During a long-term battle with Lyme disease accompanied by reduced physical activity, a process called “deconditioning” can occur. Deconditioning occurs when the abilities of the heart, lungs, and muscles to perform exercise decline significantly. (1)
Just a few weeks of little to no physical activity can lead to decreased fitness and deconditioning. This is critically relevant to individuals who have been battling chronic Lyme disease for years and exercising very little over that time period.
Many Lyme-literate doctors, all well-meaning, tell their patients not to exercise (or to only exercise a little bit) until they are fully recovered. While it is true that the wrong type of exercise can trigger a Lyme disease flare-up, not all forms of exercise are created equal!
Engaging in the right type of exercise is crucial for reconditioning your aerobic system so you can recover from Lyme disease and co-infections and build long-term health.
The right type of exercise functions as an essential “nutrient” that nourishes your body so you can recover more fully from Lyme disease.
In this article, I’ll discuss a unique and highly effective approach to exercise called the “MAF Method” that can help you recondition your heart, lungs, and muscles so you can rebuild your fitness and optimize your Lyme recovery.
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The Right Type of Exercise is Essential for Lyme Recovery
Many patients with chronic Lyme disease are trepidatious about exercise, and for a good reason! Engaging in exercise that is too intense can trigger a significant flare-up of Lyme symptoms, including joint and muscle pain and fatigue. For example, high-intensity interval training and Crossfit types of workouts can often provoke a symptom flare-up in Lyme patients.
Nervousness about triggering a symptom flare-up leads many people with chronic Lyme disease to become very sedentary.
However, what often goes undiscussed is that a sedentary lifestyle may actually worsen many Lyme symptoms, including fatigue, mood issues, and inflammation. This was the case for me during my Lyme disease journey, and I’ve found the same to be true for many of my clients with chronic Lyme disease.
The scientific literature supports this concept, demonstrating that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with depression, cognitive impairment, and chronic inflammation. (2)
If you’re already feeling depressed, foggy-headed, and inflamed from Lyme disease and co-infections, then living a sedentary lifestyle is only adding insult to injury.
A sedentary lifestyle can also lead to immune system dysfunction. (3) A well-functioning immune system is, of course, vital for Lyme disease recovery. Avoiding exercise may thus further hinder your Lyme recovery by preventing your immune system from functioning properly.
On a personal note, once I began to reincorporate exercise into my life in a strategic way and recondition my body, my health improved dramatically. Over the course of about five years, I went from being essentially bed-bound or only walking a few times a week to running trail half-marathons and climbing mountains, including Mt. Rainier!
I urge you not to overlook the crucial role of exercise in your Lyme recovery process. But, what type of exercise is best for people with chronic Lyme disease who’ve been sedentary or have poor exercise tolerance, but want to recover from deconditioning?
In my experience, the MAF Method of exercise is hands-down the best way to recondition your body after a period of chronic illness. Let’s discuss the MAF Method next.
The Best Type of Exercise for Recovering from Lyme Deconditioning
Once you have the “all-clear” from your doctor to resume physical activity, consider using the MAF Method to recondition your body and rebuild your fitness.
The “MAF Method” for exercise (MAF stands for “maximum aerobic function”), developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone, is a heart-rate-based approach to physical activity designed to rebuild the strength of the aerobic system so you can exercise with ease without over-stressing your body and causing a symptom flare.
With the MAF Method, you exercise according to a specific heart rate, rather than going by pace or time. By exercising at or below your MAF number (more on how to calculate your MAF heart rate zone shortly), you can exercise without producing excess lactate and without stressing your central nervous system (CNS) excessively.
By minimizing lactate production and CNS stress, you can minimize exercise-induced inflammation and reap more of the health benefits of exercise without risking a symptom flare-up.
In addition, this low-intensity level of physical activity may also promote mitochondrial regeneration, helping reverse potential Lyme-associated mitochondrial dysfunction and improve energy production. (4, 5)
I have found the MAF strategy of rebuilding aerobic fitness to be helpful for a number of my clients with chronic Lyme disease, not to mention myself!
So how can you use the MAF Method of exercise to recondition your body during your Lyme recovery? You’ll need a few tools to put this method into place.
Required materials for implementing the MAF Method:
- A heart rate monitor, preferably a chest-strap monitor, which will be much more accurate than a wrist monitor.
- Shoes and clothes you can exercise in.
How to Determine Your MAF Heart Rate
First, you determine your optimal heart rate (HR) for exercise using the MAF 180 Formula. You can easily calculate this formula through the following steps, excerpted from Dr. Maffetone’s book, The Maffetone Method:
- Subtract your age from 180, then modify from one of the categories below:
- If you have or are recovering from a significant illness, such as chronic Lyme disease, heart disease, or surgery, or are on any medications, subtract an additional 10 from 180.
- If you are injured, get sick frequently, have extra body fat, or have been inconsistent with exercise, or are just getting back into moving your body, subtract an additional 5.
- If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems mentioned in a) or b), with the exception of chronic Lyme disease, no modification is necessary (use 180 minus age as your MAF HR).
- If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, have made progress in your MAF Tests, improved competitively and are without injury, add 5.
- After running through these calculations, the number you end up with is your maximum aerobic heart rate that you should not exceed when performing aerobic exercise such as walking, running, or cycling.
- To exercise with the MAF method, you must first do a short test. Run, walk or cycle on a bike for 20 mins at your MAF Heart Rate and record the distance you travel. This shows your pace for running, walking, or cycling at your MAF HR.
- Exercise regularly at your MAF HR. Take care not to exceed your MAF HR. Make sure you have plenty of time to rest and recover between sessions.
- Repeat the MAF test monthly to track improvements in your pace at your MAF HR. As your MAF HR improves, you should start to feel stronger and more resilient.
- Only introduce anaerobic training, such as high-intensity interval training, when your MAF tests have consistently improved.
- The MAF 180 Formula may need to be individualized for people over age 65. I recommend working with a coach familiar with the MAF method if you are over 65.
- For people under 16 years of age and under, the MAF formula is not applicable.
The Bottom Line on the MAF Method for Exercise During Lyme Recovery
Exercise needn’t be feared during Lyme disease recovery. You just need to make sure to do the right type of exercise that will help you recondition your heart, lungs, and muscles and improve your mitochondrial function without triggering a flare-up. Exercising according to your MAF heart rate can help you accomplish this!
As you exercise consistently at your MAF heart rate, you should gradually start to feel stronger and more resilient. The right type of exercise truly functions as an essential “nutrient” that nourishes your body so you can recover more fully from Lyme disease and reclaim your health and your life!