Nov 16, 2010

Exercise: Friend or Foe?

If you asked me whether or not I would be exercising after I first got sick, the answer would have definitely been no. I could barely walk from room to room without getting weak and winded. Chronic tachycardia will have that effect on a person. I couldn't take the stairs on my college campus, instead I had to rely on elevators and even then it was a stretch just to get myself from class to class. This was all before my POTS diagnosis of course.

My EP kept urging me to join a gym and just start slowly on bikes and weights. For a long time, I ignored his advice. I then stumbled upon a blog about a research study in Texas on exercise and the POTS patient. I was intrigued. I immediately contacted the blogger and the research associates but never heard back, so I am unclear what Dr. Levine's specific exercise protocol is, but the blog mentions recumbent bicycling, swimming, rowing machines and weights. So, I did some research, and started exercising at a nearby rehab facility. Since Dr. Levine's specific protocol was not revealed online, the owner designed an exercise regime specific to my needs. He performed an EKG, blood pressure readings, and a test called the BioZ that measures cardiac output, stroke volume, and things of that nature. He said the always reassuring, "I've never seen anything quite like this before," in reference to my off-the-charts BioZ test results. He then performed the BioZ test again five minutes after exercise and my results were encouraging: everything had come back into a normal range. He concluded that I need to exercise in order to keep my circulation going. And I believe he is right. However, in the beginning, I couldn't tolerate any exercise. But now that I have gotten my condition somewhat under control through salt, fluids, and the occasional beta blocker, I am able to do certain exercises and movement really does make me feel better.

If I don't exercise for a couple days, I start to notice the effects on my body. When I am diligent about my exercise routine, I am much less lightheaded and suffer fewer woozy spells. I purchased a recumbent bike to use at home and ride anywhere between 5 and 10 miles every other day at a low to moderate resistance setting. If I ride it a bit each day, I tend to feel better. However I think it's important to take a day off the bike here and there to let my muscles recover. I try to do light weights with high reps 2 to 4 times a week for about twenty minutes at a time as well. I do some leg work, abs, back, and shoulders. I have definitely noticed an improvement in my muscle tone and I am a bit stronger overall. An occasional pilates workout provides a nice diversion from my standard routine and if I am experiencing worse than normal brainfog I turn to yoga, as it enhances bloodflow to the brain because of all the inversions. Lately I have not been devoting as much time to exercise as I should be, and I can feel it. My woozy spells are indeed motivation to get back to the gym.

As with any exercise regime, please consult your doctor before beginning. Exercise can be a positive experience that improves circulation, muscle tone, and creates natural mood-boosting endorphins. Take it slow, if exercise causes you any abnormal or unbearable pain or discomfort, stop and revise your regime. Don't feel pressure to exercise for hours per day. Sometimes just minutes will do the trick; some exercise is always better than none at all. My best advice is to start all exercise in the recumbent position, doing leg lifts on the ground or from bed if that is all you can tolerate. Don't push yourself too hard. Monitor your heart rate and blood pressure throughout, at least in the beginning. Your stamina should increase over time. Be patient with your body, and most importantly, listen to it. Do not exercise to the point of exhaustion. Start with brief bursts of exercise and wait and see how your body responds the next day. Over time you may experience a noticeable improvement in your symptoms as I have. Exercise has quickly become one of my best friends.


  1. Did you notice any increased fatigue when you began exercising?

  2. No. For me it was quite the opposite. I would be fatigued during exercise and a few minutes immediately following but afterwards the exercise seemed to help energize me. I suspect this has something to do with the improved bloodflow many obtain from exercise. I tend to feel better the more active I stay.