In just about a month, it will be three years since one very scary week in the hospital and my subsequent diagnosis (and relatively happy ending) with Addison’s disease. I’ve learned a whole lot about the disease, biology and how best to handle my own personal situation, but the biggest learning has been about how to continue to exercise safely.
I’m an active person. One of those strange breeds of human that truly enjoys sweating, exercising and pushing the limits of my heart rate monitor. It’s one of the things that makes me happiest. I believe it makes me a better person to be around. It’s also one of the things that was most threatened with the diagnosis.
Three years on, I’ve learned a few best practices about how to exercise with Addison’s in a way that doesn’t put myself at further risk. In fact, exercising and continuing to workout is something that can help with many of the symptoms of the disease (bone density, chronic fatigue, irritability), as long as you do it safely.
Here are the six things that have worked best for me:
For Addison’s people, this is more a lifestyle. You need to stay hydrated to help with blood pressure.
If you want to exercise, you should start hydrated. Easier said than done however, especially if you want to get your workout done first thing in the morning.
Anyone, chronic disease sufferer or not, would likely benefit from drinking more water. With Addison’s, it’s doubly important as the electrolyte regulation isn’t there without working adrenal glands. If you start off in a hole, there is no getting out.
Best way to know for sure, honestly, is a pee test (pale-ish yellow), but if you have time and can start your day with a big glass of water it will go a long way toward helping that early morning workout.
Once you’ve started sweating, you need to replace that water and electrolytes. For me, a heavy sweater, the best way to do that is salt tabs and a sports drink. I opt for one that is heavier on the sodium than the average Gatorade to make sure I don’t end up with muscle cramps during or after a workout.
Go early (or late)
Get your workout in before (or after) the sun makes its mark. People often underestimate the effects of the heat. This can end in disappointing workouts for those without a chronic disease, but can be very dangerous and put you into or near a crises state if you do have a chronic disease. That can set your health or fitness back days or weeks.
If you want to workout, get it done at a time when the heat and humidity isn’t yet at its worst.
Don’t be afraid of the medication
Maybe this is personal to me, but I am a rule follower. If you give me an order, task, to-do or dosage instructions, I am going to follow them to the letter. That works 95% of the time, but I’ve learned not all disease management is science. The human body is complex and each individual is different. Sometimes living with a chronic disease is more art than science.
Depending on the day or activity level, you may need a little more, or less, medicine to help your body compensate or recover. This took me a long time to recognize. I was afraid that going over the dosage would be hurting my body, but in actuality, feeling crappy was my body’s way of asking for more medications (for Addison’s disease this is a fast-acting natural synthetic steroid that the body no longer produces with the disease).
Since taking more ownership over the amount of medication I need (I still regularly see and discuss with my doctor), I have had less “sick” days and a more consistent feeling of complete health.
Always bring extra meds
You never know what a workout will bring. Maybe you get delayed. Maybe you get an injury. Maybe you’re riding your bike and have an accident. Always carry some extra medicine with you just to be safe. It’s common sense, but it took awhile for me to admit that I needed to do this and to make it a habit.
Always wear or have a medical bracelet/ID
Like the previous one, you just never know. Wear your medical ID bracelet and make sure someone knows where you are going or can track you while you are off on your run or ride.
If you, like me, enjoy exercising, especially when it’s nice and sunny, but also struggle with a chronic disease, like Addison’s, it doesn’t have to mean the end of summer exercise. Be smart about it, listen to your body, and be prepared and you can still enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle – even in the heat and humidity.
Excellent article! I was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease in October, 2021 after major knee replacement/ revision surgery that lasted 5 1/2 hrs. I crashed post-op and my blood pressure wouldn’t rise above 60/40 for three days. After, three days and nights in a Neuro-ICU I was rehydrated, on vasopressin medication and lots of IV Hydrocortisone along with IV electrolytes. I’m doing much bette and still in physical therapy for my knee rehabilitation. You article is extremely important information for controlling Addison’s symptoms in exercise. I also regulate my Prednisone dose as needed, informing my physician all along the way and work hard to stay adequately hydrated before and after any physical stresses or exercise. Thank You, Mike
Thank you for this! I am 2 months in on this Addisons adventure and I just started back to the gym last week. Today I worked out harder than usual and started feeling a crash creeping up. So to google I went to find some info on this topic and landed here. This article is insightful on how to handle this in the future. I will never give up my exercise and thankful I don’t have to, I just need to approach things a little differently. Cheers.
Best of luck. Be smart and be aware of your body and you can get back to where you were and beyond.