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Exercise and Learning To Pace Yourself

Many of you know that I’m on the healthy living journey right along with you. I was hit with a brain tumor a few years ago that has changed me fundamentally – and one of those things is my weight and exercise.

I used to be about 30 pounds lighter and loved getting out on a hike with the dog. But due to medication and lack of exercise due to pain, I’ve packed on the pounds and I’d love to get rid of them. That’s really an understatement…I’d love to blast that weight to oblivion.

So how do you get back into exercise when you’ve had a break from it, are dealing with a chronic condition  or perhaps starting out?

Walking Slowly Towards My Goal

I'm learning to walk slowly towards my exercise goals!

My strategy has been to take the days I’m feeling better and get out an exercise until I’m drenched with sweat. I feel great thinking that this exercise is going to surely tackle the problem. Then the next day comes – and I feel awful and in pain. It’s a classic case of having over done it and the result is that I don’t exercise again for days.

Clearly this approach is an example of how NOT to go about exercising. This constant up and down cycle can be hard to break out from and unnecessarily hard on your body.

So what’s and all or nothing type like myself to do?

Learning to Pace Yourself

The latest research from pain management and occupational therapists recommends taking a step back, evaluating your limits and learning to pace yourself.

What does pacing mean? It is defined as a way of regulating how much you do at any one time and gradually and systematically increasing it over time.

If you are like me and take those good days and overdo, it means learning to take a step back and really evaluating your exercise and its effects on you. If you’ve exercised to the point you can’t do it again the next day that’s not a positive.

If you reflect on your goals and remember your exercise if to achieve healthy living, not causing yourself harm just to say you’ve gotten your exercise in.

The first step is consulting with your doctor or health care professional about your overall health. They can determine whether you are ready for exercise and then may suggest a specific exercise based on your physical fitness – perhaps swimming may be better for you than walking. Or cut back on the aerobics and try tai chi instead.

Once you determine your level of physical fitness you can get started. When you start doing your exercise keep an eye on the time it takes for you to start feeling like you’re pushing a little too far. Stop there and the next time you exercise aim for a time lower than that as your baseline to start working out at a moderate pace.

Just like with your food, keeping a diary of your exercise is key when you are just starting out or have a condition where you need to be careful of your activity. Say you are starting with a simple 10 minute walk since anything more than that leaves you breathless; take that time and record it as you repeat it each day. Then gradually step up the time to 13, 14 or 15 minutes – whatever is your next level of tolerance.

Is This Enough?

My first inclination was to think that only 10 minutes of walking a day was never going to help me lose weight. Then my pacing coach reminded me again it is about you staying healthy – if you overdo you end up not exercising at all and that’s not healthy. When you are in that cycle of not exercising it can become even harder and more painful to get started again so you’ve taken a step backwards.

We all know the recommendation of getting 30 minutes of exercise per day to maintain a healthy life. The point of pacing is to set yourself up to achieve that goal –and while it may be slower, you will still be active and heading in the right direction instead of doing nothing at all.

Changing Habits is Hard

Frankly, learning to pace myself is hard. I want to prove myself and I want to reach my goals. It has required a fundamental change in my thinking that “more is better.” Instead it has become “slow and steady wins the race.”

You can trust me when I say I understand changing habits is hard. This has been one of my biggest challenges to date – learning to do less, but to do it consistently until I improve.

I hope those of you out there who have a medical condition or who simply need to start from scratch will join me in pacing exercise – little bits at a time and logging as I go so I can see my progress.

It may take a little longer, but with pacing I’ll safely reach that goal of 30 minutes per day.


I found reading articles on pacing helpful – it made me realize I’m not the only one that might push myself too hard getting started exercising again. While the following articles tend to deal with specific problems such as those living with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue, the principles of pacing they teach are still the same. I found them valuable and I hope you do too!

Know Your Exercise Limits

Pacing Yourself During Exercise

Pacing Means Moving Ahead and Not Falling Behind

Pacing Your Exertion | Treating Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia