This past December my husband and I went on vacation in beautiful Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, I became quite sick about a week after we returned home. I did not see mosquitoes; however, I did get several bites. I saw something that looked like gnats, but had no idea what had bitten me.The mosquitoes that carry Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika virus (aedes aegypti & aedes albopictus) are much smaller than MN mosquitoes.

I was extremely sick for 3 weeks and was finally diagnosed with dengue fever by a blood test. I had high fevers, severe muscle and bone pain, nausea, fatigue, and was hospitalized with dehydration. The virus also affected me neurologically by attacking spinal nerves and muscles. I could not lift anything, had a hard time walking and climbing stairs, and if my back was not supported when sitting, I would just fall backward.

Being on bed-rest causes muscle atrophy, and experiencing it firsthand is quite disturbing! When I first started moving after bed rest, I felt like I weighed 500 pounds. I had worked in the fitness industry for years, exercised regularly, and even taught fitness classes throughout pregnancies, so I had never really experienced muscle loss before. Muscle loss gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to be 90 years old and have lost 30-40 pounds of muscle over the years. Not being able to do daily activities is very limiting. We all start losing muscle by about age 30, and can lose up to one pound of muscle per year if we don’t do strength training to build and maintain it.

Dengue Fever taught me that exercise is truly medicine! I am still working to regain strength and balance. It is difficult to start at such a weak point, but also amazing to see how fast our bodies can build muscle. If I were not working hard to regain strength and mobility, I would probably stay weak and limited in movement. When I am in pain, I need to get moving. I don’t desire to exercise right now, but as soon as I get through the initial discomfort, I feel much better than I did to begin with. Exercise is often better than medication at relieving pain and stiffness.

If you have a chronic disease, you may not realize that most major diseases have a generalized exercise prescription to help improve treatment results. This exercise prescription is individualized to meet the patient’s health status and therapy needs. Most physicians get very little training about exercise, so it is often overlooked in treatment plans. There have been numerous research studies showing that exercise is as effective, or more effective, than medication in improving symptoms for many diseases. Depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, heart disease, cardiac rehabilitation, etc. have all been shown to have greater treatment success with exercise. Of course, you should keep taking your prescribed medications, but know that exercise may greatly improve your prognosis! It is best to talk to your doctor first to seek the right exercise professional such as a physical therapist, exercise physiologist, occupational therapist, or athletic trainer to get an exercise prescription to meet your needs. Keep in mind personal trainers (not to be confused with athletic trainers) often do not have degrees in exercise science, and may not be the best choice when dealing with disease.

If you are blessed to be healthy, but you do not exercise, it is time to think about the many diseases caused by being sedentary. Inactivity is our greatest health risk currently because it causes heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, muscle loss, poor sleep, and is even related to some cancers. We are made to move, and our bodies cannot function properly if we do not move enough.

Finally, we are all aging! If we get the privilege of growing old, we do not have to grow old and weak. Muscle loss can be greatly reduced if we do strength training as we age. The human body has the amazing ability to build muscle throughout our lives. We could be 100 years old and still build muscle!

Overall, I’ve learned that exercise is medicine, but a more gentle approach to fitness works almost as well as my intensity of the past.  It is difficult to put personal health at the top of the priority list, but making time to be good to yourself through exercise, wise food choices, adequate sleep, and enjoyment of life all pay off in improving total quality of life. 

If you travel to tropical places, please wear mosquito repellent! The mosquitoes that carry Dengue Fever, Chikungunya and Zika virus are tiny, they love daytime hours, and indoor spaces. It is more common to contract one of these viruses in densely populated areas where the virus can be transmitted from person to person via mosquitoes. Before you travel, check with the CDC about travel warnings associated with these diseases!

Jennifer is Co-Founder of SimplyFit4Life LLC & Creator of the Cardio Weights Division. She has a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Behavior, but her real education has been attained in the school of marriage, motherhood, and family/friend/client/coworker relations.
Jennifer Widstrom
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