Advice from Danielle Slutsker, MSW, director of social services for the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation
Many lupus patients ask me about exercise. Some believe that since they are sick, they have a “get out of exercise free card,” but that’s not the case. Research shows that regular exercise leads to a decrease in symptoms and pain, and an increase in energy! Interested? Check out the advice I give to these common questions.
Q. I used to enjoy going to the gym or going for a run in Central Park. But since being diagnosed with lupus, I’ve been exhausted and unmotivated to exercise. When I wake up with joint pain and stiffness in the morning, I can’t imagine lacing up my sneakers to go for a morning jog. Should I force myself to exercise, or should I listen to my body and sit on the couch?
A: We all know that the benefits to exercise outweigh the drawbacks. Of course, it’s important to first get your doctor’s permission before starting any type of exercise regimen. The most difficult part of exercising is getting the motivation to start, and fighting through the initial pain. Everyone can exercise as long as they commit to it, and know their limitations.
Find the time of day that is best for you—if you hurt in the morning, maybe the afternoon is your ideal time. Also, it’s OK to start out slow. Take a walk around the block, and each day increase the speed and distance that you go. Regularly get off one or two bus or subway stops early, and walk the extra few blocks. Before you know it, you will notice an increase in endurance along with other positive benefits! If you have trouble walking, look into other activities like swimming or biking. Remember, exercise should be fun. If it isn’t, try a different kind—dancing, gardening, walking a friend’s dog. As long as you’re moving, it’s good for you!
Q: I know that exercise is good for me physically, but what about in other ways?
A: The benefits are endless. Along with reducing your risk of injury, speeding weight reduction, and helping to keep you flexible and coordinated, exercise is great for stress relief. It’s also a natural anti-depressant and self esteem-booster, and can enable you to widen your circle of friends. When you need motivation, just remember all of the benefits!
Q: Should I try weight training—lifting weights?
A: Weight training is really important, and it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it may sound. It can simply involve curling five-pound dumbbells (or cans of soup!) or doing push ups. This type of exercise is important for all women, as the density of bones lessen with age. But it’s even more important for people with lupus who are taking prednisone for their lupus, since this increases the risk for weak and brittle bones by depleting the bone-booster mineral, calcium.
Lifting weights can strengthen bones, lessen the risk for fractures, and even prevent osteoporosis. Do strengthening activities at least twice a week. There are easy ways to incorporate them in to your daily life, and cost-effective ways too. For example, you can rent exercise DVDs at your local NYC library branch, or do sit-ups during television commercial breaks. It’s the small meaningful changes that make the difference.
Q.What about those people who just don’t have the athletic gene. What can they do?
A: Exercise can be fun and it doesn’t need to cost money or involve being athletic. Think about all the things that get you off the couch and moving: dancing, playing fetch with your dog, doing yoga in the park, Pilates on TV, tending to your new vegetable garden, bowling, playing tag with your kids, or riding a bike. The most important thing is to get up and keep moving!
Q: Are there any free physical activity programs in the NYC area?
A: Yes there are! Shape Up New York is a free family fitness program offered at park sites, community centers, and housing sites around NYC. Step Out NYC is a collaboration with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the city’s Commission on Women’s Issues, the YMCA, and the Police Athletic League. It organizes family walks at over 80 locations throughout New York City. Call 311 for more information on these two great programs.
I’ve talked to so many people about lupus and exercise. I have yet to hear from one who took my advice and wasn’t glad they did! There’s nothing to lose, and a lot to gain!