Exercise & Activity
When I had to be re-shunted in 2012, my neurosurgeon challenged me to take charge of my overall health, which had declined over the few years leading up to that point. I had gained weight and become more and more sedentary due to the chronic pain, increased ICP, and just being generally discouraged. As soon as I had the shunt placed, we embarked on a journey to reclaim my health and strength. I started to work with a personal trainer at Courthouse Fitness named Joe LoCascio, and began to slowly build my core strength and stamina. Using the Functional Movement System (FMS) and focusing on performance, we started to see results almost immediately. It was like my body was so relieved that my brain finally had the help it needed.
When we first started, I was so weak, still recovering from the shunt placement surgery, and had a very low tolerance for exercise. My balance was terrible, which made any strenuous effort pretty dangerous, although it was comical at times, and we had some good laughs. In the beginning, holding only a 5 pound dumb bell over my head with one hand would challenge my stability, and I’d start to fall. We did a lot of breathing work, and I learned to stand on one leg. Slowly we built stamina and skill, and eventually Joe convinced me that I would be best prepared for multiple surgeries if I could gain some strength that would carry me through future recoveries. He could not have been more correct. I was lucky enough to train with him for almost two years, before he moved to San Diego, California, but his knowledge and passion for helping me has stuck with me to this day, and we are forever grateful.
During the time that I was consistently really active, I was doing a lot of core and strength training, as opposed to cardio exercise or endurance training. The exercise I did was based mostly on short bursts of effort - low reps, high weight. I rested and let my brain acclimate after each set. For conditioning (cardio), I did no more than 6-8 minutes of high intensity interval training (HIIT or Tabata exercise), and golf. We found that while the actual exercise was very difficult, I often felt a reduction in pain an hour or two after activity. One theory that my neurosurgeon had in regards to the exercise helping my pain level, was that the exertion would create a quick spike in ICP, putting intense pressure on my ventricles, which would in turn cause the shunt to dump frequently throughout the period of the workout, relieving the pressure that had built over the course of the day. Of course, without actually doing an ICP monitoring and testing this theory, it’s hard to prove, but we did feel that this was consistent with how I felt.
We were very diligent about tracking my level of effort and my output in the gym, and found that it was an easy way to see when my shunt was having issues or failures. On my weight card, in addition to inputing the amount of weight I was lifting and how many reps, we also had lines for overall pain level before and after the workout, and a number for how hard I felt that I had pushed myself. When we started to see a consistent decline in the my effort, it usually coincided with a spike in pain levels. If we saw a trend over the course of a week or so, we knew it was time to contact my doctor.
In August of 2014, I contracted a bad virus, which started a rapid decline in my strength and stamina, led to a six month battle that ended in another shunt surgery (January 2015), and took a massive toll on my overall health. This took me out of the gym for almost a year. However, with the support of my team, and the constant encouragement from my neurosurgeron and OT/PT, I returned to training with Aaron Hague with Corthouse Performance Training in the fall of 2015. Since the surgeries haven't stopped or slowed down (see My Story page for my surgery history), we focus on my overall brute strength, and it's proven to be very beneficial in my ability to recovery from surgeries. As soon as I am cleared by my neurosurgeon, I'm back in the gym, and we start rebuilding.
Feeling stronger is a priority to me, and I know that it helps me to mentally feel more prepared for the surgeries when they come up. Just knowing that you are in good physical shape to handle the brutality of these operations and the recoveries that follow, is reason enough to stay as active as possible in the face of the challenges hydrocephalus brings.
Currently, I am in the gym with Aaron (now Resilience Human Performance) 3-4 days a week, mostly doing strength training. In addition to strength training, I play as much golf as my health allows.