Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting Fit

A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to hit the gym and start doing some cardio and weight training. I have always been an active person. Even when I wasn’t in my best shape, I had no problem rollerblading long distances or spending entire days on my snowboard, resting only on the lifts. Last summer, after more than a year spent being pretty lazy, I hiked a thousand meters up Mount Kilimanjaro without any problem. Back in Amsterdam, I was addicted to spinning class. I could no get enough of it. Forty minutes of an intense cardio workout left me hungry for row and at one point, I was doing it twice a day. Going back to the gym was going to be a piece of cake.

I arrived the first day and made my way to the orbitron machine. I decided I would start with fifteen minutes at level one since it was the first day and I didn’t want to overdo it. About two minutes into it, I was really struggling. My whole body was screaming out and finally, after three minutes, I stopped. I could feel my heart breaking through my chest and my neck and ears were pounding with my pulse. It took me about ten minutes to catch my breath after that. I was beyond disappointed. I didn’t expect to do my old levels and times, but three minutes at level one was, for me, a personal disaster. I has spent the month exercising at home and walking, so I really didn’t expect it to go so bad.

After catching my breath, I decided that some weight training was in order, but that went almost as bad as the cardio. What was supposed to be cheering me up and moving me forward was doing the opposite. It was showing me just how much I lost and how different I really was. I knew before going that the average stroke survivor has about half the amount of an out of shape, non-stroke survivor of the same age. I knew this, but I was positive it had nothing to do with me. I was different. Less than twenty minutes at the gym, of which about six had been used for actual low-level punch me in the face with the facts about myself. I was upset and angry for about five minutes and then came up with a plan. I realized I could only do what I was capable of doing. In recovery, it is important to push yourself, but you have to be very careful not to push too hard, as it can have negative results including overworking the heart and injury due to fatigue. My plan was to focus on cardio, each day going as long as I could and then going an extra thirty seconds. I would stay at level one and follow a steady pace I could maintain.

Three weeks later, I am up to one hour of cardio and now I am increasing levels and making it more challenging instead of increasing the length of time. Am up to level three on the orbitron, which I now do for twenty minutes before hitting the treadmill for forty minutes. I can’t run yet and I need to hold on while walking most of the time, but can go thirty seconds here or there without balance issues. Next week I will start weight training and hopefully, with my improved cardio condition, that will do better.

I also tried swimming at the gym, and that also didn’t go as planned. Since I started walking again, I have had to concentrate to correct the pull to the right. If my legs had it their way, I would walk diagonally to the right. Whenever I run into a wall or door, it is always on my right side, on the days I have less control over it. Swimming also no longer happens in a straight line, but rather, a pull to the left. I tried to swim a lap and I started near the near right corner.  A short time later I found myself in the far left corner. I had noticed this once before at the beach, but attributed it to ocean currents and didn’t think anything of it. Now, I have tried it several times and if given a large enough body of water, I know I would swim in a gigantic, counter-clockwise circle. There are no lines on the bottom of the pool, so I am at a loss for ideas of how to correct it.

My other gym struggle is my belly. I have never had one before, but I gained thirteen kilos (about twenty-nine pounds) in January. Back when I was going to the gym everyday, on a weight-gaining diet and drinking protein drinks, I only managed five kilos in over six months. Thirteen kilos is a lot of weight for me. I do like how it looks in the face, I just want to get it off my belly. I am very self-conscious about it. A lot of my clothes no longer fit and it is getting on my nerves.

I still don’t ever feel full, so I have to be very careful not to eat whenever I feel like it, or I will eat all day. I am hoping that soon the cardio will start taking care of some of the weight, but for now, it is holding stable. I wonder if this is a temporary situation or if I will now have to be careful with food.

Long story short, things are still heading in a good direction. Thursday, I am going to Cape Town and I am really looking forward to the change of scenery and of course visiting a new city in a new country.