YES, deconditioning IS a medical condition

by CynthiaYockey on August 17, 2012

Bloggers Cynthia Yockey and Debra Heine, aka "Nice Deb", and blogger and talk radio host Barbara Espinosa at CPAC 2010.

Bloggers Cynthia Yockey and Debra Heine, aka "Nice Deb", and blogger and talk radio host Barbara Espinosa at CPAC 2010.

Cynthia Yockey after her first 5K on June 3, 2012.

Me, Cynthia Yockey, after my first 5K on June 3, 2012. Come to find that training on the elliptical does not strengthen all the muscles needed for jogging or running because for jogging and running the only thing lifting your legs is you. Oops. So I went to work and now I can easily jog a 5K in hilly terrain.

Dear Instapundit asks, “Is deconditioning a medical condition?

Yes, YES, a thousand times YES!

The insight that deconditioning is a medical condition is just as brilliant and apt as Hans Selye’s observation that stress is a medical condition. The diagnosis of deconditioning gets to the root of a syndrome of problems that otherwise would be given treatments that, at best, would not work, and at worst, would be harmful. That’s because if your problems have a common source in your body’s being extremely weak, no pill can cure that by making you strong.

Defining deconditioning as a medical condition gives a name to the syndrome of health problems that follow physical weakness. Suddenly a myriad of separate problems that have been tormenting you like a swarm of angry bees is a single problem with a simple solution: exercise. While the extremely deconditioned need to have expert guidance to begin to regain their strength, the moderately deconditioned probably can begin with a morning walk. (Going outside in the morning and into the light will be the most energizing time to walk because light shuts off melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy.) Since even just going for a walk builds strength and stamina, that means treatment is affordable for almost everyone–all you need are comfortable shoes, and in cold weather, a hat and coat.

I got into my deconditioned state because I’ve been virtually housebound since 1984 caring for chronically ill or dying loved ones: my late life partner of over 20 years, who had MS and was quadriplegic the last 10 years of her life and died in 2004; my mother, who died in 2006; and now my father, who is 96. In addition, I was fighting two deadly sleep disorders which weakened me and almost took my life in 2003.

I knew that to be able to recover from the damage inactivity and my sleep disorders had done to my body would require exercise. I started out walking. In 2007 I joined a gym and took classes.

But it wasn’t until November 2010 that I realized that deconditioning was the root of my problems of lethargy, stupors and inability to get my housework and yardwork done without frequent rest periods. My “Aha!” moment came when my then 80-year-old pal, Marge, from my cardio class, extolled the glories of the new resistance training equipment in the main gym. I had only been using the elliptical machines in the women’s gym, which had the main gym’s hand-me-down resistance equipment. It looked complicated and unappealing.

But the new resistance machines seemed inviting, so I decided to set a series of small goals. All I had to do for the first month was walk into the main gym, sit at each piece of equipment and figure out how to adjust it. This got me through my feelings of resistance, overwhelm and anxiety. I promptly discovered that resistance training felt WONDERFUL! It was like switching on a light in my brain. I quickly came to dread missing my workouts because it was so much easier to be orderly, organize things and put thoughts into action for the next few days afterwards.

So my routine for the last two years has been cardio classes for coordination, balance and social contact; the elliptical for cardio; and resistance training for strength and mental clarity. I also counted calories and lost about 65 pounds.

The result has been that I can get the dishes done in 20 minutes instead of a couple of hours. Ditto for scooping seven litterboxes. I have energy and stamina. I am amazed at how much I can get done now.

It may seem like the common condition of being out-of-shape is being unnecessarily medicalized and turned into an illness in order to create more victims.


First, being deconditioned describes symptoms that go well beyond just being “out of shape.” For that reason alone, we need a term for those symptoms. People who lead active lives but seldom exercise may be out of shape. But people who have been housebound or bedbound almost certainly are deconditioned. Unless you work with the chronically ill and disabled, you may take for granted things like having the trunk strength to sit up on the edge of a bed without back support. But people who are deconditioned must exercise to be able to do that.

Second, using “deconditioned” as a medical term is highly motivating because it tells the people who have deconditioning how they can recover. It powers them through the initial discomforts that otherwise may discourage them from perservering. It switches on a light in the darkness. It tells people what they can do to get well. And there is absolutely nothing that motivates people to get busy achieving a goal than the certainty that they will achieve it.

About my “Donate” button: This week generous donors made it possible for me to make the down payment and first payment on the eight-year-old car I needed to buy to replace my 16-year-old car, which died in July. Until that happened, I had been in despair about how I could attract and earn the money I need to start my own business and create the projects in order to pay off debt and tax problems my father has due to helping me through my health problems. I am a writer and entrepreneur–I feel certain I have the ability to make a good living and get the debts and taxes paid.

But I was very frightened about how long it would take me to get the small amount of money for the next step in starting my business. I feel pressured about time because my father is 96–I have to become self-supporting while he is still alive. The next step for starting my business costs $900. I can’t leave my father alone to work outside our home to raise this money. I hope my dear gentle readers who can comfortably do so will donate. I thank all of you in advance and will report on my progress. This is fiscal conservatism in action.

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