Dates: Schedule time to meet up with a friend for coffee or to have a visitor to your home. Having something on the calendar provides a bright moment to look forward to.
  9. Join a Book Club: You can find a variety of book clubs for all genres. Having others read along with you is a good way to stay socially active and to have a completion deadline. If you can't get out of the house, there are virtual book clubs meeting all over the internet.
  10. Care for a Pet: Visit your local shelter to see if there is a furry friend suited to your abilities who needs a home. There is no better motivation than the unconditional love of a pet to get you walking, playing and cuddling.

Illness is a challenge, but one you are capable of meeting. You can do more than you think that you can. Work with your doctors to stay active and engaged which can help you not only cope but thrive.