Exercise Is a Very Valuable Treatment Tool for Mold Illness Suffers
I can’t believe that I have been blogging for more than three years now and haven’t addressed the topic of exercise and mold illness yet. Admittedly, I love exercise, so everything I present in today’s post is coming through my somewhat biased filter. You see, I danced classical ballet from age 2 all the way through college, even minoring in dance at my university. I have continued to be very active in my adult life. Today, I am an avid runner, mountain biker, hiker, and weight-lifter—honestly, I will do and try anything that involves physical activity and adventure. So, I am sure that it will come as no surprise that one of the most difficult things about getting so sick from the mold for me was having to slow down and be sidelined, because my body could no longer handle or recover from exertion. I longed to return to activity almost as much as I longed to find a safe, mold-free place for my family to live in during that time. Luckily, my doctor and naturopath were both very well-versed in ways to implement exercise as part of my treatment. Realizing that I could return to movement gradually and could regain that part of my life and my identity was a HUGE milestone in my recovery. Honestly, the day I started moving my body again was the day I started truly recovering. That is why a physical exercise practice is, in my opinion and experience, of profound importance for those recovering from mold- and environmentally-triggered illness.
Learning how to properly utilize a regular exercise practice can boost not only your resilience and response to treatment, but your entire outlook on life. I know all too well the worth of a natural mood lifter. Sometimes just getting outside for a slow walk sustained my body and mind and kept me going for another day. When I look back on each piece of my individual treatment protocol and that of my children, I believe wholeheartedly that the exercise piece was one that fundamentally helped us to heal our bodies from mold toxicity.
We all know that exercise is important and that we SHOULD be doing it. You don’t need me to tell you that. What I will share are facts on how exercise and MOVING YOUR BODY can be a stimulus that turns things around for you—on a cellular level—and helps you to really start healing. Yes, exercise IS that powerful and that important, especially for environmentally-triggered illness sufferers, namely because toxins and the need to expel them from your body are at the crux of your problems.
To begin my case, I am going to ask you what may seem like a strange question:
Have you ever known a healthy, robust person who was stricken with minor sickness or injury and, as a result, lost their health entirely in a swift, downward spiral?
When you think about that person, it may seem like the injury or sickness was the initiator of their loss of health, but, in actuality, it may have had more to do with a change in lifestyle from active to sedentary brought on by the incident. This is mostly because the way we are often taught to deal with sickness or injury is to rest and heal. Of course, with some illnesses, a few days in bed are what your body requires to recover, but I am not talking about a few days of being laid up with the flu. I am talking about long-term couch rest, bedrest, or immobilization for a few weeks or longer. Increased inactivity also occurs with age, and with the whole concept of needing to “slow down” as we grow older. I aim to desperately argue against this chain of events, because it doesn’t lead to a healthy and happy end of life story. Rather, it brings chronic disease, pain, increased inflammation, and cognitive difficulties. As a matter of fact, scientific studies show again and again that as soon as movement slows or stops, so does overall wellness and healing. An example of this phenomenon occurs often in elderly populations when a person falls. The initial fall initiates a hospital stay, physical therapy, and a return home in a diminished capacity. Additional falls often occur without 24/7 care which ultimately can result in the otherwise healthy person dying of pneumonia while immobilized in the hospital for the falls. It sounds extreme, but is an unfortunate reality.
Our bodies, even when not in optimal health or condition, are designed to move. Our bodies are also designed to operate in complex, functional movement patterns, where we stoop down, stand up, lift things off of the ground, push things, pull things, walk from point to point, and advance with purpose, even into old age. You can see how we are meant to move best when watching children play. They employ significant running, bending, lifting, squatting, and kneeling even when not outdoors “exercising.” It is just they natural way that they use their bodies. As we age and go to school and work, activity and movement patterns diminish, and we become more sedentary. Then, movement patterns become less natural, we lose muscle memory, lose strength, are more easily injured and continue to move less and less. Do you see the downward spiral?
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. One of the greatest examples of daily exercise (think walking, swimming, surfing, gardening, farming, chores, not always gym activity) as one of the keys to wellness and a long life is found in The Human Longevity Project film. In it, filmmakers and health/wellness experts from around the world converged on a mission to discover the secrets of the longest-lived and healthiest populations (where chronic disease is almost entirely absent) on Earth. The movie was filmed over 2 years, in over 50 locations, in 9 countries, and on 3 continents. The filmmakers examined the daily routines and lifestyle practices of the longest-living populations in the world with the aim to scientifically demonstrate the recipe for a long, healthy life – and how to apply these lessons in our modern environment. Spoiler alert: The findings were that more than a specific diet, medical support system, or supplement regimen, all of the longest-living populations engaged in moderate, regular physical activity. Further, physical activity is largely credited for their longer life spans.
As compelling as all of that data is, I do realize that in the mold illness population, where people are fighting to reclaim their day-to-day normalcy, the goals of sustained health and longevity seem laughable. This won’t always be the case, though, and daily exercise can do as much for those who are in a state of chronic illness or inflammation as for those who are already healthy. This is because exercise is infinitely scalable for any population—young, old, sick, healthy—and infinitely beneficial.
For Those That are Currently Sick
A vigorous exercise program right out of the gate is not for everyone, especially those who are still living in a mold y environment (if you are still engaging on a large scale with the source of your illness, aka mold, you cannot heal optimally) or who have not been able to begin doctor-supervised detox and treatment. These individuals may not be able to tolerate much or any exercise, because their bodies are still too toxic. There are also some whose chronic fatigue symptoms are exacerbated by too much exercise too soon. These individuals will have to take things very slowly and in a structured progression. (I will get into the recommended progression later in this post.) Thus, I am not advocating that anyone who is sick go out and start running every day, taking CrossFit, or power lifting. What I AM saying is that it is a scientifically proven fact that the more sedentary and inactive your lifestyle becomes as a result of the mold illness or otherwise, the more your body will succumb to your symptoms and the more chronic your condition can become. This is scientifically-backed information that has been tested over and over and proven again and again to be true—in fact with more negatives being heaped onto the inactivity pile each time it is tested. (Just Google inactivity and chronic disease. The sheer number of studies you can find to prove this hypothesis are astounding.)
Not only has the theory of inactivity and the growth of chronic disease states in modern society been studied and proven, but more alarming is the short amount of time it takes for your body to take a downward turn in terms of disease and all-cause mortality when you stop moving. The facts are scary. For example, Dr. James Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic and the Arizona State University Obesity Initiative, found in his extensive studies on the health effects of sitting, that when a person sits for extended periods of time over the course of just one day, the body starts slowing, shutting down, and preparing for death at the molecular level. In addition, prolonged inactivity is associated with biochemical changes, such as alterations in hormones, metabolic dysfunction (obesity), and inflammation—all of which promote cancer.
What is not mentioned in scientific findings that I am aware of, but that I’d like to call your attention to, is the fact that ALL of the biochemical changes induced by inactivity (hormone dysregulation, weight gain/loss, insulin resistance, metabolic and leptin dysfunction, and widespread inflammation, just to name a few) are also induced, on some level, by exposure to mold and mycotoxins. Add to that the fact that the average American person in 2018 is taking less than 5,000 steps per day, when in 2004, the average American was taking roughly 7,500, and for optimal health, it has been determined that we need to be taking 10,000 steps per day, we seem to elucidate both a problem and possibly a cause for the problem itself.
Let me explain: I see a definite link between the increase in environmentally-triggered disease and chronic inflammatory response syndrome in American populations and the overall increase in inactivity. When you also consider that being inactive means more time spent indoors, it makes even more sense. Indoors we encounter the majority of the toxins that seem to be the ones making us so sick (mold, VOCs, plastics, etc.).
So, what can and should you do about this?
I am obviously going to tell you that you need to start an exercise program as part of your mold treatment and ongoing recovery. Exactly what that program should look like and how vigorous it is will be totally individualized and should be decided upon and structured by you and your doctor. I am NOT a doctor, so I am NOT giving medical advice. This is just more information backed by science to help you on your journey wellness. But, before I get to advice/tips, it is important that you understand exactly WHY daily exercise is so valuable for mold and environmental illness patients.
There isn’t just one reason that exercise works for mold patients. Exercise, movement, and/or challenges to muscles to adapt and build and what those practices physically promote (detox through sweating, cellular regeneration, decreased cellular aging, increased oxygen production, lowered blood sugar, surges in testosterone levels, increased blood flood, metabolic stimulation, reduction in systemic inflammation, increased lactate production, just to name a few) directly counter the negative stresses and inflammation that mold toxins ignite in the body. Exercise does all of this without medication, additional toxins, or a high price tag. (Most forms of effective exercise can be free). In addition, exercise reduces oxidative stress through hormetic mechanisms. This means that even though exercise is a stressor to your body, if done correctly and at your minimum effective dose (this is different for each person), it creates a cascade of positive responses within the body that result in a favorable outcome. For example, moderate cardiovascular exercise was shown to decrease cellular aging in a study of a group of women who were all under tremendous amounts of daily stress caring for family members with dementia. So, even though the stress was aggressively shortening telomere length for the group as a whole, the group who added exercise were able to reverse that cellular aging and actually halt telomere shortening. (Note: Telomeres are the sections of DNA that form the natural ends of a chromosome—think the plastic tubes on the ends of your shoelaces designed to protect and keep the laces from fraying. DNA makes up every cell in our body, so telomeres are vitally important to health. Telomere length is a function of age, because each time a cell reproduces, telomere length shortens. Telomeres can also be shortened by stress, smoking, obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise. Only recently has science proven that telomere length can also be positively impacted–maybe even lengthened–by beneficial health practices, like regular exercise, meditation, and a whole, natural foods diet.) Pretty incredible. The exercising group also reported better moods, a more positive outlook, and greater connection with the family member that they were serving. In addition, active use of the muscles is the best way to promote mitochondrial biogenesis, heal membranes, and reverse pain. This can be tremendously helpful for mold sufferers dealing with inflammation that causes joint pain and excessive muscle soreness.
But, if you are in the middle of all of this mold stuff and feel totally crummy, you might be wondering, “How can I exercise when I am sick and tired?”
Exercise sometimes feels like the wrong prescription for mold patients, when it is, in fact, the exact right thing for improved health and treatment outcome. This is because mold toxins are fat-soluble and are stored in fat tissues. Once inside the body, the toxins cling to fat cells, affecting hormones (increases in estrogen production and overactive adrenals—factors that ALSO contribute to weight gain), creating leptin resistance (when leptin resistance is high, you hold onto fatty acids and store them as fat, plus you lose the ability to gauge when you are full after eating), disrupting your body’s ability to utilize glycogen and fat for fuel, and creating insulin resistance. Thus, the more toxic you become, the more difficult it is for your body to let go of the toxins, and, the more that they will just continue to cling to fat cells, and stay put. This is why many mold sufferers find themselves gaining large amounts of weight over a short period of time and being unable to lose it even when eating less.
When you are mold toxic, it also becomes difficult for your body to get enough oxygen into your cells. This is called capillary hypoperfusion. This is also why taking the Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test (VCS TEST) is helpful for identifying mold-toxicity. (Note: The test measures your ability to distinguish contrast on a grey scale. When your body is experiencing capillary hypoperfusion, you are not able to see contrasts clearly. For my post on VCS Testing, go HERE.) In mold patients, this is usually caused by elevated C4A. (Note: C4A is reactive protein and immune marker that indicates an acute inflammatory response usually to mycotoxins). Capillary hypoperfusion reduces the delivery of oxygen to muscle beds. Without access to adequate oxygen, your mitochondria (the power generators of your cells) are starving for fuel. When this happens, and you try to exercise, your cells are not able to access glycogen for energy. Then, because leptin is usually elevated in mold patients, fat is inaccessible as an alternative energy source. Your body compensates by dipping into your protein stores . This damages things further, because body protein (aka muscle) is wasted on activity, making you accumulate more fat, and feel worse. Thus, you remain overweight and find exercise counterproductive, rather than helpful as it depletes energy at extreme levels, making it difficult to recover, and causes further muscle wasting. For mold sufferers, this is a frustrating and exhausting cycle.
To exercise when you feel crummy is not the intuitive thing to do. It is exactly what you NEED to do, though, to counter all of this malaise and chronic fatigue created by your hormone imbalances, overactive adrenals, and inability to access glycogen stores. Put simply, you must find a way to start exercising by finding your unique minimum effective dose. Then, you can build and adjust from there. Just as each doctor or naturopath has a unique way of treating their patients, they also all have unique ways of prescribing exercise for chronically ill patients. Many start patients with sauna sessions to get their bodies used to elevated body temperature and sweating. Once this is tolerated well, patients are encouraged to progress to physical activity that elects the same response.
The method I used, and that I felt was extremely positive, easy to employ and measure, adhered to an incremental add protocol, where I began with 5 sustained minutes of steady-state cardiovascular activity and added 5 minutes to the duration every 2 days, until I was moving continuously for 30 minutes. I chose walking to start with. Then, I was then able to add core exercises. Finally, I added weighted upper body exercises. When I was able to walk for 30 minutes and finish with core and upper body work and still feel energized and well, I was encouraged to switch up my cardio to something more challenging or to increase my weights a little. It was a long process and sometimes frustrating, but it helped so much. Taking it slow never caused me undo fatigue or set me back. Each day I progressed, I really felt like I was getting a better handle on my health. That feeling of regaining some control over my life was and still is invaluable.
To help you along in your journey, I have outlined some general guidelines for beginning an exercise program when mold and/or environmental illness are part of your diagnosis.
(Disclaimer: Do not start on any exercise program without consulting your doctor first. Each person is unique and should approach exercise based on their biomarkers, progress, and testing. This is just an example and a frame of reference. It is not meant as a prescription and should not be used as such.)
General Exercise Guidelines for Mold/Environmental Illness Sufferers:
1.) Take it slowly. Exercise will only work to counter the effects of mold/toxins in your body if you take it slowly, and build as advised by your doctor.
2.) An exercise regimen as part of treatment is intended for better overall HEALTH. The focus cannot be on intensity, strength, or fat loss when you are starting out. Rather, it must be on caring for your body, helping it to function better, and listening to its signs and signals.
3.) Perform your chosen exercise EVERY DAY. The EVERY DAY piece is the most important. This is because you are having to consistently provide the stimulus to create a threshold. Then, as you build upon that threshold, you will be systematically challenging your muscles in a way that works against extreme post-exercise fatigue. This is a technique that has been proven to work well for people suffering from mold illness. Consistency is important. Sporadic sessions will jolt your body—not good. Consistent, gentle sessions will cause your body to adapt and change—very good.
4.) Gentle cardiovascular activity should come first. Easy to moderate cardiovascular activity will be the easiest for your body to handle and to adapt to. Weight lifting and power-focused exercises should only be incorporated once you are handling the cardio well and are feeling better.
5.) Exercise and getting your body moving should be a priority. The sooner you can push O2 into your cells, not further deplete them, the better. If you are unable to stick with it, start back at the beginning and work through the steps again and again until you reach your effective dose. Anything that gets your blood pumping will help to awaken the healing mechanisms in your body.
6.) Your minimum effective “dose” will change over time and will increase as you become healthier. You will know when you are ready for more, because after exercise, you will feel energized and your body will crave more movement and exertion. This will come as a relief to your system. It is a process, but one of the most worthwhile processes that you will do for healing.
7.) Exercise with the understanding that your body is working hard to heal. Exercise should be part of that healing, not a punishment. Your body is not faulted for being sick. Your body is sick, because it was trying to protect itself from a toxic onslaught. Exercise is part of your medicine right now and can be part of your cure if you let it work for you.
Now that you have a basic guidelines outlined for you, I also want to leave you with some valuable “hacks” that will help your body to receive the exercise stimulus more readily.
My Hacks for Pre- and Post- Exercise Success:
1.) Use CellTropin to stimulate growth hormone, balance hormonal fluctuations, and aid in natural energy production. I intend to write an entire post on this supplement, but in the meantime, I will tell you that if you have mold illness, your ability to naturally produce growth hormone has likely been depleted. Without growth hormone, your body cannot build muscle and will not recover from exercise well. This homeopathic, sublingual spray was created by Dr. Dennis to support his mold patients who needed the extra boost in hormone and mitochondrial support. I would begin using it before starting your routine. It can give you the natural boost that you need to get started. Then, continue to use it 2 times per day per bottle instructions everyday through your treatment and recovery. I still use CellTropin twice a day. My energy levels feels much more consistent throughout the day and I sleep better at night as a result.
2.) Use a magnesium supplement to support recovery, mineral and fluid balance, and relaxation. Magnesium deficiency is rampant in environmental patients. Almost all of us are significantly depleted in this valuable mineral. Adding a magnesium supplement will make the exercise stimulus easier on your body and will decrease soreness afterwards.
3.) Stay hydrated. This may seem like a no-brainer, but lots of us mold patients suffer from increased thirst, sweating, and urination. Our bodies are trying to dump out the toxins through our kidneys, but we dump valuable liquid and minerals instead. Make sure to drink lots of filtered, purified, or spring water all day. Consider adding a pinch of Celtic Sea Salt or mineral drops, like ConcenTrace to your water body to help your body to recover. Staying hydrated will also help lessen fatigue.
4.) Engage in positive self-talk and thinking. This is the most underrated piece of advice I have ever been given. Until I learned the value of telling myself either out loud or subconsciously that I would heal, and that I was not broken, I didn’t truly believe that recovery was possible. What you are going through is hard enough. Do not beat yourself up if you cannot tolerate much exercise at first. Tell yourself how important and valuable you are, and that you are worth all of this hard work. Tell yourself that you will recover and that you will feel better. Believing in your treatment is as important as being compliant. Your brain can and will alter the effectiveness of what you are doing good or bad. Going all in and believing that you are doing the right thing will make it so.
5.) Get outside. Whether you do this during your exercise, before, or after, it can be a very powerful part of your practice. Being outdoors can calm your mind, can soothe your senses, and can take you out of the indoor environment, even for a short period. When you are outside, also consider removing your shoes and walking barefoot on the ground or through the grass for 5 minutes or more. This is called grounding.
The Earth is a natural source of electrons and subtle electrical fields, which are essential for proper functioning of immune systems, circulation, synchronization of biorhythms and other physiological processes. Coming in direct contact with the Earth’s surface by walking barefoot may actually be the most effective, essential, least expensive, and easiest way to attain natural antioxidants. There is emerging science documenting how grounding appears to minimize the consequences of exposure to potentially disruptive fields like “electromagnetic pollution” or “dirty electricity.”