Exercise is always difficult even without a brain injury, but when you injure your brain it is so busy using all your energy and nutrients to repair itself that you suffer exhaustion problems and chronic fatigue difficulties. A lot of people ask about how to build exercise back into their lives. Further, recent research shows that gently reintegrating exercise can help recovery from post concussion syndrome.
First, if you’re not safe on your feet without guidance then do little exercises at home before you hit the streets. Build up gradually and slowly, always within your energy limits for that day and moment – start as though you’ve never exercised before. In the early days just cleaning your home will be enough exercise and you will need to take several breaks throughout.
Here are some suggestions of activities that are a good starting point, but make sure that what you do is something you enjoy and will make you happy – it is key to create a positive environment for your brain.
Tai Chi is great for meditative movement. If you haven’t done it before Ramel Rones has a great 2 part DVD “Tai Chi Energy Patterns” that teaches the meditation basics and then adds in a couple of basic energy patterns. He teaches the exercises seated and standing, which is perfect to cope with your needs for the day. The standing exercises will give you a chance to work on your balance problems (I was all over the place for the first 4 months post injury and this massively helped).
Pilates will help improve your core strength and balance, mobilising your spine that is probably super stiff from lots of ‘resting’ (I got sick of that word). STOTT Pilates give very comprehensive and safe workouts that are a manageable short sessions. The Sunrise Workout is great beginner DVD at 20 mins long and the Essential DVD at 40 mins covers the full beginner repertoire.
Yoga can help you stretch out a lot of tension and rebuild some upper body strength, also helping balance issues. Sarah Power’s Yin Yoga DVD is very slow and meditative, using lots of cushions to support your body. Her Insight Yoga DVD has the yin yoga classes and some vinyasa sections for when you feel strong enough to try a harder workout too.
If you’re safe to go outside, walking is great cardio vascular exercise. Start with maybe 10 minutes at a very slow pace and build up gradually.
Meditative walking is the best – so find somewhere quiet with as much space (so you don’t have to manage bumping into people). Then close your eyes before you take a step, breathe a few times & concentrate on your body. Then open your eyes & gently gaze to the floor 2-3 feet in front of you, then let your body lead the steps. Your body will set the pace and let your mind solely focus on the sensation of walking.
If you have access to a gym then the treadmill is great for monitoring your progress. As you get stronger increase the intensity with the gradient and not speed, this is just to help with not bobbing your brain about any more than it needs.
Other Aerobic Exercise
If you find vestibular issues too much for walking then swimming is great for cardio vascular exercise. Again, go gentle and at a pace that feels natural to your body. Don’t worry about the other people in the lane and keep it brief.
When you feel strong enough and if you enjoy group classes try avoid those with music as this is just another stimulant to flood your brain. Wear ear plugs when you’re at the centre to dull out the excess noise. Make sure that you tell the instructor you are recovering from an injury and that you will tire easily. Stop and take breaks throughout, make sure you don’t go nuts & over do it! Drink plenty of water throughout too as it helps your brain feel energised.
Eventually the balance, mobility, strength & endurance come back – slowly like all the other elements following a brain injury.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is better left until later in your recovery, so avoid sprints and other anaerobic forms of training unless supervised by an exercise professional. Please see the Exercise Page for more information on why this is better left until later.