Exercise can be a great way to improve your quality of life when you have lupus, but it is important to be aware of your own limits and know how exercise may specifically affect your condition.
How can exercise help?
•Reduce Fatigue – Participating in aerobic exercise programs has been shown to reduce levels of fatigue and improve energy levels throughout the day.
•Cardiovascular benefits – Lupus patients have an increased risk of heart disease. Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise like walking or cycling can help decrease this risk.
•Lose excess weight – obesity is a common problem in people with lupus. Obesity can increase your level of pain, put more strain on inflamed joints, increase your risk of heart disease and make your fatigue worse.
•Prevent osteoporosis – Women with lupus are vulnerable to osteoporosis, especially if on long term steroid treatments. Weight bearing exercise is an important part of osteoporosis prevention.
•Improving quality of sleep – Lupus patients often have more problems sleeping than the general population. This can add to lupus fatigue and stress. Many studies show that aerobic exercise is one of the best ways to improve sleep.
•Improve quality of life – Aerobic exercise has been found to reduce depression and improve the overall sense of well-being.
Whilst the benefits are obvious, it is very important not to dive straight into the deep end and also to ensure that you find an exercise that is suitable and enjoyable. Each person with lupus will have different levels of exercise ability. If you are unsure what type of exercise best suits you, it may be best to consider a consultation with a physical therapist – your GP should be able to refer you.
The level of exercise that’s safe for you may change if your lupus symptoms become more active. If you experience a flare of your lupus, you may need to reduce or stop your exercise activity to prevent any possible damage to joints and to avoid fatigue.
Exercise can help reduce fatigue but too much exercise can trigger a lupus flare. You’ll need to find a balance that suits you. Avoid pushing yourself too hard and always check with your doctor to see what level of exercise would be best for you.
Arthritis Research UK has a fantastic section on their website about exercise. It has information about different types of exercise (and their benefits) and additional information you may need (such as choosing the right footwear. You can take a look here -
We asked you to share any exercises you might do, that are friendly for other lupus patients. Here’s what you said;
-“I do hydrotherapy because I can’t stand up for long out of the water. I try to do 40 minutes, 3 times a week.”
-“Swimming, yoga and good old fashioned walking.”
-“I am a great follower of yoga – body, spirit and mind and I do two classes a week. My instructor is very supportive.”
-“Gentle stretching to keep joints moving”.
-“I go to a place called Ladyzone, which is a gym that uses machines that move, but you have to offer resistance. I am in my third year now and love it. No need for expensive gym-wear or shoes. It doesn’t make you hot and sweaty and because it’s a ladies only gym, we all have a great natter. The laughter is amazing and I always come away feeling better….There are other Ladyzones across the country and I would recommend them.”
-“As joints are a big problem for me – made worse by any repetitive task – I manage swimming very well. It keeps me active, has no impact on my joints, gives the heart a workout and luckily, they also have a hot Jacuzzi pool I can get into which is wonderful.”
-“Going to your local-authority run gym can be very useful. You can get a GP referral for one-on-one discounted sessions. They are fully qualified instructors and some are physiotherapists too. They will advise you and work with you to compile a routine that’s suitable for your limited ability.”
-“Exercise is so important to me as it makes me feel normal and it helps me with my constant fatigue. I go swimming twice a week now. It used to be at least four, but I couldn’t cope with that so twice is better than nothing. I also cycle a couple of times a week, just locally around where I live – not racing, but gentle cycling and that’s so good for me as not only does it help my muscles, it also gets me out and about. Even when I feel down and fed up I will make the effort. I also walk my dog every day without fail even in bad weather and as time has gone on and my fitness has improved I don’t fear physical exercise like I used to.”
-“Before lupus, I was a long distance runner, a backpacker and generally an athletic, outdoors girl. I am now highly sun sensitive and have arthralgia. So I’ve migrated into the indoor pool at our local community centre. I find swimming laps a bit monotonous, so I’ve joined the aqua fitness class. The aqua fitness is gentle on my joints, yet challenging to my cardiovascular system. I do a combination shallow water and deep water class, though when I’m starting a flare, the deep water, which is done with an aqua belt on, is better for my feet. If it wasn’t for the aqua fitness, I wouldn’t be doing much of anything, as the pain in my feet and hands is not great. I also have Raynaud’s phenomenon and the aqua fitness helps with that as it seems to improve circulation in my hands, feet and ankles. The “bite” of the water feeling cold is a feeling that passes in the first five minutes.”
-“This was the first time that I have been offered hydro-therapy. It was brilliant. Not only could I move in the water but I didn’t experience the same level of pain in my joints as sessions I have had in the gym. Now I’m back home I do feel exhausted and my joints/muscles ache really badly but it has lifted my spirits no end. I am lucky enough to have been offered 3 sessions a week for 2 months. Normally I am in a wheelchair during the winter as my joints seize up completely – this year I feel so much more hopeful that if I practice hard now and continue in the local swimming pool after my sessions have finished at the hospital then perhaps I will be a little more mobile this winter.”
You also shared other advice regarding exercise;
-“It is definitely better to see a physio or a medic before starting anything because I think you need to work out what’s causing the aches and pains, so that you don’t make anything worse.”
-“I only exercise if I am feeling strong and not during a flare. Even walking does the trick and exercising outdoors is much better than indoors – just watch out for the sun.”
-“What I’d say is, find an activity that you can do comfortably and you can adapt when a flare happens. It’s important to keep confidence and morale up and exercising is a good way to lift the spirits, but bear in mind, some days living with lupus and the challenges it gives us is exhausting enough and it’s an achievement in itself to get through the day.”
-“Personally, I enjoy exercise; in particular I find it makes me feel better mentally. I would say it is very important to listen to your body and let’s not forget to not overdo things when we’re feeling well.”
***Please note that this article is written for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Do not delay seeking or disregard medical advice based on information here. Always seek the advice of your local family physician or other qualified health professional before starting any new treatment or making any changes to existing treatment. It is also advisable to consult a medical professional before making any changes to diet or starting alternative remedies, which may interact with other medications.***
Thank you so much for everybody that submitted their tips and experiences for this month’s topic. This was a very popular topic with more feedback than any before. We’re sorry if we weren’t able to use your comment in the article.
If you try a new exercise or find any advice from this article helpful, we’d love to hear about it. We’d also like to hear from anybody who is unable to do any of these exercises, but have suggestions of alternatives.