• By Emily A.

Encouragement when living with POTS

Tips and Encouragement for New or Returning Exercisers of All Health Statuses

Note: Everybody who reads this should talk to their medical practitioner before they get started with an exercise routine. This article is written both for people with typical health and those without, but the suggestions are easier to integrate into your life safely if you don’t have as many medical quirks.

I mention some chronic conditions and how that can affect the kind of exercises you do, like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), general hypermobility in your joints, or something more specific like Ehlers Danlos syndrome. And if you’re a wheelchair user, here are some exercises that are specific to you! I’m sorry that I don’t write about you specifically, but I hope you will find encouragement here, too.

So maybe your new year’s resolutions include getting fitter. Maybe you want to exercise more than you have been, and you’re wondering how to begin wisely. There are tons of benefits of exercising that have nothing to do with weight loss!

First of all, have you set S.M.A.R.T.O. goals? If you haven’t exercised at all recently, attempting 60 minutes of cardio right away isn’t going to bring you success. Similarly, if you just say “I want to exercise more,” how does that help you? What does it look like to meet that goal and to incrementally raise it over time? What kinds of exercise do you want to do? There’s cardio, weight-lifting, balance, and flexibility, to name a few. I’ll talk a little bit about cardio and weight-lifting, but generally, your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-sensitive, and aware of obstacles that could get in your way.

Let’s think about goals that are achievable, relevant, and aware of obstacles (specifically, chronic illnesses that could impede you). Of all the factors, choosing a goal that is achievable may be the most important one of all.

  • If you have the money, get a session or two with a personal trainer so you know where you’re starting and where you might want to go.

  • Start small in order to feel like you can go somewhere. If it’s 3-10 minutes of cardio (with a target of 150-160 bpm, depending on your age), start there. If it’s 5 reps of the smallest hand weights, start there, You don’t need to do arm and leg exercises on the same day. You build up. If you overdo it, you'll be in pain and get discouraged.


  • Where do you have the most fun and feel the best about yourself?

  • Exercising on your own, with a friend, or with a group?

  • Indoors or outdoors?

  • What do you have the money for?

  • A gym with classes? A gym without? No gym membership?

  • No gym membership? No problem. Here are 100 free ways to exercise.

  • What will actually make you feel like exercising? Because that’s what’s important. It doesn’t matter if your friend likes cycling and you hate it. Do something you actually like.

  • Hiking? Taking a walking path?

  • Catching up on Netflix or listening to an audio book or a great playlist while doing the elliptical or treadmill?

  • When do you actually have the time in the day to exercise?

  • Morning? During your lunch break? Afternoon? Evening? Just don’t exercise within 3 hours of bed time, because you’ll be a bit wired afterward.

Aware of obstacles.

  • What do you consider embarrassing? You’ll probably be sweaty, and maybe you’ll look uncoordinated and feel silly. But you’ll still be accomplishing your goals, so thank yourself and be proud of yourself, too. A little sweat (okay, a lot of sweat) doesn’t take away from a killer exercise-inspired, goal-achieving smile.

  • What do you consider discouraging? If you’re trying to look like people in magazines or stock photos, you probably won’t. I don’t either, and that’s okay. Who said you had to look like them, anyway? If you start with fitness goals that are too lofty, you’re likely to be discouraged. Make your goals S.M.A.R.T.O.!

What limitations does your body bring to the table? There are lots of products that help with wonky symptoms, but some health conditions can still affect your exercise. Know your body. Personal trainers aren’t familiar with these conditions, so you need to talk to a medical practitioner. They might even write you a script to see a physical therapist or a physiatrist, a kind of doctor trained in healthy movement. Take them up on it. I cannot tell you how helpful that has been for me. Now I have a binder of exercises that are safe and helpful, rather than a fitness regime that actually hurts some of my muscles. And remember, there's a difference between pain and soreness. Chronic Illnesses.

  • Fibro: You must understand the difference between pain and soreness. You must set attainable goals to make sure that you don’t crash the next day. If you exercise within a reasonable range, you’ll get energy; if you don’t, you’ll lose it.

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome: Since you have post-exertional malaise, it’s going to be extra important for you to set attainable goals and see how you do. Just as with fibro, if you exercise within a reasonable range, you’ll get energy; if you don’t, you’ll lose it. Even three or five minutes makes a difference.

  • Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome: You may think you can’t exercise, but guess what? You can work up to it. Here’s how to safely do that. Best news ever.

  • Hypermobility or Ehlers Danlos Syndrome: For the love of God, do not do yoga. Just don’t, unless someone extremely well-versed in this area tells you that you would benefit. Here's an article about how to stretch in a safe, beneficial way. Since you’re likely to have POTS, make sure to look at my POTS exercise article as well.

  • Depression and other mood disorders: Depression can make you feel like an especially crappy person when you miss a day or fail to meet your goals: Assess your thoughts and compare them to reality. Are you a bad person because you stepped away for a little bit? No. Will you feel better if you go back? Yes. Go.

Have fun, my friend. You’re going to experience so many benefits if you do this carefully: Better mental health, increased energy, a boost in your self-confidence, and possibly even a longer life. It won’t be perfect. There will be days that you overdo it and days when you don’t feel well and do less or even nothing at all. The important thing is that you do it. Not every single day, and not the way everyone else is doing it, but the way you do it that makes you feel your best. Your mountain awaits – get on your way!

If you want to read more of Emily's writing visit her blog here

The opinions expressed here are that of the authors and not that of DSN's and it's affiliates Citations

Anderson, C. (2015, October 27). 45 Convincing Reasons to Exercise and Eat Right That Aren't Weight Loss. Retrieved March 09, 2019, from https://greatist.com/grow/reasons-exercise-and-eat-right

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Arnold, E. (2016, November 05). Managing the Tricky Symptoms of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). Retrieved March 09, 2019, from https://illness-to-wellness.com/2016/11/05/managing-pots/

Arnold, E. (2017, December 28). Preparing for the New Year: Pick Five. Retrieved March 09, 2019, from https://illness-to-wellness.com/2017/12/28/preparing-for-the-new-year-pick-5/

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Exercise intensity: How to measure it. (2018, June 12). Retrieved March 09, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-intensity/art-20046887?pg=2

How To: Exercises from Your Wheelchair. (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2019, from https://101mobility.com/blog/wheelchair-exercises/

Norazman, A. (n.d.). 8 Not-So-Obvious Signs You’ve Been Working Out Too Hard. Retrieved March 09, 2019, from https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/8-not-obvious-signs-youve-been-working-out-too-hard.html

Soreness vs Pain: What's the Difference? (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2019, from https://www.moveforwardpt.com/Resources/Detail/soreness-vs-pain-whats-difference

Truman, A. (n.d.). 100 Free (or Cheap) Ways to Exercise. Retrieved March 09, 2019, from http://www.brokeandhealthy.com/100-free-or-cheap-ways-to-exercise

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