October 9, 2015
Exercise and movement are vitally important to maintaining good health. People living with lupus often suffer from fatigue and pain which can make it more difficult to exercise. It is important to find ways to still create opportunities for movement and exercise through the pain and fatigue. Try different forms of low-impact exercise such as Tai Chi, Yoga, walking, or swimming to find the best fit for you and your health goals. It can also be helpful to find an exercise partner or friend who can help encourage you to stay on track with your goals. Research shows that regular exercise leads to a decrease in symptoms and pain, and an increase in energy. The following information will help provide you with possible solutions to common questions about exercise and lupus.
Q: I used to enjoy going to the gym or going for a run. 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: It is important to keep in mind that the benefits of 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 can be 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. 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 you are not enjoying it, try a different kind—dancing, gardening, walking a friend’s dog, hiking, or water aerobics. Try including your favorite music. Music can be a powerful motivator. The more you enjoy it, the more likely you are to maintain the routine. As long as you are moving, it is good for you and you can benefit from the exercise as well as increase your endurance.
It is also important to set realistic goals. If you experienced a difficult day and did not exercise, don’t let that discourage you. Instead, take pride in your progress and begin the next day fresh and ready to honor your health through exercise.
Q: I know that exercise is good for me physically, but what about in other ways?
A: The benefits of exercise are endless. In addition to increasing circulation, preventing high blood pressure, reducing your risk of injury, speeding weight reduction, and helping to keep you flexible and coordinated, exercise is also great for stress relief. Many people living with lupus notice an increase in symptoms when they experience an increase in stress. To combat this, it is important to include positive stress relief options, such as exercise, in your daily routine. Regular exercise can help reduce stress and also improves mood. Regular exercise is a natural anti-depressant as well as a confidence and self-esteem booster, and can enable you to widen your circle of friends. Exercise also promotes better sleep. When you need motivation, just remember all of the benefits! If you are having a hard time getting started, start small. Tell yourself, I’ll just do 5 minutes today. Most likely, after the 5 minutes, you will already feel more energy and can add more time.
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 water bottles) or doing push-ups. This type of exercise is important for everyone, including all women, as the density of bones lessen with age. It is 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. You can see significant improvement in your strength with just two or three 20- or 30-minute weight training sessions a week. Additionally, strengthening your muscles helps you burn morefat. Research shows that people who include strength training burn a greater percentage of calories from fat compared with people who didn’t lift weights. Lifting weights can strengthen bones, lessen the risk for fractures, and even prevent osteoporosis.
Make sure to start slow and take time to rest. There are easy ways to incorporate strength training in your daily life, and cost-effective ways too. For example, you can rent exercise DVDs at your local library branch, or do sit-ups and push-ups during television commercial breaks. You can also look up a lot of free strength training exercise videos on YouTube. It’s the small meaningful changes that make the difference. Again, when you need motivation, start small, include music, and remember all of the benefits.
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. It is important to remember that you are an individual and your own exercise routine should be specific to your needs. 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, swimming, hiking, walking with a friend, 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 LA area?
A: Yes! The Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks has installed numerous outdoor fitness equipment centers throughout the LA area. To find a location near you, Click Here. In addition, there are many free exercise programs available on YouTube and at your local library.