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    4 Principles of Exercise for the Low-Energy Homeschool Mom

    June 6, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    Before we start, we need to establish that I cannot possibly tell you what is best for you. This means that, once again, we’re going to lay down some principles, and then everyone can make a call concerning what will work in their own lives.

    I’ve shared a bit of my own story before, but part of it bears repeating: there was a time when I had to give up exercise, and by exercise I don’t mean anything impressive and strenuous — I mean my gentle morning walk. I was in a period of decline. I had been taking almost daily walks that were fairly long since my youngest was a toddler. I often made him walk, too, because part of the deal was to wear him out enough to allow homeschooling to happen. (He’s always been an energetic little guy.) Needless to say, I wasn’t always walking very fast.

    Even though I did this for years, it started to become hard. And then harder. I cut my walk shorter. Every day felt like the first day. My muscles were no longer remembering how to take a walk. Or so it seemed. I was so tired.

    Eventually, for the sake of my family, I stopped walking.

    A brief guide to making decisions regarding an exercise regimen, for homeschool moms whose energy supplies are already overdrawn.

    Why do I say “for the sake of my family?” Because it got to where I couldn’t do other things — if I took a walk, I had to trade that for lessons or laundry or meals because I didn’t have the energy for all of it.

    Principle 1: Exercise isn’t just about ourselves — it’s about others.

    Let’s begin with laying the foundation of why anyone would exercise in the first place. We talked about this when we talked about P.E. — why ought P.E. be included as a subject among others? What makes it worthy of our time? Is it just health? Or maybe it’s that good health causes the mind to function properly, and since we use the mind in our school lessons, P.E. can be viewed as a tool that helps us have students who deal well with the “real” part of school? My friends kids recently started playing softball in P.E and I wanted to know more about it so I could better facilitate my own children’s physical education. My friend wanted to give her kids the proper exercise to fuel our children’s minds for their academic pursuits.

    I like to go to Charlotte Mason’s views on this subject, which closely align with the last 2000 years of Christian classical education: we train the body in order to make it serviceable. It’s the training of heroes. Consider: who is more helpful when someone is drowning? The person who can swim, or the person who can’t? The person who can swim well, or the person who can only dog paddle? It’s a continuum, and not everyone needs to be conditioned like a Navy Seal, but the fact remains that the better conditioned we are, the more helpful we can be.

    Because of this, we might be tempted to say something like all moms ought to exercise, even those who are low energy.

    But our minds can go around and around in circles. It goes like this: if I exercise this morning, I might not have the energy I need to get through all of the lessons for all of the children today, so maybe, for the sake of the children’s education, I should choose to not exercise this morning — or at least not much. But, on the other hand, if I allow my body to get further and further out of shape, the children will only suffer more over the long term — so maybe I really should exercise this morning.

    Exercise is the ideal, but we’ve already talked before about the tension between the ideal and real — the world we live in is not perfect, therefore all ideals will not be realized in the here and now, in this life.

    Again, I think we need to respect our limitations and go from there. Some of us don’t get to be heroes — some of us are the ones in need of saving.

    Principle 2: Exercise is just like everything else — it’s a use of energy.

    Exercise uses energy. This is obvious, right? But did you know that you basically have one energy source, it’s called ATP, and it’s made by your mitochondria?

    We are well past the days when little boys could be mocked for their belief in mitochondria (while simultaneously being out of breath and sickened by their malfunction), and yet many of us do not realize that these little tiny guys inside our cells — mitochondria — are responsible for how much energy we have. Mitochondria are the power stations in our cells, storing away energy inside the chemical bonds of ATP molecules. The body produces enzymes that break these bonds in order to access that stored energy.

    People with chronic fatigue are already overdrawn in their ATP accounts. By just sitting there, being. So choosing whether or not to exercise is a real conundrum: it’s not a given like it would be for a healthy person.

    But it’s also not a given that one ought not exercise. Some people say that exercise makes them feel more energized. I’ve never read a real study on why this might be (this doesn’t mean there isn’t one). One theory I have is based on the knowledge that some people, at least, produce endorphins after exercise, and endorphins can do all sorts of awesome things that aid in health and healing and pain relief and a general sense of well-being. So maybe the higher endorphin production more than makes up for the use of ATP? Or makes the body more efficient at producing ATP over the long term? I think it’s possible.

    The question is where you are on the energy continuum. For me, there was a time when my morning walk was a huge benefit, and then there was a time when it was too much. It takes wisdom to know the difference.

    Principle 3: Exercise can cause pain, and I don’t mean the good kind.

    Your body makes ATP in three ways, depending on the nature of the demands you are making upon it. I like the basic explanation from How Stuff Works — it shows all three ways. The important thing to notice is the second way: lactic acid production.

    Do you know what lactic acid is? It is what builds up in your body and causes the temporary pain that tells you to stop what you’re doing. For example, you’re lifting weights, right? You do one rep, two, three, and somewhere in there you reach your max. That feeling you get when your muscles stiffen up and they’re burning a bit? That’s lactic acid.

    There is an interesting theory behind the pain experienced by those of us with chronic health issues — that our bodies are stuck in lactic acid production because our mitochondria are malfunctioning.

    But in addition to this is the idea of injury. I tried Couch to 5K a number of times. Each time, I reached a point where I would injure myself — my ankle or my knee, usually. So then I wouldn’t be able to do any exercise, not even my walking.

    I’m not saying that if you exercise, you’ll be injured — I’m saying pay attention. When I realized that I was always injured at a certain stage of the regimen, I was able to make a decision: do I just continue with the things below this level? Or choose something else?

    I decided to shop around and find something that my body could handle.

    Principle 4: What works today might not work tomorrow.

    This is both good and bad news. In my case, it has mostly been good news. Yes, there was about an 18 month period where I couldn’t exercise at all. But we started to figure some things out in regard to my health, and those things paid dividends that I could cash in in the form of exercise.

    The situations we find ourselves in today is rarely permanent, so don’t think that making a decision today is the same as getting married. These types of decisions rarely need to be permanent.

    It’s good to have goals. I have some exercise goals — habits I want to build — for this summer. We can hold our goals loosely while still aiming for them. We can decide that even though we want to have the habit of exercising, today — just this one day — it really would be too much. And so on.

    Try looking at both the big picture as well as the little picture, and plan to be flexible.

    Return to the The Low-Energy Mom’s Guide to Homeschooling series index.

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  • Reply Claire June 15, 2016 at 4:58 am

    The lactic acid thing is probably a myth, btw. Correlation but not causation (I think they did experiments where they deliberately increased the lactic acid or stopped it breaking down and found it didn’t increase pain – or something like that).
    There has been some interesting research showing exercise increases mitochondrial effectiveness in the longer term (over a few months) – and some types of exercise are especially good at it. And your body remodels to get more oxygen to the muscles (grows more capillaries, improves lung capacity). That doesn’t explain the same-day energised feeling, though. I wonder if the blood flow is increased to the muscles? Exercise does increase insulin sensitivity (allowing the muscles to take up glucose or ketones from the blood), so in a healthy person the lost energy should become available fairly quickly, and I suppose the muscles re-energising ability would also increase as a part overall fitness (again, as long as everything is working properly).

  • Reply Sharron June 13, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    I have never before thought of excersise in the light of serving others! That is so good and thought provoking! Now if I will only act on those thoughts!!

  • Reply Amy June 9, 2016 at 11:52 am

    I know it is very personalized given your particular issues… But I haven’t been able to exercise is quite a few years… And my arthritis was leading me to hold my body in a way that was hurting my other joints. I recently read Move Your DNA, and I thought some of the ideas in there sounded like a good place for me to start (paying attention to how I hold my body standing, sitting, etc). Have you read/heard of that book? She said to make changes slowly, and it took me a little while to figure out just how slow I needed to go!!! I have noticed it has dramatically helped with my hip pain (as long as I continue taking my medications too).

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 8, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    I love that image, Brandy! lol

    I find I have to get outside at least a little bit, preferably at the start of my day. It is so vital for my mental well being. But sometimes that means just walking a few minutes and standing in the sun for a bit before heading back, and sometimes that means a real walk – and I have to be very aware of where I’m at to tell what I can do on a given day. Thankfully most days I can do a walk, but there are still days where I need to scale way back.

    I would love to run, and I really enjoy running… but between injury and the energy it takes, it just isn’t something that fits in with the demands of my life. I really hate those limitations – I want to think that just because someone else can do it, so can I – but that’s reality. It is hard to face the fact that some people have more potential in some areas than I do.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 8, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      Amber, you comment reminded me of something that I had forgotten, which therefore didn’t make it into the article. During the hot months when I was unable to take my walks, I still got in the sun — I sometimes think I am solar-powered. I seriously feel different with sun exposure. Anyhow, I spent about 20 minutes per morning getting sun exposure and it helped so much more than just staying inside being disappointed that I couldn’t exercise. 🙂

      • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 10, 2016 at 8:37 am

        I think I’m solar powered too! Last December I finally bought one of those therapy lights ( after a conversations with my husband in late November where I was saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I was doing so well but I’m just dragging so much at this point… but nothing’s changed! What’s going on here!” He thought for a bit then reflected that this isn’t the first November where I’ve experienced this, which led me to consider one of these lights. I started using it every morning and it has been so incredibly helpful. I was skeptical and uncertain because of the cost, but I feel like it is so worthwhile after going through a winter with it and seeing how helpful it has been. I did try not using it for a few days and within about 4 days I was back to really dragging and feeling so much less energetic and able to cope with life.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel June 11, 2016 at 3:57 pm

          Thank you for the therapy light link. I had looked into those at one point, but couldn’t make a decision! 🙂

  • Reply Sara McD June 7, 2016 at 4:27 am

    I’ve been thinking about this stuff quite a lot lately. I hope you don’t mind the long comment.

    I’m one of those people who is energized by exercise. I don’t know why it works, I only know that it does. Especially if I take my exercise outside. I hate, hate, hate vigorous exercise, but it is the most effective medicine I’ve found for my depression and lethargy – especially if I do it early in the day. So far running or BRISK walking/hiking has given me the best emotional benefits. Swimming doesn’t energize me the same way, but it does make me feel strong and accomplished – and hungry.

    I do have to be careful of injuries and have found that weight lifting to build muscle and strength is a pretty good guard against knee and hip pain from running.

    In my younger days I would sometimes exercise to excess and then have little energy for the rest of the day which was so frustrating because I was exercising in order to be more fit in my everyday life. I exercised so I could run for the bus without getting winded but my legs would be so sore I could barely hobble. Fortunately for me there is a sweet spot where I can reap the benefits and minimize the risks. For example, I have sciatica (no disc involvement) and sitting too long exacerbates the pain, but so does too much exercise. Finding the right amount has been trial and error.

    When I do periodically hit a low energy point, or a period of depression, sometimes all I can do is all I can do, but even just putting away the laundry up and down the stairs, pulling a few weeds in the garden, shoveling snow off the walk, taking out the trash, dumping the compost and the chicken scraps, is movement enough to alleviate some of the symptoms. My step counter says that even without intentional exercise cleaning my house gets me 6 or 7 thousand steps.

    I so totally agree with you about finding out what works for today. Things change.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 8, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      I wish cleaning my house got me that many steps! I must not move my arm enough while cleaning…

      I love that you have not only found what works for you, but also learned how to adjust as the days and weeks require. NEVER apologize for a long comment, especially when it is this good. 🙂

  • Reply Tara June 6, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    “Again, I think we need to respect our limitations and go from there. Some of us don’t get to be heroes — some of us are the ones in need of saving.” <— This is so profound and really struck a chord with me. It took way too long for me to come to grips with the reality that I was one who couldn't do all the stuff I'm "supposed to" be able to do, to really recognize the seriousness of my health status, and to realize that I need to be free of the image I had in mind of what a wife, a Christian, a mother, etc, is supposed to look like. We aren't all the same, and sometimes, we find that we are ones who just can't do all the things and that has to be quite alright (at least it has to be if we intend to have any energy left to do anything else). It's actually a good thing, though, to accurately assess ourselves and arrive at this understanding, rather than just continuing to (try to) race around doing all the things and wearing ourselves out trying to be what we think we're supposed to be and afraid what others might think if we're not doing those things. It's probably actually a healthier place to be, to realize our limitations and respect them.

    • Reply Meghan June 7, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      I think it’s DEFINITELY a better place to be!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 8, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      I’m with Meghan…*definitely* a better place!

  • Reply Erica June 6, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    This is the only thing I’ve ever read on this topic, and it describes my experience with exercise very well. Yes, I’d go walk. And then I’d be spent. It’s like I’ve got $6 worth of energy for the day, and $3.50+ goes to the walk. Makes it pretty hard to carry on with homeschooling, running a business, running a household, and everything else!

    I haven’t found an answer for me yet. At this point in my life I can’t afford the energy deficit, so the exercise isn’t happening.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 8, 2016 at 4:03 pm

      I LOVE that you used the budget analogy. This is exactly what it’s like!

      I’ll pray you find an answer. I know how frustrating it is!

  • Reply Mama Rachael June 6, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    yes, yes, yes. And I find that different seasons of life mean exercise has different results. Consistently, though, I’ve found that a simple yoga routine is something I can keep up, doing day after day, and still getting through the day. For a time, swimming laps was it, but that requires getting out of the house somewhere, which means I’m less likely to do it.

    Of course, at nearly 28 weeks pregnant, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a bit anemic, since I was with my son, and my energy levels seem to have dropped a fair bit in recently weeks. I’m also hoping that for future pregnancies, if I start the pregnancy in better condition, the whole pregnancy will be easier, as I started this one a bit overweight and rather poor condition. Of course, the saying ‘hind-sight is always 20/20’ might not always be true. The “well, what if…” is something not so healthy either.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 8, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      It is *so* easy to become anemic while pregnant! I hope they are testing you at your appointments — a little supplementation can go a long ways in terms of energy. 🙂

  • Reply Dawn June 6, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    This is excellent advice, Brandy.

    PS – you come up with the most wonderful PE pics. I love them.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 8, 2016 at 4:00 pm

      I am pretty sure I make that face when I am stretching. 😉

  • Reply Ashley June 6, 2016 at 10:57 am

    I needed this today! I was super bummed when I spent this past week in bed from a flare up. I was doing so well walking and stretching and then bam! 2 days in bed and the rest of the week with joint pain and blahs.

    Thank you for writing this!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 6, 2016 at 12:36 pm

      Oh, that is so hard! It’s so frustrating! I am always tempted to feel like all my hard work is being undone. Hang in there, Ashley. ♥

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