I have Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (amongst other things) and I've found that the absolute best thing to keep my pain under control is exercise. Before I started exercising regularly I could expect to be in a flare for anywhere up to nine months of the year (usually I'm flare free over the summer when the weather is better!). However, in the past year I've exercised on average 5-6 days a week mixing flexibility, strength and cardio and it's been my first 12 consecutive months flare-free. It's the only thing I've changed and I've noticed any prolonged period of rest and my symptoms start to come back.
I've found that these three principles are key when introducing exercise into your routine:
1. Talk to experts
Of course, you should never do exercise against the advice of a medical professional, whether that advice is avoiding exercise altogether or just taking it easy on certain parts of your body. It's also really useful to talk to someone like a personal trainer or member of gym staff who will be able to advise you on different classes, exercises and approaches that will help you to achieve your goals. The staff at my gym have been very helpful with giving me exercise options that are easier on my weak joints but still challenge me, and on advising how I can adjust classes post-surgery etc. Talking to experts also makes the whole process of getting fitter/stronger/more active less intimidating (let's face it, those of us with chronic pain conditions are unlikely to feel at home amongst the beefcakes in the weights section!).
2. Learn to find a balance between pushing yourself and not over-doing it
On days when your body isn't feeling keen on a big session, just do some gentle cycling, walking, swimming or even some housework (it's all exercise!). On days when you feel good, push yourself to work harder and improve. It took a little while for me to get to grips with how I felt, and how that correlated to what I should do that day, but soon enough I got a handle on it and before long the gentle days got fewer and the days where I can push myself became more numerous. Try to find a mix of activities to challenge and rest different muscles/areas and then change this routine every three months or so to avoid getting too comfortable.
3. Do what you enjoy!
Try different things out, create a diverse routine for yourself, and do things you find fun. If you hate running, don't include it in a routine as you'll be really unlikely to get up and do it - especially if pain and/or fatigue are an issue. If you love to swim, add that in regularly. Classes can be a great way to meet new people which makes going to a session that much more enjoyable. Try new things, who knows what you'll find a love of!
Pain hacks are not provided by medical professionals. Please remember to consult your doctor before embarking on any substantial change to your diet or exercise routine.