Monday, April 25, 2016

Dengue Fever, Chronic Disease, & Exercise is Medicine

This past December my husband and I went on vacation in beautiful Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, I became quite sick about a week after we returned home. I did not see mosquitoes, but I did see insects that looked like gnats, and had several bites.The mosquitoes that carry Dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika virus (aedes aegypti & aedes albopictus)are much smaller than Minnesota mosquitoes.

I was extremely sick for 3 weeks and was finally diagnosed with dengue fever by a blood test. I had high fevers, severe muscle cramps, bone pain, nausea, fatigue, and was hospitalized with dehydration. The virus also affected me neurologically by attacking spinal nerves and core muscles. I could not lift anything, had a hard time walking and climbing stairs, and if my back was not supported when sitting, I would just fall backward.

Being on bed-rest causes muscle atrophy, and experiencing it firsthand is quite disturbing! When I first started moving after bed rest, I felt like I weighed 1,000 pounds. I had worked in the fitness industry for years, exercised regularly, and even taught fitness classes throughout pregnancies, so I had never experienced muscle loss before. Muscle loss gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to be 90 years old and have lost 30-40 pounds of muscle over the years. Not being able to do daily activities is very limiting. We start losing muscle around age 30, and can lose up to one pound of muscle per year (more on bed rest) if we don't do strength training to build and maintain it.

Dengue Fever taught me that exercise is truly medicine! I am still working to regain strength, coordination, and balance. It is difficult to start at such a weak point, but also amazing to see how fast our bodies can build muscle. When I'm in pain, I need to get moving. I don't desire to exercise right now, but as soon as I get through the initial discomfort, I feel much better than I did to begin with. Exercise is often better than medication at relieving pain and stiffness!

If you have a chronic disease, you may not realize that most major diseases have a generalized exercise prescription to help improve treatment results. This exercise prescription is individualized to meet the patient's health status and therapy needs. Most physicians get very little training about exercise, so it is often overlooked in treatment plans. There have been numerous research studies showing that exercise is as effective, or more effective, than medication in improving symptoms for many diseases! Depression, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer etc. have all been shown to have greater treatment success with exercise. Of course, you should keep taking your prescribed medications, but understand that exercise may greatly improve your prognosis! It is best to talk to your doctor to seek the right exercise professional such as a physical therapist, exercise physiologist, occupational therapist, or athletic trainer to get an exercise prescription to meet your needs. Keep in mind personal trainers (not to be confused with athletic trainers) often do not have degrees in exercise science, and may not be the best choice when dealing with disease or injury.

If you are blessed to be healthy, but you do not exercise, it is time to think about the many diseases caused by being sedentary. Inactivity is our greatest health risk currently because it causes heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, muscle loss, poor sleep, and is even related to some cancers. We are made to move, and our bodies cannot function properly if we do not move enough.

Finally, everyone is aging! If you get the privilege of growing old, you do not have to be old and weak. Muscle loss can be greatly reduced with strength training as you age. The human body has the amazing ability to build muscle throughout life. You could be 100 years old and still build muscle!

I have learned that exercise is medicine, and a more gentle approach to fitness is sometimes necessary. It is difficult to put personal health at the top of the priority list, but making time to be good to yourself through exercise, wise food choices, adequate sleep, spiritual practices, and enjoyment of life will pay off in improving total quality of life.

Note: If you travel anyplace tropical or subtropical, wear mosquito repellent (even if you don't see mosquitoes)! The mosquitoes that carry Dengue Fever, Chikungunya & Zika virus are tiny, and they like daytime hours and indoor spaces.  Tropical viruses can be debilitating and long lasting! Approximately 400 million people get Dengue Fever every year. It may be uncommon in the United States, but it is very common in many popular vacation destinations! Check with the CDC before you travel to get information about current outbreaks of these diseases.

Jennifer Widstrom
MS Ex Phys
Wellness Programmer