Fitness is the Way To Life: My Thoughts on Auto-Immune System and Chronic Illness Exercise Training

Len Framson, PT Cancer Exercise Training Institute
Leonard Framson

Written By:  Leonard M. Framson, PT, MFS, CSST, CSCI, YFS, YFT, CFNC

I have been in the rehab and fitness field for 36 years now professionally, and it is hard to believe.  Time has flown by.  I have had my ups and downs with health and fitness as well as witnessed and rehabilitated many patients and trained many fitness clients from youth to adult, amateur to professional, male as well as female and have worked with able-bodied and disabled during the course of my career.  In terms of which types of training has the greatest overall positive effects, the answer varies based on the “individual’s medical diagnosis, fitness level, underlying comorbidities, etc.  In other words, everybody is an individual and therefore every fitness and rehab program that I have designed over the years has been professionally planned and carefully monitored based on the individual’s needs as well as their goals and objectives. 

I had a conversation recently with somebody who told me that when she exercises she might feel good for a while as she is doing it or for a number of hours following it, but then by the next day, she said she feels as if she ran into a brick wall.  This conversation led me to sit and type up a brief overview on Auto-immune and Chronic Illness disorders.  There are various factors to consider here.  She has orthopedic issues as well as auto-immune issues.  This is something that people do not realize is fairly common. 

A key factor when I take an individual’s health history is finding out about their past medical history or their current comorbidities (underlying factors that can influence their health or their training or rehab goals and potential) which will and can ultimately determine the type of program that is professionally devised and the environment that it can be done in.   Clients and/or patients need to be cognoscente of their surroundings, for example if somebody is effected by autoimmune disorders and are prone to flare-ups such as those who have Lupus or Multiple Sclerosis, they are susceptible to sunlight which can trigger a flare.  They can still participate in an event, but need to take precaution by making sure that they stay hydrated (as anybody who exercises should), wear a hat, they can wear a light-weight long sleeve shirt and pants, or can use sunscreens with a minimal block of 15, but during my rehab experience with outdoor international rehab experience we recommended 30 many times.

Other factors that come into play are what time of day does the individual feel at their best (your strongest and least fatigued)?  How is their diet?  Is it professionally monitored or controlled by a nutritionist or their medical doctor?  What kind of exercises do they do?  Cardiovascular, Strength training, as well as basic range of motion exercises and incorporating static and dynamic flexibility and proprioceptive training will help the individual fight the fatigue factor, joint pain and swelling and connective tissue tightness that are all common symptoms with auto-immune and chronic as well as systemic illnesses. 

My experience when working with clients or patients with disorders such as Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s, Menniere’s, Lupus, Parkinson’s, Cerebral Palsy, Rheumatic Disorders, Diabetes Type I, Mixed Vascular Collagen Disease is to think in terms of energy conservation and to plan and design programs that are of low to moderate intensity especially initially for safety and precaution. In other words, start slow and controlled, and progress from there with safety as a key factor.

 This is my take over the past 36 plus years and wanted to share some of my thoughts and ideas.  Remember, safety first; be smart; stay hydrated; and seek out the advice of qualified healthcare professionals rather than getting involved in exercise programs if you have limited knowledge.

If you are curious about whether an illness or disorder that you or somebody that you know might have is considered to be part of the Autoimmune Classification System you can contact the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc. (AARDA).

Keep in mind that 40 % of the American Population have a mutated gene known as the MTFHR Gene Factor (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, which is an enzyme that is crucial in processing amino acids through a translation and building process involving specific amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase is important for a chemical reaction involving forms of the vitamin folate (vitamin B9) which inhibits the bodies of those who have it from completing certain chemical reactions in the body which results in a malfunctioning immune system.  What does this mean?  What it means is that one’s own autoimmune system can attack its own antibodies and mistakes healthy cells as diseased cells and causes inhibition of the nervous system and the immune system of all those who have it. 

Every day without realizing it, we are around other people with hormone imbalances, adrenal fatigue, chronic inflammatory illnesses and disorders that we are either not aware of or that we are aware of them, but the mutated genes in their bodies manifest themselves in different locations in the body and therefore trigger different illnesses as noted previously.

Remember, you are not in competition with anybody not even yourself!  Take things slow and controlled and be safe as noted above when doing exercises.  If you are an individual with an autoimmune disorder or illness, you need to accept that your body has limitations and respect them.  You can possibly move them or eliminate them once you begin to train, but the program needs to be as mentioned previously low to moderate as you do not want to overstress your immune system and trigger flares or adrenal fatigue/chronic fatigue and exhaustion. 

I have trained and rehabilitated individuals for almost 40 years with all kinds of symptoms and ailments and have stressed throughout the years that they need to take care of their body, because it is the only one that they will ever have.

I encourage the client to provide me with their goals as it is their body and we are a TEAM! A PROFESSIONALLY PLANNED, CAREFULLY MONITORED PROGRAM THAT OPERATES AT A SAFE PACE SHOULD ALWAYS BE CONSIDERED! As an experienced and well-versed health and fitness professional, I can help provide the professional advice and knowledge while coaching and training the individual whether that individual is an amateur or an elite or professional athlete as well as anybody from youth to adult from all walks of life!

I have tremendous passion for the fields of physical therapy and fitness and am very creative, innovative, manually and functionally oriented. I have had many years of experience and expertise in the fields of health and wellness working with individuals from youth to adult, amateur to professional and has been involved in international sports rehabilitation at the youth and adult levels from the North East Regional Youth Games to the Maccabiah World Games to the Olympics as well as many other competitions and sports disciplines. I am also on the Medical Advisory Board for the Cancer Exercise Training Institute.

My extensive experience has allowed me to become well versed and very successful in both physical therapy and fitness. It has always been my belief that if one thing does not work, something else always will. As Jimmy Valvano said: “Never give up. Don’t ever give up.”

I am currently working in a multi-disciplinary environment which in this day and age communicating as well as consulting with top notch healthcare professionals working together as a team professionally under one roof helps patients and individuals return to as optimal a pre-injury/pre-ailment level of function as possible from a TEAM approach. It makes it all worthwhile to go to work especially when what you do for a living is a hobby as well as a job and the rewards of helping and seeing people getting better on a day to day, week to week basis is a tremendous feeling to have!