Exercise and Autoimmune Disease: Things to Remember

When you have an autoimmune disease, the phrase “to be one’s worst enemy” has never been truer. Too much stress on the body will cause an adverse reaction, amplifying the chronic pain you already experience. For those with an autoimmune disease, flare-ups can be a deterrent to activity. But since exercise can lessen the effects of such disorders, getting active and keeping the following tips in mind will not only make you fitter, you’ll be in less pain too.

Though autoimmune disorders come with a variety of names like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s, Chrohn’s and Sjogren’s disease, many symptoms are shared. Fatigue, muscle cramping and weakness, heat sensitivity and swollen, tender joints are common.

Though keeping active is hard, exercise has benefits that can negate these symptoms:

  • Elevated mood and physical energy;
  • Endorphins, which are a natural painkiller;
  • Less cortisol;
  • Reduced inflammation through natural joint lubrication and healthy movement;
  • A better outlook on life as a whole.

That is why physicians around the world prescribe low to moderate impact physical activity for autoimmune disorders.

Remember to:

  1. Find a balance between diet and exercise. Even for athletes, this is pivotal. Eating an anti-inflammatory, nutritionally balanced diet can provide you with the extra “oomph” to get moving even when your symptoms are at their peak.
  1. Go at your pace. You know your limits better than anyone. Never push yourself to a point of illness or intense discomfort. If you’re overexerted, rest. Moreover, don’t worry about what you can’t do right now. You’ll get stronger and more equipped to handle the chronic pain and other symptoms.
  1. Practice relaxation techniques. Because stress intensifies autoimmune disease symptoms, learning ways to calm down is smart. Yoga, Tai Chi, deep breathing, meditation, and massage are all examples of ways to relax your mind and body.
  1. Try water exercise—especially if your joints are stiff and inflamed. Swimming is a fantastic aerobic exercise that is minimal impact. People with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis benefit greatly from non-weight bearing exercise because buoyancy takes pressure off the joints. Warmer water also keeps joints flexible.
  1. Increasing your muscle tone is just one advantage of regularly pumping some iron. Consider strength training to promote bone density, synovial fluid lubrication, and better posture—all which reduce chronic pain. For those with joint issues, machines can reduce the friction you might feel after some repetitions. Discussing your options with a fitness trainer or physical therapist is a good start.

Though autoimmune diseases are debilitating, you don’t have to abandon a happy, active life. Exercise can change your days for the better. Start slow, stay healthy, and achieve your goals over time.

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