At B2R we specialise in non-medical health issues, like sports injuries or persistent pain. We know that education and exercise are the closest thing to a health unicorn, the challenge is individuating it and making it sustainable. But what about exercise for diagnosed conditions that require simultaneous medical co-mangement?
Murray, or ‘Muz’, one of my long standing friends has kindly allowed us to share his story from ‘Kidney Matters’. Muz was the first person to take me into a gym, Builth Wells Leisure Centre, back when I was 14 and he 16. He put me through my paces then and today he continues to inspire with how he uses physical activity to help him both mentally and physically deal with renal failure.
Thanks for letting us share Muz,
Luke & the B2R team
I’m Murray, I’m 32 and I have suffered with renal failure my entire life. I have had three failed kidney transplants; one at two years old that lasted a week, one at three years old that lasted a month and one at five years old that lasted 26 years.
I started haemodialysis - for the second time - in April last year. By the August, I was told that I would not be a suitable candidate for another kidney transplant and would likely spend the rest of my life on dialysis. The news was devastating. Physically I was drained, my mobility was suffering - due to weight gain and generally feeling too rubbish to perform any form of exercise, and to top it all off, I had to accept the drastic change to my lifestyle could last indefinitely.
The situation I found myself in took its toll on me psychologically. I was fed up of trying my absolute best to stay well, but would get increasingly worse. The truth be told, I was so tired and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up in the nightmare that had become my life.
I remained depressed for a number of months, until I hatched a plan to get back to my old self. I missed the lad that was happy, who could see the positive in things, who was able to set himself goals and push himself towards achieving them. So I began to set myself physical challenges, firstly little ones, such as walking 500 steps a day. At first it was challenging, but once the challenge was achievable, I would increase the number of steps the following day - continuing to improve week by week. I am now at a point where I can comfortably cycle for an hour and a half and still have energy to spare.
I find that exercise is a great distraction from the worries that chronic ill health can bring; what if I get worse? What if I can’t work? What will happen to me? The fear of the unknown can drive you crazy at times. When I am in the flow of physical activity, all worries melt away. It’s very hard to worry about anything but breathing, when you’re trying to keep moving forward.
And this swiftly moves me onto mindfulness. Exercise is an excellent opportunity to help clear some space in your mind. When you’re pushing for one more length, focused solely on breathing and trying desperately not to stop, your entire focus is in the moment. Of course, emotions can and will surface, often unexpected, but unlike not being in the moment, those thoughts don’t tend to weigh you down.
Cuts and bruises heal. Often the treatment is as simple as a plaster – the aim is to completely heal the wound, the plaster covers the graze and eventually the body heals itself. The mind is a lot more complex, our thoughts and memories exist for a reason: they are there to protect us. It’s not necessarily useful to completely heal those wounds, but learn to live with them, control them and use them to our advantage.
Controlling the endless stream of thoughts is not a case of damming the tide but learning to surf the waves.
If I could pass on any pearl of wisdom to you fellow renal patients and affiliates out there, it would be find something that you love doing and go out and distract yourself with it. For me, it is and always has been exercise, it distracts me, it challenges me and it changes me for the better. I’m physically stronger than I have been for a long time, my blood pressure is in check, I’m a healthy weight and most incredibly, my mind is free of fear from the ‘what ifs’. You see, apart from distraction and its physical benefits, exercise has the added bonus of releasing endorphins, a hormone that makes you feel good. As a result, my mood in general is far better and I am feeling far more optimistic about the future and its opportunities.
Exercise doesn’t have to be as extreme as running a marathon, it can be walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, housework or even gardening. The key things are; to move and elevate your heart rate. We all know the physical benefits of exercise but we often miss, or don’t understand the mental benefits. Having a healthy mind can make the challenges we go through, feel that much easier. After everything us renal warriors have been through, moving a little bit more isn’t too much to ask of ourselves.