Credit: Nabeel Syed/

When the last thing you want to do is exercise


Photo credit: Nabeel Syed,

We all know that exercise is good for us. In addition to benefits like strengthening our hearts, exercise also helps clear our minds and reduces feelings of stress and anxiety. But what if you are one of the many people living with CML who experience intense fatigue? The kind of fatigue that makes your arms and legs feel so heavy that even walking can be a chore. The kind of fatigue that doesn’t go away, or even lessen with a good night’s sleep. The kind of fatigue that messes with concentration and memory so that performing well at work can become difficult. How does someone dealing with this kind of life-affecting fatigue, even think about exercising?

Focus on what you can get out of it, says Kathryn Sawatzky, a health coach and personal trainer in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“Exercise releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine which gives you good feelings, sort of like a drug, but completely natural,” she says. “If a sedentary individual starts an exercise program, they immediately get more oxygen delivered to their tissues with the increase in blood flow, which in turn gives them more energy.”

And along with the extra energy, you can also expect added benefits like better sleep, weight control and improved mood, says Sawatzky, who owns Blue Sky Fitness and Health Coaching.

“Mood is often stabilized by exercise,” she says, adding that physical activity can take the edge off of anxiety and depression. “I have suffered from anxiety, and exercise is my “go-to” for relief because it reduces stress levels and tension in the body. Similarly, exercise can help ease depression by providing a distraction that can help you cope in a healthy way. It also not only helps you to feel better physically, but getting out of the house and connecting with nature through a walk or a run is a great mood enhancer.”

If you are completely overwhelmed with fatigue, but are wondering how you can make exercise work in your life, Sawatzky recommends that you start with your food first.

“First, omit processed foods from your diet, such as sugary cereals, chips and cookies. Then, add lots of vegetables and lean proteins like chicken, stay hydrated and eat frequently throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels stable,” she says. “And then look at your sleep. Try to turn in by 10 pm, and get six to eight hours of sleep each night. Your body will thank you.”

Next, focus on the exercise.

“If you are struggling with intense fatigue, and exercising is the last thing you feel like doing, start with a short walk and add a couple minutes more each day as you feel up to it,” says Sawatzky, who also operates the Urban Wellness Centre. “Another tip is to incorporate some body movement into those times that you are still, such as when you are watching television. Get up during commercials and march on the spot, do some squats, step side to side, or perform a set of 10 back extensions (lie face down with your arms over your head and lift your chest off the ground keeping your neck in line with your spine for 10-20 repetitions).

While she acknowledges that getting started on an exercise regimen is not always easy, Sawatzky says that the advantages are too good to ignore.

“Better sleep, better health, a stronger body, the benefits truly are endless,” she says.

Kathryn Sawatzky can be reached on Facebook at Blue Sky Fitness and Health Coaching.

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