Posted by: Abby Caplin, MD | October 23, 2009

Getting Fit

“Getting Fit”

I find it so irritating when people tell me I have to exercise. Sometimes it can feel like climbing a mountain just to climb onto my little elliptical machine.

As a teenager, I was lucky to take a few years of dance class with famed modern dancer Bella Lewitzky. I even signed up for a jazz dance class during my medical training, but I had to drop it. My getting to a 6:30 PM dance class once a week just wasn’t possible.

Then I got sick…

For years I was sad about letting go of that part of my life. Truthfully though, what I missed most were the soft black leotards and the dancer-pink footless tights! Then it dawned on me—why couldn’t I still have them?

I dreamed of a dance outfit for over a year, but I was too embarrassed to enter a dance apparel store. Finally I decided to just get it—despite my awkwardness and the critical looks from the fit young salesgirl. (This was pre-Internet days, so I couldn’t simply order them online.)

When I got home and put on the leotards, I could see a bit of my former self in the mirror. I began to move slowly, extending my arms, bending at the waist. My legs began to move also, toes pointing and flexing automatically, naturally. I put on some music and pretended I was in class again.

I still have my outfit. Actually, I have two! I use them as a psychological tool to help me get moving and stretching.

I know as a doctor I’m supposed to advise people to “get fit.” But this can be so hard with chronic illness.

I say, “Get the outfit!”



  1. Wow!

    My daughter Bella was born January 15. 9 years old and dances twice a week.
    Bella Lewitzky born January 13 (she is new to me, I’m excited!).

    New gear makes an interest sparkle, I am with you on that.

    Does anyone have thoughts on where to take dance class? ODC is wonderful but too fast and crowded for me.

    • Yes, another Bella dancer!

  2. Hi Dr. Abby,

    I love this! Sometimes it can even be enough to just put on some music, and see where our body takes us. The other day I sat down at a restaurant where some rhythmic music was playing; I couldn’t help but move to it. Our bodies know what they want to do, even when our minds resist. My friends looked at me and smiled — one even started to move also.

    Have fun with your leotards and your wonderful blog too,

    • Thank you, Dr. Pam.
      Another teacher of mine, Margolit Oved (Yemenite dance, UCLA), once extolled the virtues of a well-worn, many-times-washed leotard.
      She prized those the most!

  3. We have to do a paradigm shift about fitness when we become chronically ill. I can never go back to being the fit triathlete that I was once proud of being. Talk about an ego loss. Now I am modestly overweight. I work like a demon not to gain weight from the combination of prednisone side effects and exercise limits, added to the usual challenges of being middle aged in our culture.
    What once used to be a warm-up is now my full swim. Running and biking are not possible. I miss my bike!
    I try to enjoy the heck out of my short swim. I can’t go very long, so I work on my form. Underwater, I feel a freedom I can’t get anywhere else. I dolphin off the wall on my back, looking at the beautiful leaves and pine needles floating on the surface. It is so peaceful, my great escape! I work on my stroke, and rest when I need to. I also have somewhat of a social life at my local funky swim club. It is my version of getting out.

    Some of my old favorite workouts simply don’t work for me any more; they cause more pain and fatigue. So it is a trial and error learning curve. I swim every day because I love it and it reduces my back pain. I feel at home in the water. Instead of a leotard, I have a collection of speedos!
    I no longer have the goal of fitness per se, just maximal comfort and energy. Swimming actually buys me a few more hours of “up” time every day. It eases my migraines and my fatigue almost every time I go.
    I really tune into the type, timing and intensity of my exercise to see what helps and what does not. I have found I need to do walking early in the day: I feel awful if I go for more than a few blocks in the afternoon. And interestingly, swimming is a real pick me up for energy mid to late afternoon, but does not help my energy when I swim in the morning.
    The only thing I do that I really don’t enjoy is weights, since I have osteoporosis from years of glucocorticoid use. I keep them light, and watch recorded shows while I’m doing them. I know it’s not “mindful” but who cares!
    Sarah Schafer

    • Hi Dr. Sarah,

      Thanks for sharing your experience with swimming!
      I’m wondering…
      On the days when you have felt less energetic, did you ever try just putting on the Speedos? If so, did it make a difference?
      For someone who is a swimmer, but dealing with low energy, might putting on the swimsuit and getting in a bathtub be a start?


      • Hey Abby,
        I have incredibly low energy in the afternoon. It really takes about 10 laps or a few hundred yards before I start getting benefit of my swim. Sometimes I am so brain fogged and flu-like that I can barely make the 7 minute drive over to the pool.
        But swimming does amazing things for me. I think it “moves chi”, and does some sort of anti-inflammatory detox thing. I find if the water is too warm, it does not work too well. In the summer I went to the local lake to swim when the pool got too warm.

        I’ve tried just hanging out in the water. It does not work, and I just feel more fatigued from the effort of getting there. Getting my speedo on ahead of time does not seem to do much either. I do that when I go to the lake.
        When I had a pneumothorax and chest tube last year, I just about went nuts without my swim. I actually did swimming imagery, trying to re-create the feeling and sensations in my mind. It helped a little.

        I think the main point of my contribution to the blog was that there is a lot of trial and error involved… such as what you do, what time of day, what happens if you overdo, which can have very negative consequences. Always a balancing act.

        Sarah, fresh out of the pool!

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