Taking a leap of faith: exercise as medicine for chronic pain

For most people, including myself, fitness and nutrition is not just about how they look, it’s about how they feel.

Catt Ferguson, co-owner of 3rd Degree Training Saint John, is one of those people. She has suffered from various health conditions from the age of 23, leaving her mentally and physically drained. But over the course of the past year, she has completely changed her life, weaning herself off medications thanks to a careful diet and regular physical activity.

I hope you are as amazed and inspired by her story as I am. Following Catt’s lead, several other members of 3rd Degree with chronic health conditions have also made gains by making physical activity and a healthy eating a priority in their lives.

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Catt Ferguson, co-owner of 3rd Degree Training Saint John

Q: What chronic health issues do you suffer from?

From the age of 23 on, I have always battled some form of chronic illness. As soon as I would be cured of one, a more¬†debilitating¬†one would come along. I currently battle 3 chronic illnesses that affect me on a daily basis and unfortunately, there are no cures in sight. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2008, affecting my chest, knees, hips, fingers, toes, and jaw. I was diagnosed after several visits to hospital with sharp chest pain, in which the rheumatologist explained the source of the pain as inflammation around the lungs or heart. I was also diagnosed with¬†fibromyalgia in February of 2017, although I have battled with the symptoms of chronic widespread pain and chronic fatigue for many years, it was diagnosed through the process of elimination. This year, at the age of 40, I was told that the constant feeling of frostbite in all my extremities and the chilblains on my toes are from Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease.

Q: How did you discover that exercise could help?

I was generally active throughout my life, in between illnesses you could say. In January 2017, the pain in the shoulders, hips, chest, ribs, neck¬†and severe stiffness in the fingers and toes became a daily thing.¬† Although I was exhausted thoughout the day, and would fall asleep in the early evening every night¬†but¬†just couldn’t stay asleep. I would wake up after a couple hours from either/¬†or a combination of pain, overactive thoughts and nightmares, causing days of non-restorative sleep.¬†I was completely overwhelmed and over-stimulated, struggling to keep up with my daily routine, not to mention trying to manage the feeling of being in constant pain. I was prescribed several medications, leaving me with the feeling of being sedated.

As luck would have it, my partner’s passion was fitness. Kevin McEachern bought¬†and set up the¬†3rd Degree Training/Actual Nutrition¬†franchise in Saint John. He spent all his time instructing and motivating all the fitness classes, which meant if I wanted to see him, I had to spend some time in the studio as well. In his first 8-week round, he would encourage me to participate in the High Intensity Interval Training classes, telling me to work at my own speed and teaching me how to modify certain moves, i.e, using calf extensions as opposed to jumping. While the company was working through its second 8-week round, I increased my workouts to 3 or 4 times a week and by the end of that round, I no longer needed the modifications. I was feeling much stronger, more energetic,¬†happy and accomplished. I¬†made a conscious decision to slowly wean off all the meds that was prescribed to “help” ease the fibromyalgia symptoms and haven‚Äôt returned to them. In the following months, I started motivating some of the fitness classes, I became certified to instruct the classes and became a Personal Trainer.

Q: How does eating better help? What dietary restrictions do you have?

I have been lactose intolerant since birth. About 6 years ago, I curved my eating habits to a holistic, anti-inflammatory, whole-food lifestyle however my meals would mostly be snack-size.¬†With the help of my partner, we were able to increase the size of my portions. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t eat all this, I’ll be sick,” but eventually I started eating regular meals again.¬†Together, we developed a solid eating pattern. Steve Collette,¬†Founder/CEO of the 3rd¬†Degree Training franchise, made a few positive recommendations to help boost my metabolism using the Actual Nutrition program. Now, I have lots of energy to sustain me throughout the day, even after a workout.

Q: How has your life changed?

I’ve gone from being someone dependent on medication, living with chronic widespread pain and surviving on autopilot on a daily basis to someone living life again.

Q: How do you hope others could learn from your story?
I want others to know that they don’t have to be prisoners of their illnesses. I’m not going to lie and say that every day is perfect or that I found a cure and there will never be another flare, but I will say my quality of life has improved drastically. You can spend a lifetime on survival mode or you take a leap of faith, spend a couple of weeks being outside our comfort zone, developing a routine, getting back to living a longer, healthier life and thriving.

I am a Fibro warrior and an RA warrior. #fibrowarrior #RAwarrior

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Published by

April C

Writer, editor and mom in Saint John, NB.

6 thoughts on “Taking a leap of faith: exercise as medicine for chronic pain”

    1. Thank you Margaret! I’m in a place in life where negative judgment no longer affects me and when I’m having a bad day, I realize I’m my own worst enemy. It’s so taboo to talk about illness that affects us on a daily base, mostly in fear of not being understood or be thought of that person always making excuses. What if the first thought when people look at me could potentially be “there is certainly nothing wrong with her” or after having heard repeatedly “it’s all in your head”. For me, finding support became challenging because most people have those same fears I once had. I want to be a voice for all of those who don’t have one and I want to give hope to those who have given up.

  1. I love that Catt is so open about her history and how 3rd Degree has benefited her. It’s inspiring, motivating, and I think a lot of people can relate. I was diagnosed with a form of chronic depression called Dysthymia and 3rd Degree has definitely helped me manage it better. I recommend their bootcamps to everyone!

    1. Thank you Gena! We never know what type of struggles a person is dealing with when they walk through our door. We have watched you become a model member, stepping out of your comfort zone time and time again -working hard, showing up for classes, improving form, challenging yourself- which couldn’t have been easy. You truly are an inspiration to us and others. I want to say thank you!

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