Posted February 9, 2015.
When I was sick and bedridden with Lyme disease, I read that the ones who truly recover from Lyme disease and sustain their recovery from Lyme disease are those who exercise. At the time all I could do was lay in agony, how could that apply to me? But one day I started by doing 5 leg lifts on each side. That was it for the whole day, but I was happy I could do even that. Gradually, after about 9 months of being on antibiotics and herbs, I was able to walk to the kitchen for breakfast. When I was able to sit up at the kitchen table to eat breakfast, I considered it nothing short of a miracle. I would lie on the couch for the rest of the day, but even that little bit of exercise made me feel like I was making some progress because previously I had to lie on the couch to eat whatever breakfast I could stomach. Finally I got to the point where I could walk around the outside of my house. One time around. But that was a big deal! I was ecstatic. I had begun. I was outside where there was sunshine, green grass, blue sky and little birds flying by me. I felt like the birds were encouraging me to walk. One little blue jay flew right up to me and seemed to smile at me. I was elated. There is a little hill in my back yard, with a lemon tree just a few steps up. As the days passed, I added walking up a few steps to the lemon tree to my regime. Of course I would go back to the couch after that and rest all day, but my beat up body was in absolute heaven that I could walk to the lemon tree. Wow.
I was still in significant pain, my feet hurt a lot from the Bartonella, but I was just pleased that I could go outside and walk, even if for just 5 minutes. More days passed and one day I decided to try the elliptical in my garage. So I walked 5 minutes outside my house, up to the little lemon tree and then I did 3 minutes on the elliptical machine. Wow! I did it. It exhausted me, so I rested all the day. But I was progressing. A friend of mine had a personal trainer and she sent him over to me one day. He took one took at me and said, “Wow, you’re in really bad shape.” We tried to do some leg lifts and I couldn’t! My muscles had completely atrophied. The little bit of walking and elliptical I had done helped, but I was still pretty weak. I was like a frail 90 year old lady who never gets out of her rocking chair. I was so painfully thin and so painfully weak. I was like a little skeleton, barely able to get out of the chair. He would come twice a week, help me get up and spend 20 minutes with me, I think the first time he came all I could handle was 10 minutes. He would walk me through different exercises to strengthen my legs, arms, etc. It was literally like rebuilding a body since I had spent so much time bed ridden. The days passed and I did a little bit more each time.
More days passed and I started walking 2 times around my house and then one day I walked from my mailbox to my neighbor’s mailbox. And after a week I added another mailbox. I could not contain my excitement. Even though after these exercise bouts I would have to rest for the entire duration of the day on the couch, still, it was progress. Some days the bottoms of my feet hurt too badly (again, that’s the Bartonella) to exercise, but I was patient with my body and didn’t push it.
One day a friend drove me to the grocery store, Whole Foods of course! And I spent probably 30 minutes in the store shopping. It was thrilling. Me, outside, in the world, in the grocery store no less! How wonderful to be among the living. I even saw one of my neighbors there, in the produce section. She was so shocked to see me. I still couldn’t walk too well, I was still a little unsteady and had the speed and gait of that 90+ year old, but I was out! I was off the couch, even for a short period of time.
More days passed like this and it was almost Christmas time. A friend of mine who was in a running group invited me to her Christmas party. I went with her and when I was there people started talking to me about running. “Do you run?” they asked. I had the ready answer of course, “Oh no, I’m just getting over Lyme disease, I was bedridden for so long and it’s really a miracle I’m even here at this party…..” They weren’t buying it. “Yeah, so you were bedridden, but now you’re walking. So why don’t you trying running a bit?” I said, “Well I do walk to 2 mailboxes on my street.” One of the guys said, “Why don’t you try running to one mailbox.” At first I was a little taken aback. “But, but…I’ve only been walking for a short time,” I protested. He smiled at me. I realized he was right. I could run to one mailbox.
And so I did. And very little by little I would add a mailbox or add some leg lifts or add some time on the elliptical. But I was always very careful to rest afterwards and never over do it. I think one of the secrets to my recovery was always doing less than I felt like I could. I might have felt like I could do 10 minutes on the elliptical, but for a long time I kept it to 5. Even when I started doing more trips to the grocery store, or whatever little life thing I started doing again, I always made sure to rest, rest, rest afterwards. I never overdid it. I never pushed myself. I always held myself back.
More days passed like this and I kept hanging out with those happy running people who kept encouraging me. I started to run for 10 min, then 15 min, and then 30 min. Then I had the crazy idea that I was going to run the Paris marathon, since the last time I was in Paris I had to be wheel chaired out. It became infectious and the exercise kept building on itself. I was very mindful of taking days off however. I never exercised on consecutive days. When you exercise, your immune system is depressed for some hours afterwards, but then it goes through a tremendous rebound. Your immune system comes back with a vengeance, but the key is to leave enough time in between exercise sessions for the rebound effect to happen. And of course for Lyme patients, the oxygen flooding that happens in the blood is tremendously powerful in eradicating the spirochete and any co-infection bacteria you may have. The Lyme spirochete is anaerobic, meaning it does not like oxygen. Exercise sessions flood the body with oxygen. Good for your body and immune system, bad for the Lyme disease. Dr. Burrasscano has a good explanation of this in his paper.
The key is: start very slowly and build gradually. If you are still really sick and struggling with Lyme disease, don’t push it. Do something very small like walk outside and get some vitamin D from the sun. Less is more in the beginning. When you are fully recovered, you can push it and really enjoy your new body that doesn’t hurt!! Take it easy and always rest more than you think you should.
Here’s me 5 years later, just after a run in Malibu Creek State Park at the old MASH site. Anybody remember that show? 🙂
Exercise and Lyme Disease