For the first year or so that I had ME/CFS, I didn't do any exercise. I didn't feel up to it all, and if I tried, I crashed. My resting heart rate at the time was already in the 100s, so it felt like any exercise would make my heart explode. And I won't even get into the problems with POTS and exercise.
Then with a little improvement, I started doing some Tai Chi, which is pretty much the most mellow form of exercise you can possibly do. I hesitate to even call it exercise.
After a while, it became clear that I could handle Tai Chi with no problem, and I began to feel the urge for that old after-exercise feeling. You know, that feeling where you're relaxed and that your blood and lymphatic drainage system is flowing more freely. So as my treatments progressed and I started to feel better, I moved on to yoga. First I started with my wife's low-key prenatal yoga videos. Then I moved on to regular yoga videos and to doing sequences of "asanas" that I remembered from my days of taking yoga classes.
During this period, I also started doing far infrared sauna sessions every 2 or 3 days, which for some reason, always left me with a feeling like I had exercised. Truely, the feeling is almost identical, and I even record my sauna sessions in the same column as my so-called "workouts" on my health charts. I believe that the same principles are at play: blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
In the last few months, I have graduated to lifting weights at home, trying to gain back some of the over 35 pounds in muscle mass that I lost when I got ME/CFS (OK, some of it was fat!). I don't want all of it back, but half would be nice. My goal is to get up to about 195-200 lbs (88-90kgs), which is what the Body Mass Index says is ideal for my height and build. I am at about 194 lbs now, so I'm close.
I lift smaller weights than I lifted before ME/CFS, as the goal here is not to build showy "beach muscles" but rather to improve my health and well being. Excess build up of lactic acid would only be counterproductive to my goals.
Yesterday, I took the next step and actually went back into a gym. Although I have a nice collection of different sized dumbells at home, my home workout options are limited when it comes to leg exercises, and I definitely don't want to be one of those people who has solid upper body mass, balanced on top of toothpick legs.
Let me be clear about one thing, I'm not suggesting that these exercises are responsible for my improvements. The improvements came first, likely from treatments, and the increased levels of exercise followed.
But the whole point of this post is this: Damn it felt good to be back in a gym. That feeling that I've had for the last two years, that I'm an alien in the world of the physically active, melted away for an hour. Simply being around the hustle and bustle of a gym, the people running around in their slick workout outfits, carrying towels, feeling good, wiping down equipment--it felt right. Everyone's iPoded up, struttin' their stuff, in their own worlds. (It's quite comical, actually.) I even welcomed that gym-y smell of stale sweat.
So far today I feel OK, but I wouldn't expect a PEM crash until tomorrow if it comes. If this experiment works out, I plan to make gym trips a once-a-week thing. I'm always wary of pushing too hard and relapsing, but at the same time, I need to find out exactly what my limits are as they change over time. As the respected Dr. Klimas has said, doing as much "exercise" as we can do without crashing (and that's the key), however much or how little that may be, could be a key factor in reversing the dysfunctional gene expression that we experience. This is a controversial opinion, as many patients report being made worse by even the slightest of exercises, but in my case, I think I'll continue on my path and proceed cautiously.