Fitness – a Key for HSPers

 Fitness – a key to maintaining mobility for HSPers

Part 1 of a 2 part series. (Read Part 2)

by Lea McQuade, Physiotherapist*

The Importance of Fitness

Getting fit and staying fit is probably the single most important thing anyone with HSP can do to manage symptoms and maintain maximum mobility for as long as possible.  Staying fit is a life-long process, a lifestyle choice for everyone, whether or not you have HSP.  Make that choice if you haven’t already!

Fitness can, and should be a result of satisfying, fun, uplifting activity that is a normal part of our daily lives.  No matter how good you feel, being fit will make you feel better, and not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.  An active lifestyle along with good nutrition is universally understood to contribute to overall health and wellbeing.

There is now a lot of publicity aimed at encouraging everyone to include greater activity into what is, for many, a sedentary lifestyle.  There is a special challenge for HSPers in getting and staying fit, and that’s what this article is about.  If you are fit when symptoms of HSP first appear, so much the better.  However it’s never too late to start.  So let me say it again Getting fit and staying fit is probably the single most important thing anyone with HSP can do to manage symptoms and maintain maximum mobility for as long as possible.

Weight, Sleep and Exercise

Keeping control over body weight is a huge factor in maintaining mobility as it makes movement easier.  Exercise and a balanced diet are both important in getting control over body weight.  There is the added benefit that exercise generatesphysical tiredness, which then assists with a regular sleeping pattern.

Types of Fitness

Health benefits can be derived from different aspects of body activity:

  • Heart/Lung or Cardiovascular (CV) fitness – efficient responsiveness of heart, circulation and breathing to muscular demand.
  • Muscle Strength and Endurance  – strong muscles provide stability for efficient force production and endurance maintains efficiency with prolonged or repetitive activity.
  • Balance and Coordination – control for joint protection plus flexibility and freedom of movement.

Exercise Prescription

If you haven’t been doing strenuous exercise regularly, see your doctor for a check-up and get an okay to start, especially if you are starting later on in life.

There are 3 keys to getting the most health benefits out of any fitness program – activity frequency, intensity and duration.

The generally recommended minimum is:

  1. A mixture of different types of activity at least 3 times a week,
  2. during which movements are executed at a moderate to higher intensity (a good guide is that you should be breathing hard, but can still hold a normal conversation)
  3. with this intensity sustained throughout for at least 20 minutes per session.

Okay, let’s just think about this for a bit.  I need to be breathing hard but can still hold a conversation for at least 20 minutes, 3 times per week.  If I’m not breathing hard enough, it’s not doing the job no matter how long I go for.  If it doesn’t go continually for 20 minutes at that intensity, then I don’t get a significant improvement in fitness (called the ‘training effect’).  And if it’s not 3 times a week, I will find it hard to maintain fitness – and I certainly won’t improve it. 

So taken together, these are fairly demanding requirements, and it will take some special activity because none of the things we normally do these days will provide this much intensity for this long.  Maybe scrubbing floors would do it – but 3 times a week!  Part 2 of this story will detail activities for HSPers that will allow them to achieve these levels.

Remember, these are minimums.  So building up to 30 or 40 minute sessions is good, as is 4 or 5 sessions a week of varied activities.  The amount and intensity of activity it takes to make you breathe hard, but still be able to talk with someone, will increase as you gain fitness.  Build up gradually!

Challenges for HSPers

There are particular challenges for HSPers in getting and keeping fit.  Let’s consider these by the 3 types of fitness outlined above:

  • CV – many options are not possible for the average HSPer, but some may be available for a lifetime, including:
    • water sports – swimming and other aerobic activity in water such as aquarobics, aqua running, water polo
    • cycling – at home, in the gym or on the road
    • rowing or paddling – either in the gym or out on the water
    • endurance training with weights
  • Strength and Endurance – most HSPers can do weights for strength and endurance.  Certified Instructors are well versed in providing tailor-made programs for strength, endurance or a combination of both.
  • Balance and Coordination – Again, instructors can provide you with a program to suit you, while physiotherapists are specialists in this area.

Balanced activities for the whole body

Using a mixture of different types of activities will give best overall benefits and guard against possible repetitive strain or overactivity and thus shortening of some muscles.  Make sure your activities include pushing and pulling, reaching up and squatting down and other normal actions.  Squatting can be very difficult for HSPers, however the ‘squatting movement’ is an essential component of controlled sitting down, rather than flopping into a chair, so it is important to work on increasing how deeply you can squat, even if you start by bending the knees only a little.

Allow rest days for recovery, especially initially after a new type of exercise, and do not push yourself into obvious fatigue, as this may leave you open to joint or muscle stress and injuries or increased spasm.  The benefits of exercise occur as a response to training in the following hours and days, not necessarily during the training itself.

Incorporating the gains from exercise into daily living is important, and easy to overlook, especially incorporating improved posture and control.  We prepare for, and execute, exercises with focus and attention, but often don’t do the same for routine movements the rest of the time.  Taking the time to consider the similarity of exercises to daily movements can really benefit how we perform those daily movements, especially in the preparation for movement – sitting down, standing up, lifting something, turning, and so on.  Bring all the good control from exercise into the rest of our lives.

Breaks in Activity – Loss of Fitness

We all have incidents in life that affect fitness, such as illness, work changes, injuries or operations, and other life stresses that can prevent us exercising as normal.  When these situations arise, the aim should be to keep some exercise going if possible and to get back to regular exercising again as soon as we can, being careful to build up again gradually.

Go to Part 2

*Lea has many years experience as a practising physiotherapist.  She has patients with HSP and works to manage their symptoms, maintain their mobility and keep them fit.