Chronic illness: My 4 life lessons from working out


Working out changed the course of my chronic illness, even before I knew I was sick. I didn’t grow up exercising. I quit every sport or activity I was interested in until I finally just stopped joining things. It’s important to understand this because too often we hear fitness advice from people who have been in the game since birth. They played sports or grew up in highly active families, so they don’t always have a full understanding of what it means to learn the technique as an inexperienced adult.

That’s why I do what I do. I write about health and fitness for adults who didn’t grow up with an active lifestyle but know how important it is to become more active. Because of the sheer number of fitness professionals blogging and educating, I don’t have to tell you why movement is so crucial.

You already know that it:

  • Reduces anxiety

  • Helps lift brain fog

  • Makes us happier

  • Improves memory

  • Balances hormones

  • Regenerates damaged brain cells

  • Increases immunity

  • + more…  

You can find thousands of articles already written on these topics. I want to, instead, focus on the emotional and unspoken lessons I’ve learned from pushing myself and failing repeatedly over the last 8+ years.

The biggest lesson of them all: 

Getting Past Fear

Fear hinders self-growth, is distracting, and is suffocating. When you push yourself to move past the fear and do the scary things, you learn a lot about yourself, how to focus, and how to be free.

a group of women working out with chronic illness


I was so scared to fail. In fact, I was scared of everything about the gym. I was even scared to sweat. That’s right. I was really unfamiliar with the feeling on my body and how I looked when I sweat, so I’d workout just until the point before I became too hot, and then I’d stop.

I was scared to:

  • lift a weight and struggle to hold it over my head

  • be in the weight room looking like I had no idea what I was doing

  • breathe heavy or make any noise that would sound like I’m struggling.

Which meant that I would never learn how well I can actually handle pressure and discomfort. So far, I handled hardships by avoiding and running away, and my fears in the gym 100% reflected this.

I learned more about how to overcome fear every time I stepped in the gym than I could ever learn from reading books, writing affirmations, or anything else that didn’t involve real experience. My fears didn’t go away until after I lifted the weights, learned to squat correctly, and sweat… a lot.

Fear is just our response to life when we’re not in control of a situation. Practicing skills in the gym taught me how to take control where I could, and let go of what I couldn’t.

Learning to focus

How? Stop complaining. I’m serious… it’s that simple (but not so easy, I know). It’s something that I desperately needed to change. It was not only extremely frustrating for my fiance, Justin, to hear constantly, but it was distracting me.

Every time I said, “this hurts,” or “I’m tired,” or worse… “I can’t,” I was left in that state of pure hopelessness. You absolutely cannot learn when you’re too busy looking at all the areas that are holding you back. Of course, if you’re in a self-aware state, you can look at your obstacles and figure out how to change them, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I can’t tell you how much time I spent in the gym crying in the bathroom, re-writing perfectly good workout plans, sitting down, and basically doing anything other than what was needed to get better. I was concentrating on the wrong ideas.

The time spent on those activities could’ve (and should’ve) been spent on figuring out how to get better. Eventually, this is what I started to do.

Whenever I caught myself going into complaining or avoiding modes, I brought my attention back to the exercise I was working on. I would tell myself, “If you finish this set, you can go cry in the bathroom, but you have to finish this first.” Pretty soon, I wasn’t even trying to get out of working out, because I built the habit of sticking with one thing until it was done.

This helped me with everything else in life - I could write for longer periods of time, clean more efficiently, study longer, and hold deeper conversations.

a women with chronic illness doing some workout stretches


My fears strangled me. They stopped me from progressing. They distracted me. I was so confused with the things I was scared of, I wasn’t able to see the parts of working out that excited me, like:

  • Feeling energized

  • Gaining the ability to move

  • Being able to keep up with my friends

  • Feeling proud of myself

  • Less pain

The better I was able to focus and stick with exercising, the more I started to feel these benefits. I didn’t need to convince myself that working out is good for me, because my body already knew. It felt it on a deep level, and it was clear that working out was the number one thing to help me get unstuck.

When you live with a chronic illness, it’s easy to feel trapped inside your body, your home, and your unhappiness, but the gym changed all of that for me.

I used to feel like I was too tired or in too much pain to even go for a walk. Now, my days feel terrible when I don’t go for a walk. That’s a huge change for me.

I recently started rock climbing, something I always dreamed about but never thought I would be able to do. My time spent in the gym gave me freedom by not only reducing my fears but also through increasing my physical strength and abilities.

When you feel able, you are able, and the gym gave me the gift of ability.

female friends looking out at a lake feeling free


I’m the last person I ever would’ve expected to one day be writing about health and fitness. When I switched from a nutrition degree to psychology, I left that dream behind. I thought I was pursuing a completely different life, but I was actually just following another path to the same destination. I love learning about the science of motivation and how to live a life that has the most meaning and purpose, because life really is a reflection of your decisions.


I had no idea that choosing to go to the gym, a place I hated more than anything, would:

  • Give me an accurate reflection of who I am

  • Teach me how to focus and let go of distractions

  • Give me the freedom I never thought was possible.


It’s all possible. No matter what your physical condition is, I know that exercising can help change your life. There’s no way it can’t, because there’s so much to learn. If you’re reading this and think that you have a real reason stopping you from getting active, shoot me an email, I would love to chat.

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Changing tides, one wave at a time, together.

Destiny WintersComment